AFRICANGLOBE – Haitian President Michel Martelly has managed to inspire popular opposition to his government almost since his election in May 2011. Martelly, who came to office in a grossly unrepresentative process which excluded Lavalas, the country’s most popular party, has been closely linked with figures around former dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
That in itself is enough to garner distrust among the majority of Haitians. Martely warmly welcomed the January 2011 Haitian return of Baby Doc, one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, after the despot’s decades of luxurious exile in France.
The demobilization of the widely feared Haitian military was probably the most popular act of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was twice ousted in U.S.-backed coups which Martelly supported. Martelly’s announcement in September 2011 that he intended to bring back the Haitian military was the first of many unpopular moves. Martelly also sang the praises of well armed paramilitaries who emerged in militia camps in early 2012.
In October 2011, Martelly ordered the arrest of a sitting member of Parliament, Arnel Belizaire. The president targeted Belizaire after a verbal altercation. Two of Martelly’s government ministers roughed up Port-au-Prince airport security employees after an unauthorized entry into a high-level security area during Belizaire’s arrest, in a manner reminscent of Duvalier’s Ton Ton Macoute death squad. The illegal arrest and violence resulted in popular opposition which forced Martelly to let Belizaire go free.
In early February 2012, just before carnival, Martelly marched with a band in the streets and then decided to crash an international conference at the State University’s Ethnology School. Denied entrance, Martelly’s thugs attacked students, arresting and wounding several. University property was also damaged.
In early 2012 popular sentiment grew against the announced reinstatement of the military, along with opposition to forced evictions of earthquake survivors in refugee camps. In the community of Jalouzi, impoverished people who had been living in the neighborhood for generations were given notice to leave in order to create a more pristine view for a new luxury hotel. Opposition to bulldozing of these residents led to a number of demonstrations between May and July of 2012.
Also in July 2012, veteran activists with MOLEGHAF (Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity), an organization spearheading Port-au-Prince demonstrations, were arrested on dubious charges. One of the activists was subsequently transferred to the extremely overcrowded and inhumane national penitentiary.
Martelly compounded these insults to free speech with his behavior toward reporters. In a September 2012 report, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti documented “intimidation, threats, destruction of their media equipment and retaliation by President Martelly and his administration against progressive journalists for critical reporting, which has created an atmosphere of fear and a chilling effect on journalists’ freedom of expression”
Corruption scandals have bedeviled Martelly. Award-winning Dominican journalist Nuria Piera broke the story in April 2012 – later reported in Time Magazine – that Martelly was alleged to have accepted $2.6 million in bribes during and after the 2010 election to ensure that a Dominican Republic construction company would receive contracts under his presidency.
When travelling, which he does often, Martelly’s entourage receives an outrageous per diem from the Haitian government. According to Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, Martelly gets $20,000 a day, his wife $10,000 a day, his children $7,500 and others in his inner circle get $4,000 daily.
Questionable new taxes have also fed controversy. A $1.50 tax on money transfers and a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls to Haiti are alleged to support education, but the poor majority continue to face unaffordable school fees and critics say no money from this tax has gone to schools. Moreover, Haitian teachers have been marching to demand back pay. Martelly’s new taxes were not ratified by or presented to Haiti’s Parliament, making them illegal. Critics also charge that these funds are being managed by a firm owned by Martelly and his close associate, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.
Combined with popular outrage at Martelly’s proposed changes to the Haitian consitution and the oppressive cost of living, strikes and other actions spread throughout Haiti in September and October of this year. On Sept. 30, the anniversary of the 1991 coup d’etat against democratically elected President Aristide, large crowds took to the streets in protest against Martelly’s policies and his support of that coup.
On Oct. 10, Haiti Liberte reported, “Large crowds are now calling on President Martelly to step down, accusing his government of embezzlement, waste, corruption, nepotism, drug trafficking, lying, bluffing and failure to keep its promises.” Cap Haitien, Gonaives, Nippes, Jeremie, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Trou-du-Nord, Fort-Liberte, Belladere and Port-au-Prince all experienced anti-Martelly demonstrations, some swelling to thousands of protesters, in early October.
One such action occurred Oct. 4 in Petit Goave, when President Martelly inaugurated 1 km of road funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Martelly’s security guards clubbed protestors, burned motorcycles and fired tear gas, which killed an octogenarian Haitian.
More recently, in reaction to the government’s lackluster aid after widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy, activists in Grand Goave barricaded roads to show their outrage. The Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity has been holding weekly demonstrations for social justice in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
On Thursday, Nov.8, that group joined four other grassroots organizations – Platform de Employees des Enterprises Publique, Fanm Geto Leve, Rezistans Neg Geto and Debats Jeunes – in staging a mass protest against the Martelly government. The demonstration brought thousands into the streets of Port-au-Prince.
Protestors demanded an end to waste and corruption, rehiring of public employees sacked through privatization of state run enterprises, and “aba gran gou woz” or “down with pink hunger’’ – pink being the color of Martelly’s political party, hunger being the chronic state of Haiti’s masses. The protesters united in marching against the entire neoliberal agenda, which Haitians have been calling “the death plan” since the late 1980s.
While anti-Martelly demonstrations have rocked Haiti, right wing pressure on human rights activists has escalated.