With his country descending into its worst political crisis since a 2004 coup d’etat, and thousands of people demanding his resignation in the streets, Haiti’s embattled outgoing president, Michel Martelly, went back to basics last week: He released a new song.
Before Martelly became head of state five years ago, he was a pop star known as “Sweet Micky.” Micky was famous for saying or doing anything to get a rise out of a crowd. He would provoke them, insult them, or seduce them with his velvet baritone and bad-boy charm. A lot of it was your typical rock or rap rebel shtick—bragging about sex, drugs, and generally being an outlaw. But Micky’s genius move was combining that with the unleashed, upside-down spirit of kanaval, the Haitian Mardi Gras. Sometimes that meant Martelly performed in a halter-top and miniskirt. Sometimes he’d just go naked.
If the transformation of audacious showmanship and fame into political power reminds you of a certain real-estate mogul turned celebrity candidate in the United States, well, it should. Martelly presaged Donald Trump in a lot of ways. Before his election, Martelly’s supporters liked to say that, because he was already so rich and famous, their candidate couldn’t be bribed or bought. Every time he’d insult other candidates or critics, or just say what other politicians wouldn’t, disaffected, angry voters—especially young, unemployed men furious about their endless poverty and the failed response to the 2010 earthquake—just loved him more. In one recording, purportedly made days before the 2011 presidential runoff, Martelly informed a crowd that members of the rival left-wing Lavalas party of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were “ugly” and “smell like shit.” “Go fuck your mother, Lavalas. ... Go fuck your mother, Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” he said, over cheers and peals of laughter. (The phrase is even dirtier and meaner in Haitian Creole.) Then he challenged them to come to his house and kill him.