Martelly, the consolidation of power, and the tailoring of Iron-Pants

Patrick SylvainPatrick SylvainPresident Martelly declared education and fighting corruption among his highest priorities in the reconstruction of Haiti. Simultaneously, he extended a participatory hand to some of the country’s former leaders — known human rights violators, drug traffickers, and corruptors. For some reason, Jean-Claude Duvalier and former President Aristide are held in high regard by Martelly and have been sought by him, in this, the first year of his presidency.

Martelly’s overtures to political leaders can simply be read as symbolic, which, in a country like Haiti that has historically been mired in exclusionary politics can result in personal and political triumph. Martelly’s embrace of both friends and foes automatically garners him political points that his predecessors have failed to earn. Whether his political embraces and and maneuverings are genuine or not is absolutely irrelevant; what is important is the how his presidency has been perceived during this period of power consolidation, the most critical for any government.

For Martelly especially, much attention needs to be paid to how effectively he handles his first episode of leadership, as he projects lofty goals and authoritative tendencies despite minimal representation in parliament.

Sa ki pa konn Micky, men Micky! (Those who do not know Micky, here’s Micky!)

The neo-political Duvalierist that effectively forms his power base must be lauded for his cohesive discipline and showmanship. Although fomer President Aristide had several Duvalierists in his first regime, his populist power base and antagonistic policies created more rifts than accord. His actions and leadership style vastly differ from those of President Martelly, an all-hands-on-the-Duvalier-deck type of president. His open fearlessness, (despite being undemocratic in the tradition of the ruling class), is indeed the leadership characteristic that certain Haitians admire and is one that the international community “supports,” resulting in the completion of projects that ultimately benefit the ultra-rich. Martelly is fast transforming his particular style of leadership into an art.

Of course, in the field of politics where persuasion and perception in and of themselves are arts, every move becomes a calculating one and each is perceived by the masses who desire stability and seek assurance of movement toward a greater goal.
How President Martelly spends his political capital is to be pondered. Will he self-destruct due to his arrogance and inflexibility? Or will his rigidity be beneficial for the survival of his presidency, given the culture of dictatorship that cements our failed
institutions? What is peculiar in a troubling way is the fact that his musical success is perceived as being translatable to political prowess. Martelly’s lack of decorum and forceful personality is readily displayed in his role as president, and some, but not all of his supporters are shocked by his behavior.

The current struggle for consolidated power is nothing but a normal product of the Haitian male ego constructed at the inception of the nation. Thus, the potential resurgence of the military in Haiti is not surprising, as members of the bourgeoisie have historically been protected by the military. (They were appalled by the rise of Aristide who brought the Cité Soleil population among their ranks.) Now, with President Martelly, their power can potentially be regained, reshaped, refashioned and re-institutionalized in ways that were neverthought possible. What Martelly and the Neo-Duvalierists are engineering is an iron-clad political machine under the aegis of democracy.

Thus far, the process of electoral representative democracy has failed, although the euphoria associated the voting process itself was good practice given Haiti’s coarse dictatorial tradition. As such, recent electoral shams have resulted in the pollution of nascent democratic practices. Plus, the political incompetence of self-declared progressive politicians, rampant structural corruption, and mammoth inequalities that have proven to be cancerous to the society.

The dictatorial penchant expressed by the Martelly presidency is reflected by his political and legal entourage that consists of ultra-conservatives and Neo-Duvalierists. Hence, it would be highly unlikely that Haiti’s feeble democratic process might be strengthened while there is neither historical precedent nor a culture that espouses democratic values.

The stability of the elite is clearly anchored to a new form of political control. They hold sway over representational interests and government stability in a way that is intrinsically tied to the electoral process. In a culturally dictatorial and corrupt country like Haiti, to maintain stability and control over governance, the elite must resort to the creation of a one (maximum two) party system, which has the ability to carry out their political interests. The return of the Haitian military is likely to be institutionalized to safeguard their interests as well as those of foreign investors. Eventually, total control of Parliament by the elite will likely be attained, as will control of the media. There is a great chance that the Martelly state will certainly emerge as a cohesive unit with a zealous commitment to stability and fervent nationalism.

The public embrace between Aristide and Martelly in mid-October can be viewed as a political death sentence for Aristide as he has slowly lost legitimacy and is precluded from gathering up his base after his long absence in the country. Each former president, with the exception of Duvalier, who embraces President Martelly through the symbolic gesture of reconciliation, can be viewed as politically wing-clipped. This permits Martelly and his Neo-Duvalierists to soar in an unchallenged sky void of valid moral authority.

Proof of the success of Martelly’s consolidation of power is the recent arrest of Deputy Arnel Belizaire, a crook in his own right, who not only is openly opposed to President Martelly, but recently challenged him at a meeting with members of Parliament held at the National Palace. Belizaire’s arrest, based on his illegal past, overshadowed his parliamentary immunity. This move will certainly instill fear amongst members of parliament who may have gotten away with illegal acts under previous governments. In Belizaire’s case, what is on display is a legitimate legal and democratic fight for the future of Haiti. If Belizaire is released in response to parliamentary protests, it can certainly be viewed as victory for democracy; however, we must see whether the legal framework will ultimately be respected. The tailoring of Martelly’s iron-pants depends not only on the resurgence of the military, but also hinges on his ability to control Parliament. If Parliament insists on maintaining Belizaire’s immunity, than Haiti will be in for a damaging struggle for democracy where the executive will be forced to clash with Parliament over a member with a criminal record. Martelly could potentially play his hand by violating the constitution through strongman-showmanship. However, in order for Martelly to show that he is a no nonsense president who is indeed serious about corruption and criminality in the Parliament, then his temporary success in having the police arrest Belizaire, albeit short, must be translated to permanency where legal means are used to properly prosecute a wanted fugitive.

Unfortunately, as macho-political egos parade their myopic personal interests, Haiti continues to endure abject poverty and dire circumstances. Feeble institutions, instead of becoming more democratic, are now reconstructed with dictatorial cement.

Patrick Sylvain is an Instructor of Haitian Language and Culture at Brown University.