Several construction companies controlled by Dominican senator Félix Bautista have paid a total of more than $2.5 million to Haitian president Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) since 2010, according to a March 31 television report by Dominican investigative reporter Nuria Piera. At least two of the companies were awarded major contracts by the Haitian government for rebuilding in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake: Hadom S.A., which won a $33 million contract to construct a new building for the Parliament, and Roffy S.A., which is getting $174 million for a housing project in the capital’s Fort National section. (The ceremony to mark the start of the Fort National project last year was called off because of protests by area residents who demanded greater transparency.)
On April 2 Bautista denied that he had ever given money to President Martelly; he charged that the bank transactions detailed in Piera’s report came from “anonymous documents with altered and distorted information.” Martelly’s office called the report a “media lynching” and said it was “part of a process that seeks to impede the change in Haitian politics and the modernization of the country that the president is carrying out.”
Martelly isn’t the only politician who could face problems if Piera’s corruption accusations turn out to be true. According to Piera, Bautista’s companies also contributed $250,000 to Mirlande Manigat, Martelly’s opponent in the March 2011 presidential runoff. The Haitian rebuilding contracts were awarded to Bautista’s companies in 2010, during the administration of former president René Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011), so Préval and his prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, could come under scrutiny. Dominican president Leonel Fernández is said to be close to Bautista, who represents San Juan de la Maguana province in the Senate for Fernández’s Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). On April4 Piera charged that Dominican intelligence services were persecuting people they suspected of being her sources for the report. (AlterPresse, Haiti, April 2, April 5; Miami Herald, April 2, from correspondents; Listín Diario, Santo Domingo, April 3)
On April 4, five days after the scandal broke, Martelly flew to Florida for surgery on his shoulder. According to his press office, he will return on April 12, in time to meet Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who will be making his first visit to Haiti. The operation will be the second Martelly has had for his shoulder; he was in the US for a similar operation from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 last year, also during a political crisis—in that case, the crisis caused by the arrest of Parliament member Arnel Bélizaire. (AlterPresse, April 5)
In other news, the number of cholera cases rose in the Artibonite, Northwest and West departments when rainfall increased in late March. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, or OPS in French and Creole) expects an additional 200,000 cases this year. As of March 18, 7,056 people had died in the epidemic, which struck Haiti in October 2010, and 286,343 had been hospitalized, according to the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), which reports a total of 531,683 known cases. (AlterPresse, April 5)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 8.