Rare debate of 'presidential candidates' Martelly, Manigat; Candidates support resurrection of Haitian army

Manigat, Martelly kept to script in rare debate for Haiti presidency

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, March 10, 2011

He reinforced his image as a political outsider ready to go to battle with the status-quo. She resisted his repeated attempts to paint her as part of the problem and not the solution. With just 11 days to go before Haiti’s critical presidential elections, candidates Michel Martelly, a musician known as "Sweet Micky" and Mirlande Manigat, a professor and constitutional law expert, went head-to-head in a televised debate Wednesday hoping to distinguish themselves from each other.

Both right-leaning, the two are campaigning on similar platforms: education, national production, re-establishment of a Haitian military. Supporters in each camp, who claimed victory, are hoping the debate will not just lead to a win March 20 but legitimacy after a first-round plagued by widespread fraud and disorganization.

"I thought it was great," Karl Jean-Jeune, a blogger and Martelly supporter said following the debate, which was taped at the upscale Karibe hotel for TV and radio audiences Wednesday. "I think he was too aggressive, but he got his point of his leadership across. He came to reassure people who are with him, and bring along some people who were not on his side.’’

The debate comes on the heels of a poll by Haiti’s private sector showing that Martelly, 50, has moved ahead of Manigat, 70, as the candidate of choice among Haitian voters in what is being described as a tight race. Martelly, according to the poll by a local firm known by its acronym BRIDES, has 50.8 percent of the votes and Manigat, 46.2 percent. Some 3 percent say they are either undecided or will not vote for either candidate. The poll’s margin of error is 1.27 percentage points.

Manigat, who led in the first round, said she had not yet seen the poll, but said she was pleased with her performance and the debate despite Martelly’s “"ittle attacks."

"I refused to respond,’’ she said.

Martelly dismissed the poll, saying that it was done by "a fervent supporter" of Manigat and that the real polling is in the streets. He believes his popularity far exceeds the poll’s results. "There is a fever out there," he said, referring to his candidacy.

Organizers of the debate say they believe it will have a decision-making impact on Haitian voters. "The mentality in our culture is the people have to see the candidates, touch them, shake their hands," said Robert Denis, one of the organizers. "The debate makes it possible for the people to see the candidate and see them against the person whom they oppose."

But for Haiti’s 4.7 million voters, Wednesday’s debate offered little about how the candidates’ policies will be funded, or their plan for dealing with a looming global fuel crisis once elected. Instead, Martelly, appealing to his populist base, sought to rib Manigat, and at one point inaccurately depicted her as being a member of the U.S.-backed Gerard Latortue interim government that governed Haiti from 2004-2007. He continuously showed himself as a man who knows the true plight of the people, while repeatedly identifying her as part of the "system."

Manigat, a member of the opposition for 30 years, asked for civility. She also decried "the assassination" of three young people who mounted posters for her campaign. Their bullet- riddled bodies were found in the morgue, wearing her campaign T-shirt.

Candidates Support Resurrection of Haitian army:

Would-be soldiers hope for revival of Haitian army

By BEN FOX, Miami Herald, March 9, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Their military fatigues faded and their grizzled faces stern, the squad of veterans barks out orders to rows of young men and women who sweat as they run through exercises under the blazing Caribbean sun. The more than 150 volunteers who have gathered on a hilltop outside the capital are desperate for a chance to serve their country. Many say they are anxious to bring security to Haiti and help end its long series of troubles. But the would-be recruits don't really have any place to go: Haiti has no army - or any other military forces for that matter.

The drill leaders and ranks of volunteers who have eagerly assembled here represent nothing more than an informal movement of Haitians eager to re-establish an army - an idea that unnerves Haitians who remember times darkened by military coups, oppression and abuse. The Haitian army was disbanded in 1995 by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after he had been deposed in a coup and then restored to power with the help of U.N. forces. The continuing presence of U.N. troops is a sore point for many Haitians.

The two candidates vying for Haiti's presidency in the March 20 vote both support restoring the armed forces in some form. That's raised the hopes of many among the ragtag recruits, who run through several hours of drills three times a week without any pay. "I want to see order in my country," says 26-year-old Pierre Jeans Rigaud, a neatly dressed student from the neighborhood. "We all want to see it."

The prospect of a new military is especially attractive for young Haitians, given the scarcity of jobs. An estimated 70 percent of the population is younger than 30, according to the Washington-based group, Population Action International. Even before the January 2010 earthquake, unemployment was widespread and 80 percent of the people lived in poverty.

Delise Wilson, 36, who survives by grabbing whatever sewing jobs he can, says: "If the army is coming back, I want to be part of it... Even if they don't have any money, I'm willing to volunteer to protect the country."

Nestor Apolon, the squad's self-appointed commander, says "thousands and thousands" are waiting to be trained.

While there are no weapons visible at the makeshift base in Carrefour, a dusty maze of dirt lanes and concrete shacks, there are reminders of Haiti's military past. Apolon, for one, proudly acknowledges he fought with the rebels who ousted Aristide for a second time in 2004. A man guarding the gate wears a key chain adorned with the faces of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictators known as "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc." Others in the compound served from 1991-94, when the army ruled Haiti and committed some of the worst human rights violations in recent memory. Some contend they're technically still on duty: They claim Aristide's 1995 demobilization was unconstitutional.

Together, it's a tableaux of the pro-military fringe right, a looming presence in Haiti.

"The Haitian army has basically been an army that's been used against the Haitian people," said Human Rights Watch counsel Reed Brody. "It was there as an instrument of repression, so it's hard to see what Haiti gains by bringing back the army."

Presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat, a university administrator and former first lady, says that if elected, she would favor the formation of a military to protect the security of the nation. But, she stressed, it would have to honor human rights. "Nobody would like the armed forces as they existed before," she told The Associated Press. "There's no way the old practices could be renewed in Haiti."

Her rival, former singer Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly, says a new national security force could include engineers and a medical corps to respond to natural disasters. He also would like to see Haitian troops replace the U.N. force, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, that has kept order since Aristide was deposed. "The MINUSTAH are there because we did not have our own force to secure the country in case of chaos," Martelly said.

Such comments reflect a deep sense of Haitian patriotism. David Dorme, a former army sergeant helping train the Carrefour recruits, bitterly criticizes foreign troops for performing a duty that he says the country could handle on its own - and for failing to control spiraling crime rates. "When the Haitian army was here, we didn't have kidnappings and thievery," he said.

Few debate the need for more security. For the whole nation of 9 million people, there are just 8,400 poorly equipped police officers - about 40 percent of the number actually needed, says Police Chief Mario Andresol. Parts of the country go unpatrolled, and some divisions such as an airport security force or environmental protection unit exist only on paper, he said. While he hopes the next president will fully develop the police forces before allocating money for an army, Andresol said a military force is needed to patrol Haiti's coastline and remote regions where smugglers receive South American drug shipments bound for the United States.

Laurent Dubois, a Haitian historian and professor at Duke University, said the key is to determine what role a new military would have. The presidential candidates must have "an open and clear discussion," he said. "Precisely what kind of army will it be and what will its role in Haitian civil society be? What will it be trained and deployed to do?"

Andresol, who was an army captain before being inscribed into the police force, said Haiti's next government should break a past practice of having soldiers perform civilian assignments. For example, after going through a year of training at the U.S. Army-run School of Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, Andresol found himself assigned to traffic duty. Such misuse, he said, created an opportunity for trouble by putting soldiers trained for combat in public service roles. "According to the law, the police cannot establish order. Our mission is to maintain order," he said.

If the army were resurrected, Andresol is certain its ranks would be filled. Just take a look at the police force, he says: At least 30,000 people are waiting to join. But news that men were training recruits on the hilltop in Carrefour made the chief frown. In the past, he said, similar groups have misled poor people, tricking them into believing such training would help them land police or security jobs. He said he would send officers to check on the band, and warned that organizers could face arrest.