BROOKLYN, NY — On Wednesday, President Michel Martelly gave his second address to the United Nations General Assembly, providing an update on Haiti’s reconstruction efforts. The same evening, he delivered remarks at a Brooklyn College gathering for the Haitian diaspora. It drew hundreds of supporters and protesters that formed a raucous crowd outside the main entrance of Whitman Hall — which made it difficult to enter the building — so attendees with tickets were diverted to back and side entrances. The Ditmas Park Patch reported that protesters’ main grievances were fees on wire-transfers and phones calls to Haiti.
The program started with a rousing rara band leading the officials into the auditorium. Once Martelly arrived on stage, the audience erupted in cheer. The high energy from Martelly supporters would last throughout the evening, with members of the audience shouting “Long live Martelly!” and “Martelly is my president!”
Martelly’s speech was preceded by remarks from Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who delivered a progress report on numerous areas of recovery, including airport reconstruction in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien, free tuition for public school students and removal of tent encampments in public spaces.
“I’m proud to announce that Haiti is on the right track,” Lamothe said. “With a democratically-elected president.. with the will to get it right this time.”
The Prime Minister said that almost all of the 1 million people removed from tents have been returned to proper housing and given money. He also said that the Cap-Haitien airport is scheduled to be completed on October 15, and will ready to receive a delegation from the U.S. by October 22.
“When you visit Haiti now, the major roads are liberated [from the rubble],” Lamothe said. “The airport is liberated… Place Boyer is liberated.”
He went on to say “Haiti will be a large construction site” describing plans to build 140 sports centers (one for each commune in the country) along with the 42 government buildings that were destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake. Lamothe told the audience about plans to expand access to electricity, the addition of 250,000 recipients to the free-tuition program that currently serves 1 million students and efforts to attract investments to the island.
We’re getting some good headlines from the media, Lamothe said, as he read a recent headline from the Miami Herald ‘Haiti making progress on investor-friendly environment.’
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White also addressed the audience.
“There is a new day in Haiti,” White said. “I lived in Haiti for five years … worked in Africa for 30 years. I know when a country is rising and Haiti is rising.”
Once Bishop Guy Sansaricq gave the opening prayer and State Committeewoman Rodneyse Bichotte welcomed the president to the 42nd district (noting that the district is home to the largest concentration of Haitians in New York City), the Emcee, Guy Evans Ford, broke protocol to introduce the president — the Consul General, as the main representative of the Haitian government in the city, should be the one to introduce the head of state.
“Every time Michel Martelly comes to New York, I introduce him… so tonight I’m breaking protocol to introduce my president, Michel Martelly… Long live Martelly!”
The president opened his remarks — mostly in Haitian Creole — with acknowledgements of the officials seated on stage, including Paul Altidor, Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S. and Jean Wesley Cazeau, Haiti’s Ambassador to the UN. He admitted that he didn’t prepare a formal speech for the occasion.
“This is the first time I’m speaking to a large audience with no prepared remarks,” Martelly said. “All I could think of… I must see my people.”
Martelly wasted little time moving into his first topic: dual citizenship. He said he didn’t think it went far enough, given the important role diaspora is playing in Haiti.
“We’ll work to get elected positions for the diaspora,” Martelly said. “Though being Haitian is not in your passport, it’s in your blood.”
When he launched into a litany of reconstruction updates, he invited two audience members to join him on stage, to describe their observations.
“The airport is so clean and beautiful,” one woman said. “When I used to visit before, I had to walk in small steps…now I can strut my stuff when I arrive at the airport.”
As he listed rebuilding projects, Martelly addressed the impact of extreme poverty.
“Rebuilding Haiti is not just about the physical buildings,” Martelly said. “It’s about having the people who can lead and manage the projects… It’s about the freedom of the people. How can someone be free if he can’t eat… if he doesn’t have access to health care, to a good education?”
While Martelly lauded his government’s efforts on education, the economy and agriculture, he quipped “good news doesn’t reach you over here.”
In his update on earthquake survivors living in tent cities, he lamented the challenge of governing versus the campaign.
“When I was campaigning against people living in the tents, I didn’t fully understand how hard it would be to move them,” Martelly said. “I thought, my goodness, what did I get myself into? You see there’s some politics with the people in the tents. They give them free food, free water…they don’t pay taxes. Why would they leave?”
“When you arrived at the airport, what did you see? Tents,” Martelly said. “When you got to Champs de Mars..Tents! But now all the public plazas are cleared [from tents], the airport is rebuilt.”
Martelly claimed he’s accused of being a dictator, even though he says people are free to criticize.
“No protests have resulted in arrests,” he said. “I’m the real democrat. M pat vinn fè dechoukay… m vinn fè developman. (I didn’t come to uproot. I came to work on development).”
In his close, Martelly addressed the importance of building institutions. He remarked on the need to reinforce existing institutions such as the national police and create new ones — the permanent electoral council.
“We need to give the country the stability you [the diaspora] have been looking for,” Martelly said.
Then someone from the clamorous audience shouted “What about MINUSTAH?!”
“Haitians created MINUSTAH,” Martelly said. “Before they came, there were frequent kidnappings… there was a lot of insecurity. Yes, we created the conditions for MINUSTAH to come… I can’t say that I’m happy they’re here, but we need them until our national defense force is strong.”
Another impetuous member of the audience shouted “Corruption!” Martelly responded Poze, nou twò cho… Map vinn sou sa. (Relax, you’re all too excited. I’ll get to that).” But he continued his closing remarks.
“Now, when I decided to run for the presidency, when I was candidate ‘Sweet Micky’, many asked ‘Nan kisa Ayiti pran la a mesye?’ [What has Haiti come to?] But now, I am president… the commander in chief. I’m dealing with all the issues head on.”
And to those who oppose Martelly, he directed a rousing version of his signature defiant call.
Sak pa kontan?! Anbake!