In the lively and graphic opening montage of the new documentary “Sweet Micky for President,” a behind-the-scenes look at Haiti’s 2010-2011 Presidential election and the rise of the entertainer turned President Michel Martelly, a newsman in stock film footage declares that “Haitians are a very abused people.” Granted, he says, Haitians are also proud—proud that our country was born out of a slave uprising; proud that we were the first black republic in the western hemisphere; proud, too, of having survived in the face of extreme adversity, what many called “resilience” after the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake that killed more than two hundred thousand people and left a million and a half homeless.
Produced and narrated by Martelly’s friend Pras Michel, a Haitian-American former member of the musical group the Fugees, “Sweet Micky for President” follows Martelly’s campaign from its halting start to the day of his inauguration, on May 15, 2011. Throughout the film, which was directed by Ben Patterson, Martelly’s supporters, including several Hollywood celebrities, make the case that Martelly is an inspirational figure, one who has written protest music and has taken part in anti-government demonstrations, and is well-loved by Haitians. Apart from one scene showing him lashing out at a radio reporter for asking how his ribald stage persona might affect his Presidential run, Martelly is portrayed as jovial and as his country’s last hope. Overlooked are his friendships with and endorsement of brutal military and paramilitary coup leaders, among them Michel François, the former Haitian national police chief who was responsible for the murders of several pro-democracy advocates in the nineteen-nineties, and who often takes credit for having given Martelly his stage name, Sweet Micky.
Martelly, who had also been calling himself the president of Haitian konpamusic for years, ran in the 2010 election against eighteen men and women, many of whom were part of Haiti’s established political class. (Michel’s former band mate, Wyclef Jean, declared his candidacy but did not make the cut because he failed to meet the five-year consecutive-residency requirement mandated by Haiti’s constitution.) Martelly made it into the top three, but not into the decisive second round. Along with the majority of the other candidates, Martelly’s camp accused the ruling party, INITE (UNITY), headed by René Préval, who was then President, of fraud. They claimed that names were left off voter rolls and that ballot boxes were stuffed in favor of INITE’s candidate, Jude Célestin, the former head of the government’s construction office. In the film, a sombre and desperate Martelly declares, after finding himself out of the race, “Everyone has been bought.”
Martelly’s supporters took to the streets in protest. After analyzing eight per cent of the votes, the Organization of American States reversed the results of Haiti’s electoral council and declared that Martelly, and not Célestin, would go into a second round, to face the educator and former First Lady Mirlande Manigat. Hillary Clinton, who was U.S. Secretary of State at the time, flew to Haiti to pressure President Préval to accept the O.A.S.’s results and “get out of the way,” as Pras Michel puts it. Préval would later reveal, in “Fatal Assistance,” a more penetrating insider documentary by the Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, that he was threatened with a coup d’état by a top United Nations official if he didn’t fall in line with the U.S. and the O.A.S. In a rather telling moment in “Sweet Micky for President,” Pras Michel, who didn’t see the O.A.S. reversal coming, goes to the actor Sean Penn, who heads a nongovernmental organization in Haiti, to seek his advice on how to keep Martelly in the race. Penn then takes Michel to consult with former President Bill Clinton, who was serving as United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti. Watching the scene, one is once again reminded that Haiti’s version of democracy is often decided in small rooms where few or no Haitians are present.
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