Campaign fixer sweetens prospects for Haiti’s Michel Martelly

By Jennifer WellsFeature Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE—Today’s $50 million question: who is the Miami businessman who reached out to Antonia Sola to be Michel Martelly’s campaign fixer?

Sola smiles at the question, all Spanish charm. He’s not saying. “A friend, a businessman, presented Michel to us in the U.S.,” he says.

The Madrid-based Sola, who played an indispensible role in getting Mexico’s Felipe Calderon into the president’s chair in 2006, has been running the Martelly campaign for the past seven weeks, which goes a long way toward explaining how the antic-prone musician suddenly emerged as a leading contender for Haiti’s presidency.

A “nimble, slick campaign.” That’s the way The New York Times described Sola’s work for Calderon, who was trailing Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by between six and 10 percentage points.

By signing on with Martelly, Sola adopted a candidate who was solidly in third place behind Jude Celestin (the man in the Celestin-for-president branded helicopter) and Mirlande Manigat (wife of an ex president).

What to do?

Robo calls to the diaspora a few days before the election encouraging them to get their loved ones to vote for Sweet Micky was one tactic. (The pitch: aren’t you tired of money sent to loved ones being mismanaged by corrupt governments?) A local company was hired to conduct focus groups. (“Where would you like to be in four years’ time?” “What’s the outlook for the economy?”) Image management was an issue.

On that point: It was Sola’s people who decided upon a two-pronged strategy for the first stage of the Martelly campaign. Part one of the strategy was to shift the Haitian mindset from seeing the singer as Sweet Micky to the more polished Michel Martelly; Part two was to have him run as an outsider, “A man who is not part of the system,” says Damian Merlo, executive director at Ostos & Sola, the company Sola cofounded nine years ago.

Communications. Crisis Management. Hanging a flag behind Martelly during press conferences. Limiting the number of people who want to join him up on stage. (This is an election, not a concert.) No more undershirts. “They didn’t have an agenda,” says Merlo of the candidate’s early organizers. “They had this notion that you campaign where people like you. We had to change that.”

No polling, no real fund-raising effort: Merlo, who worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign before joining O & S, rhymes off a long list of missing links that characterized the early stages of the campaign. A proper press office? No.

What Martelly did have was a signature campaign colour: pink.

Sola quantifies the payoff. “We are very hard in the numbers,” he says, unnecessarily apologizing for his sometimes bumpy English. Sola insists that Martelly has garnered 40 per cent of the votes and goes on to suggest that the number is, in fact, higher.

Who knows?

The country’s electoral council has until midnight Tuesday to announce the numbers and names of the two contenders who will head into a run-off round and a Jan. 16 vote. Those two contenders are, presumably, Martelly and Mirlande Manigat.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Merlo, pondering a week without preliminary results. “Our only conclusion is they’re trying to do some magic so we come in third.”

Last week, Martelly’s team set up a tabulation room at the Karibe Hotel. Copies of ballot box tallies are provided to the first and second place finishers in each precinct. “When I tell you we’re 70 per cent in the south, that’s where I’m getting it from,” says Merlo.

The tallies were in hand days ago.

Sitting on the stone patio behind the Karibe, in the dark, wearing a pair of torn jeans and a pullover, Sola dismisses the suggestion that a politically inexperienced singer might not make the most fitting president. Political experience hasn’t done much for the country up till now, is his point.

What can Martelly do? “Rescue the belief of man in himself.”

It’s a good line.

Sola is a pragmatist, too. His company conducted extensive due diligence on Martelly before signing on. “He’s clean. He’s clean. He’s clean,” Sola says, adding, “Michel doesn’t have any mortgages. No debt. Nothing. He doesn’t owe anything to anyone.”

At that, the unencumbered man of the hour appears. It is time to craft stage two of the campaign strategy. The trio heads off into the dark. Something tells me the real game is only just beginning.–campaign-fixer-sweetens-prospects-for-haiti-s-michel-martelly


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2 thoughts on “Campaign fixer sweetens prospects for Haiti’s Michel Martelly

  1. So as usual, another con-artist is using the lack of education of the people of Haiti to get elected like Aristide. When will the people of Haiti wake up and realize all this clown wants is a chance to make big money to pay off his debts in the USA

    1. @Don Melton- Very Very VERY accurate statement. Uneducated Haitians love Martelly, but the ones that are not operating with a music fan’s mentality vote for someone with a real plan and some education behind them.

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