Outrage at Haitian leader’s remarks
By Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
Haitian President Michel Martelly’s encouragement to Haitian-Bahamians to vote in a bloc for the party that best serves their interests sparked outrage yesterday from political observers, who called the comments ‘insulting’ interference in the country’s political system.
Some members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) said Martelly’s comments were inappropriate. Some observers also said they were ill-timed, considering the fact that the next election is so close.
It was also suggested by some yesterday that newly-regularized Bahamians might heed Martelly’s advice and be inclined to vote for the FNM.
“I thought it was an insult to the Bahamian people that a foreigner would come here and instruct Bahamian citizens to vote one way or the other,” said PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts.
Roberts, who was briefly a former immigration minister in the Christie administration, pointed out that only Bahamian citizens can vote in elections. He said they should therefore vote for the party that best serves the country, not a particular sect or group.
His sentiments in this regard were echoed by Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell and former PLP MP and senator Philip Galanis.
“People vote for their best interests, they don’t in my view vote as a bloc. Every Bahamian who is voting will vote for the party that is in the best interest of The Bahamas,” said Mitchell.
He said, however, that the PLP was assured by the Haitian Embassy that the comments were not meant to be inflammatory.
However, Galanis said Haitian-Bahamians who were eligible for citizenship and regularized by the government over the past five years may see Martelly’s words as an endorsement of the FNM.
“It was totally inappropriate for him to make those statements in the run-up to the next election because there were so many persons who just received citizenship by the FNM, and they may take that as [a cue to say] that’s who they should vote for,” said Galanis.
The government granted citizenship to nearly 2,600 people in the four-and-a-half years it has been in power, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette revealed earlier this week, but he did not indicate how many were of Haitian descent.
Yesterday, the Democratic National Alliance said Martelly’s comments were not suitable considering the heightened political season.
DNA Leader Branville McCartney said the president’s remarks were a “direct attack on Bahamian democracy and all Bahamians — those of foreign descent or otherwise — who uphold the ideals of the nation and their right to vote for whichever political party they see fit”.
“Haiti’s president should respect the sovereignty of our democracy,” McCartney added in a statement yesterday.
FNM Chairman Carl Bethel, who did not speak for the party but gave his personal views, said Martelly’s political statements shocked him.
“Non-Bahamians cannot dictate what goes on in The Bahamas, whether they visit or live here,” said Bethel, who stressed that this comment did not refer to President Martelly.
He also shot down speculation that Martelly’s visit was orchestrated by the FNM to gain votes from the Haitian-Bahamian community.
“The FNM is a Bahamian party whose first interest is the interest of The Bahamas,” he said.
During his brief visit to The Bahamas, President Martelly urged Haitian-Bahamians with the right to vote to support the party that could serve and protect their interests.
He made the statements during a meeting with Haitians and people of Haitian descent at Church of God on Joe Farrington Road on Tuesday night, and repeated them on Wednesday.
Last year, PLP Leader Perry Christie said successive governments have been hesitant to take a strong stance against the illegal Haitian immigrant problem because they fear a voting bloc of Haitian-Bahamians.
“Once governments become frightened of the numbers of Haitians who have become Bahamians and who can vote... they have become an important voting bloc. So somewhere along the line the purity of the commitment to protect The Bahamas and its territorial waters is sort of merged to the fear of doing things that might cause you to lose an election,” Christie said.
"...We allowed ourselves to be influenced too much by their presence as opposed to using our own commitment to convince and satisfy them that they are Bahamians, accepted as Bahamians, and that the programs that we are offering them to close down illegal immigrants coming into our country are programs as much in their favor as in any other Bahamian's favor.”
Feb 10, 2012