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.
“This is not a question of I am Haitian. I am a taxpayer,” Philippe said. “When you take my money are you using it for the right thing? I’m tired of the double standard.”
Solomon said the city did not pull officers from their regular patrols.
The Secret Service, which typically provides these services for visiting dignitaries, said Martelly’s staff did not give them the minimum 72 hours notice to prepare for his visit. Nor did staffers provide an itinerary.
“They made their request in less than 24 hours, leaving us with little preparation time and very minimal information to prepare and plan,” said Special Agent in Charge Paula Reid, who leads the Miami Secret Service field office.
Secret Service agents helped Martelly navigate his way through the airport, but after that he was on his own.
As an international hub, Miami-Dade County hosts many visiting heads of states and other dignitaries, and it is not uncommon for Miami-Dade police to provide security as the visitors travel around the county. In fact, the county police department has officers specially trained for this type of work.
But North Miami has a close relationship with Haiti and its dignitaries. Some members of the city’s staff, including Police Chief Marc Elias, recently returned from hosting a disaster preparedness workshop in Haiti, where Martelly made an appearance.
And North Miami is a sister city to Delmas, Haiti.
So Guillaume called the city of North Miami, which provided the service, even though Martelly’s main social engagement for the weekend took place well outside the city limits.
At 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Martelly and his North Miami security made their way to the Renaissance Ballroom, 5910 SW Eighth St., for a party for Pikliz.com, a popular Haitian website that features news, politics, business and culture. Martelly, dressed in a red shirt and dark gray slacks, shared the stage with the Haitian headliner band, Les Difficiles de Petion-Ville, crooning to the band’s popular song, Min Polo.
“When the president reached the front door of the ballroom, the host announced the president of Haiti,” said Francois Adrien, owner of Pikliz.com. “Everybody went nuts. They could not believe it. When he appeared, the welcome was incredible.”
Adrien said there were about five officers who helped clear the path for Martelly to enter the ballroom. They stood guard into the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Adrien was a party promoter for Martelly when he was better known as “Sweet Micky,” the konpa music superstar. He said he contacted Martelly a few months ago to invite him to the anniversary party. Four days before the bash, the president confirmed he would attend, Adrien said.
“Nobody knew he was coming,” Adrien said. “When I was advised he was in the parking lot I met him, we shook hands and he wished Pikliz a happy anniversary.”
When the party ended just before dawn Sunday, Martelly returned to his hotel room. Later that day, the president returned to Haiti.