Martelly’s sexist gaffe leads to cracks in Haitian government

Social Affairs Minister Victor Benoit’s resignation letter to Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul.
Social Affairs Minister Victor Benoit’s resignation letter to Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul.

Recent comments by Haitian President Michel Martelly, deemed disparaging and sexist toward women, have cost him at least one member of his coalition government with more resignations possibly to come.

“I’m unemployed,” Social Affairs Minister Victor Benoit half-jokingly told the Miami Herald Thursday evening. Hours earlier, Benoit turned in his resignation letter to Prime Minister Evans Paul.

Benoit said he had warned a surprised Paul two days earlier that his resignation would be coming.

Earlier this week, Benoit’s political party, Fusion, announced it would be leaving the government, which it joined in January amid a political crisis. At a party meeting, members demanded Benoit, Women Condition Minister Yvrose Myrtil Morquette and Secretary of State for Illiteracy Mozart Lhérisson resign from their posts in protest of Martelly’s crude remarks.

Benoit said he didn’t know if the other resignations would happen but as a founder of Fusion, he could not ignore his party’s call.

It all started last week as Martelly made the campaign rounds on behalf of candidates he is supporting in Sunday’s legislative elections. During a rally in the city of Miragoâne, a woman complained about the lack of electricity in her community.

Upset, he answered the woman back with an indecent proposition. “If you want to .... there’s a wall.” Laughter and cheers could be heard from the crowd.

The president’s sexually explicit rant has been played over Haitian radio, with Haitians debating about whether Martelly also used the Creole word for prostitute in his response to the woman. Some say, he used the Creole word for “Cousin” and he wasn’t talking to the woman but a man in the crowd.

Women’s groups have called Martelly sexist, accused him of sanctioning violence against women with his sexually explicit remarks and have demanded that voters sanction him by voting against his candidates on Sunday.

Martelly’s defenders say he was misunderstood, while others have brushed off the incident. They remind critics that as the artist Sweet Micky, Martelly entertained fans with crude lyrics laced with sexual references.

“Having been an artist, the president has his own way to interact with his people,” adviser Gregory Mayard-Paul said. “It is a ‘montage.’ The president never used the word he is accused of using. Second, the woman in question was not part of the opposition, was not protesting. She is a fan of President Martelly.”

Martelly, he said, is the first Haitian leader to have more than 33 percent of women in his government, created a center for women who are assaulted, which offers psychological help to them.

He is “the first president who has been concerned about women being a minority,” Mayard-Paul said, adding that Fusion’s call for the resignations “may be a way to gain political capital.”