Treed by legislators, President Michel Martelly, who ridiculed senators investigating his alleged foreign nationality in violation of Haiti’s Constitution, had US Ambassador Kenneth Merten publicly affirm he was not an American.
Suspicions surrounding Martelly’s nationality snowballed the national press for months, as he taunted senators and even dared them to dislodge his passports from his pockets. “The president’s passport will remain in the president’s pockets,” joked Martelly to journalists. “You have no legal authority to investigate my nationality,” he later sniped at persisting senators. However, when the snowball transformed into an avalanche, destroying the president’s credibility, Merten offered him a get-out-of-jail pass. “President Martelly is not an American,” declared the ambassador, “He is Haitian.” Merten, a career diplomat officially serving as ambassador to Haiti since Aug. 24, 2009, made the controversial comments appearing alongside Martelly during a highly publicized press conference where the president showcased eight passports, hoping to stop the allegation’s domino effect.
If Merten’s intervention appeased some critics, it angered many more and, to a large extent, further obfuscated matters for Martelly. Speaking with the Washington Times, Stanley Gaston who presides over Port-au-Prince’s Bar Association, openly criticized the ambassador’s actions. “Listen to me good,” drilled Gaston into reporters. “If President Martelly is not an American citizen, then the United States doesn’t have to go into this debate at all.” Standing on Constitutional ground, other critics also spat fire at Merten and urged legal actions against him. Invoking article 56 of the 1987 Constitution, which stipulates, “An alien may be expelled from the territory of the republic if he becomes involved in the political life of the country, or in cases determined by law,” many opinion leaders decried Merten’s explicit interference in Haitian politics as ground to expel him.
Addressing growing critics, the ambassador whose incumbency ends later this year, said he could not understand why people criticized both his initial silence on the matter and his intervening on behalf of the president. During an exclusive interview with Tele Metropole, Merten reiterated his claim: Martelly was not an American citizen; emphasizing both the U.S. State Department and the president authorized his intervention. It was impossible, explained Merten, for an American citizen to also have an U.S. alien card, revealing Martelly surrendering his residency card to the U.S. Embassy in May 2011, shortly after his swearing-in as Haiti’s 56th president.
Many senators felt Merten’s revelations confirmed that, contrary to strict constitutional imperatives, Martelly won Haiti’s highest office as a U.S. resident or citizen. Yet, Ralph Theano who oversees communications between the executive and parliament felt the ambassador’s affirmation should help close the investigation. During a phone interview, Theano said the diplomat’s statements should dispel all suspicions surrounding the president who was a native of Haiti. However, lawmakers disagreed; “A foreign diplomat cannot close a senate investigation,” replied Sorel Jacinthe, former president of the House of Deputies.
On a parallel plane, Deputy Arnel Belizaire found it ironic that while senators alleged Martelly’s foreign citizenship delegitimized his presidency, a foreigner declared him a Haitian. Speaking as a guest on the weekly radio show Ranmasse aired on Caraibes FM, Belizaire leveled sharp criticism against the ambassador. “If Kenneth Merten is paid to defend Michel Martelly,” declared the ally of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, “He must take the money and leave the country,” as he questioned Merten’s moral integrity and legal authority to position himself as Martelly’s lawyer. Recently, Merten faced increased pressure, as many Haitians organized protests in front of the American Embassy, demanding the diplomat’s immediate departure. Organizers who spoke to reporters perceived Merten’s actions as one American rescuing another and planned to increase pressure on the ambassador until their demands materialized. “We will protest day after day until Kenneth Merten leaves Haiti,” declared a protester. Earlier this year, on Jan. 23 2012, President Barack Obama nominated current U.S. Ambassador to Gambia Pamela Ann White, as Merten’s replacement in the Haitian capital, ending his three-year tenure.
Meanwhile, investigators casted more doubts over the president nationality, highlighting numerous irregularities that surfaced under their microscopes. In fact, Senator Jean-Charles who initiated the citizenship investigation alleged the executive had an entire team forging its documents, allegations the government characterized as a witch hunt created to destabilize the administration.