“With the permission that the President has just given me, I can inform you that President Martelly is not American, he is Haitian.”
Thus spoke U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten at Haiti’s National Palace during a Mar. 8 press conference which was supposed to lay to rest persistent charges that President Joseph Michel Martelly holds or held U.S. citizenship.
If the charge proves true, “double nationality” would disqualify him from holding office because the Haitian Constitution requires presidential candidates to have “never” renounced their Haitian citizenship.
The problem is that Ambassador Merten only used the present tense, not eliminating the possibility that Martelly may have been a U.S. citizen at some point in the past, say members of Haiti’s Special Senate Commission investigating the charges of double nationality against Martelly and 38 other high government officials.
“We haven’t asked about that yet, but we will,” said Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles, who heads the Senate Commission now examining the eight Haitian passports, spanning the years from 1981 to the present, which Martelly presented at the press conference.
Haïti Liberté spoke by telephone to U.S. State Department officials in Washington, seeking clarification of Ambassador Merten’s statement and whether Martelly has ever held U.S. citizenship. They refused to speak on the record and pointed to Ambassador Merten’s statement as the State Department’s “final word” on the subject.
“I can also add that I was with him [President Martelly] and the First Lady when he surrendered his [U.S.] residency card, when he handed it to the Consulate and we gave him a visa,” Merten continued.
Ironically, this revelation raised new concerns that Martelly may have lied to election authorities about whether he was compliant with the Constitution’s requirement that presidential candidates reside in Haiti for five years prior to running for office.
“How can you meet the residency requirement to run for President in Haiti when you meet the requirements to be a U.S. resident and hold a valid U.S. green card?” asked Sen. Moïse. “ You can’t have it both ways.”
Martelly’s holding of a U.S. residency card would seem to preclude the possibility that he was a U.S. citizen. However, Sen. Moïse and his colleagues have discovered numerous irregularities with the passports that President Martelly presented to the press, keeping alive questions about possible double nationality.
“We see stamps [in the Haitian passports] showing that he left Haiti, but we don’t see stamps [in them] for where he went,” Sen. Moïse told Haïti Liberté. “Then, from 2004 to 2007, he never traveled, he never came to Haiti [according to Haitian Immigration records], while we see a lot of Haitian stamps [in the passports]. They stamped them, but they didn’t even sign them. There’s about a dozen fake stamps.”
Sen. Moïse also charged that “there are passports which don’t have visas. If you have a passport which is in the name of Michel Martelly which doesn’t have a visa in it, you’d have to have a residency card or a U.S. passport to enter the United States. But he gave us a passport which didn’t have either of these things.”
There are also contradictions with some U.S. documents listing the president’s name as Michael Joseph Martelly, rather than Joseph Michel Martelly, Moïse said.
The mystery was deepened by a trip which Martelly made from Haiti to Miami on Nov. 21, 2007, a journey which Sen. Annick Joseph had revealed last week. The Senate Commission had been told by several people it interviewed that Michel Martelly was on an American Airlines flight that day.
“The President sent [the executive’s liaison in charge of relations with the Parliament, Ralph Ricardo] Theano to us, and he swore that on Nov. 21, 2007 he was at a seasonal celebration (fèt chanpèt) with President Martelly who was performing [his konpa music act] in Haiti, that the president did not travel,” Sen. Moïse said. “We went to immigration, they gave us all the travel manifests for every single flight which traveled that day, and they told us the president did not travel. Everybody around the president said no, he didn’t travel…. Then the president himself shows at the press conference a passport with a Haitian stamp indicating that yes, he did travel on Nov. 21 . Now the Immigration Director is saying that he has to find the person who put that stamp.”
The passport in question also appears to have a U.S. entry stamp on Nov. 21, 2007 but Moïse is suspicious. “I do not believe it is authentic,” he said.
The Senate Commission is also perplexed by and looking into a passport that was apparently issued to Martelly in 1981 and expired in 1993, a duration of 13 years. Most Haitian passports have a maximum duration of five years.
Furthermore, the Immigration department has records of issuing only four passports to Martelly over the years, not the eight he presented, the commission says.
According to Sen. Moïse, President Martelly never intended to turn over to the Senate Commission the passports brandished at the Mar. 8 press conference. For months, he had defied the Senate Commission, saying it had no authority to demand his passports, which would remain, as he said in one press conference, “in the President’s pocket.”
But Martelly’s intransigence began to create the public perception that he was hiding something, and finally a delegation of “Religious Leaders for Peace” convinced him to make public his passports and break the stand-off. The delegation, which sat around him at the press conference included the Catholic Bishop of Nippes, Pierre André Dumas, the Rev. Sylvain Exantus of Haiti’s Protestant Federation, Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, the head of the Episcopal Church, mambo (vodou priestess) Evoie Auguste representing the Vodou sector, and the Rev. Clément Joseph of the Mission of Churches in Haiti.
But President Martelly had only wanted to make a “media show” with the passports, not turn them over to the Senate Commission, according to Sen. Moïse.
“I am giving these to you for verification, but you cannot walk away with them,” Martelly said when giving the passports to Bishop Dumas.
“But Pastor Exantus said that they could not invite him to something to use him for a mascarade, and it was the pastor who brought the passports to us,” on Mar. 9, said Moïse.
At the time of the press conference, three senators allied to Martelly resigned from the investigating commission: Joseph Lambert, Youri Latortue and Yvon Buissereth. Lambert and Latortue charged that the commission, which they had led for several weeks, was part of a “destabilization campaign” and that there was “no evidence” to support the U.S. citizenship questions swirling around Martelly.
Senate President Dieuseul Simon Desras had said that Martelly’s passports would be returned on Mar. 12, but Sen. Moïse now says that the Commission’s senators will be holding onto the passports “indefinitely” until they get answers to their questions about them.