Haitian President Michel Martelly jetted into South Florida last weekend ready to party. Inside a crowded ballroom on Saturday night, the pop-star-turned-president grabbed the microphone, swayed from side-to-side and riled up the crowd with an impromptu performance at the Renaissance Ballroom off Calle Ocho.
It was the eighth anniversary celebration for a popular Haitian website.
Accompanying him to the party were North Miami police officers, who provided private security detail for his Friday-to-Sunday visit, after the Secret Service had turned him down because of short notice. The cost of the visit to North Miami taxpayers: $8,800, the city said.
The publicly funded security detail has irked some in North Miami, which like many other municipalities is struggling financially — and where, like other South Florida communities, international affairs can stir emotions.
While some laud the city’s decision, others say it impacts the city’s budget and gives the appearance of a gulf between Haitians and non-Haitians in the Northeast Miami-Dade city. Haitians represent roughly one-third of the population.
“Let the president of Haiti pay for his own security,” said Michelle Garcia, a North Miami resident who said she feels the city is divided along ethnic lines.
Mayor Andre Pierre, who was born in Haiti, said his administration celebrates the cultures of all residents.
“Sometime you have one isolated incident and they want to use that as the norm,” Pierre said. “It’s a blatant lie that this administration only helps or only does things for Haitians. It’s outrageous that as diverse as North Miami is someone would make that statement.”
Pierre said Friday he was not involved with North Miami assigning security for Martelly. He said he was out of town over the weekend and didn’t know the details. A city spokeswoman would not elaborate, citing security concerns.
“The North Miami Police Department was requested to provide assistance to support a visit by an international dignitary, Haiti President Michel Martelly. We honored the request by providing assistance with this detail.
“Due to the nature of the security and confidentiality of this high-profile dignitary, we are not able to provide further details,’” spokeswoman Pam Solomon emailed The Miami Herald.
The city declined to say how many officers were involved, and it did not respond to a public records request asking for the timesheets of the officers who provided security for Martelly.
The Consul General of Haiti in Miami, Francois Guillaume, said Friday he contacted North Miami after the Secret Service option did not work out.
“We have a good relationship with North Miami; the chief of police is aware of the dignitaries we deal with,’’ he said.
Former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin defended the city-provided detail.
“A large group of our residents are Haitian-American. If the Secret Service can’t give protection, this is something minor for North Miami to give respect to our president. He’s our president, at the minimum he deserves that kind of respect from us,” Celestin said .
Resident Roseline Philippe said, however, she was concerned about the $8,800 expenditure on the city’s finances. North Miami’s tax base has declined in recent years because of the weak economy.