Pop star reborn as statesman vows renewal in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - President-elect Michel Martelly wants to transform Haiti from development basket case to Caribbean success story, a makeover as ambitious as the provocative pop star’s own reincarnation as head of state.

Haiti's president-elect Michel Martelly speaks during a private interview with Reuters in Port-au-Prince April 6, 2011. REUTERS/Swoan Parker

“With my talents as a communicator, I wish to be able to inspire this population to guide it on the right path,” the shaven-headed Martelly told Reuters in an interview, dedicating himself to changing Haiti’s image as a failed country.

Even as Internet videos still circulate showing the entertainer clowning on stage in skimpy costumes, “Sweet Micky,” now repackaged in a sober suit and tie, outlined his ambitious plans.

The 50-year-old political outsider won a landslide victory over former first lady Mirlande Manigat in a March 20 run-off, according to preliminary results out on Monday. He tapped into Haitians’ yearnings for a better future for their impoverished, earthquake-battered nation.

Martelly said that from day one of his presidency, expected to begin in May, he would work to bury Haiti’s “bad image” as a disaster-prone, aid-dependent nation, struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake last year.

“They have always sold our misery, our misfortunes, our cholera, the images of the earthquake, while Haiti in my eyes is a rich country, which has not been exploited yet,” he said.

“We plan from the first days of our term to sell a new image of Haiti,” Martelly added. After a disputes process, his election win should be declared definitive later this month.

During an energetic campaign, Martelly, a popular star of Haiti’s catchy Konpa carnival music whose on-stage antics have included baring his backside, skillfully used his “bad boy” outsider image to project a forceful message of change. He promised to break with decades of corruption and misrule.

He committed himself to restore the confidence of Haitians in their own country and international confidence in Haiti.

This is no mean task in one of the world’s poorest countries, which has the humiliating sobriquet of “Republic of NGOs” for its chronic dependency on aid from non-governmental agencies. Most Haitians, mired in poverty, have learned to scorn their politicians as posturing puppets bent on self-enrichment.

Martelly said an urgent priority was to provide housing for 680,000 homeless survivors of the earthquake still living in tent camps, a quarter of whom face eviction by landowners, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Guaranteeing free education was another priority.

Martelly, who became a rich man from a humble start as a casino singer and entertainer, says he will intervene actively to favor investments that create jobs.

Above all, he said he would do things differently. “Since Martelly is not a politician, he won’t think like a politician. I’m an entrepreneur,” he said.

Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by David Storey