Haiti's Martelly: From Pop Star To President

Six months ago, Michel Martelly was "Sweet Mickey" — a pop star known for his bald head and big parties. Now, he's the president of Haiti. He spent the last week in New York, mingling with world leaders and wooing new investors. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks with President Martelly about his new job, and where billions of relief dollars have gone in the earthquake-stricken nation.

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GUY RAZ, host: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Six months ago, most people called Michel Martelly Sweet Mickey, a pop star known for his baldhead and big parties. Now, he's the president of Haiti, and he spent the past week mingling with world leaders in New York at meetings of the United Nations and the Clinton Global Initiative. His pitch? Haiti still needs money, a lot of money.

More than a year after the earthquake, half a million people still live in tent cities, and most of the relief money that's been sent to Haiti, well, he says it's gone.

President MICHEL MARTELLY: Over about $3.7 billion was allocated to Haiti after the earthquake. I have nothing to show you. I cannot point a building or a home that was built with that money. It was a matter of saving lives. So money was used to give water, money was used to feed people, that's what I'm being told. Myself, had I been in power, the same money could have been used to create infrastructure. The new leadership wants to put every kid in school. And on that aspect, we have a plan to bring more than half of a million kids to school for the first time this year. So this is tremendous progress.

RAZ: Talk to me about what your primary goal is in New York. I mean, are you courting possible potential donors if, as you say, this $3.7 billion in earthquake relief is gone?

MARTELLY: Of the money that was pledged, yes, we would like to motivate them and try to have them donate that money. But the real thing is also to let them know that from now on, it's going to be less about asking for money than selling Haiti on the right way. We need jobs. We want investors to come to Haiti and create jobs. We know that in Haiti, we have a rate of 80 percent of unemployment. While we have the land there, we're not producing anything.

Why not put people to work just growing coffee, sugar? Why not have these industries? Back in the days, we paid our independence. We paid $21 billion just by giving them coffee. Today, the coffee that we drink in Haiti is probably imported.

RAZ: Realistically speaking, President Martelly, give me a time frame. I mean, when do you see the devastation of the earthquake, you know, really sort of becoming something that is in the past?

MARTELLY: It's not a matter of going fast. It's not a matter of giving a date. There's urgency, definitely. But what we are about to do, we must do it right. And this is the priority: do it right.

RAZ: You, of course, had a very successful career as a recording artist before you got into politics. Are you still performing or at least, you know, do it on the side in the presidential palace?

MARTELLY: Well, excuse me. This is a great question to me because I just decided that I would go back on stage to do a big event and draw people to bring money for the education.

RAZ: And do you know what you'll be singing?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTELLY: It's very sad that you haven't seen me on stage before. When I'm on stage, it doesn't matter what I sing. It's about me.

RAZ: I wish I could see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTELLY: You're invited.

RAZ: That's Michel Martelly. He's the president of Haiti. Thank you so much.

MARTELLY: It was a pleasure, Guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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