Passport Submitted: A Small Step for Martelly but a Giant Step for Democracy.
On March 8, 2012, President Michel Martelly bowed to public pressure and handed travel documents to a group of religious leaders, diplomats, and journalists who in turn submitted these documents to the Senatorial Commission investigating the nationalities of the members of the Presidential cabinet. For several months, Martelly balked and urged cabinet members to ignore the commission’s request, even as his intransigence undermined the authority of his former Prime Minister, Garry Conille.
President Martelly’s reluctance to cooperate fueled public suspicion and allowed time for the allegations against him to strengthen. He is now accussed of having not only multiple nationalities, but also multiple identities. He is said to function as Michel Martelly in Haiti and as Michael Martelly in the US. As a candidate, he argued for creating a state of constitutional order in Haiti. As president, he sought to champion the notion that the head of state answers to no other authority. His assertion that the president is synonymous with the state is an attitude that is not conducive to establishing a state of law and order. The perception that Martelly embraces such an approach to government along with his past connections to an extremist group, led many observers to describe the president as a rogue leader intent on re-establishing a dictatorship.
President Martelly’s turnabout is a refreshing departure from the idea that the office of the presidency need not answer to other authorities in the country. At the press conference, President Martelly asked and received the support of the American Ambassador who denied that Michel Martelly was ever an American citizen. In inserting the prestige of his office in the controversy, the American ambassador is now a witness to the case and should make himself available to the Senatorial Commission to clarify his statements. The ambassador went on to reassure the public that Michel Martelly is a Haitian citizen. This implies that the American ambassador has knowledge about Martelly’s status regarding other nationalities and other alleged identities.
Rather than represent a factual statement, the ambassador’s words may reflect his earnest desire to help the President and the Senate get around their impasse. There’s also the possibility that the ambassador’s position is self-serving because if Martelly were forced to resign, the US would likely have to bear the cost of funding new elections. Whatever the ambassador’s motives, together with the religious leaders and journalists, he offered the President a face saving way out of a political crisis.
Martelly needed to move away from the arrogance of the statement “Paspò a ap ret lan pòch prezidan an.” The President granted religious and diplomatic facilitators access to his pocket and they took the passports to the Haitian Senate giving this second branch of government the recognition and respect that it deserves. It is now up to the Senate to review these documents fairly and expeditiously. Their cause was just. Already, three officials have resigned because they held American, Canadian, and Spanish citizenship.
In submitting his documents, Martelly won because he sent a clear signal that Haiti’s Constitution and its institutions must be respected. The Senate also won because, in keeping with constitutional requirements, it forced non-Haitian citizens holding high public office to resign. This win-win is a major step for the advancement of democracy and presents a rare occasion to celebrate both the presidency and the senate. Hopefully, no side will appeal to their followers with a winner take all attitude that is all too common in Haitian politics. Presently, there is no reason for sanctioning neither Martelly nor Senator Moise Jean Charles who first raised suspicions about Martelly’s nationality. The country needs to move forward with a vibrant check-and-balance system to keep the culture of dictatorship from rearing its ugly head.