San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

From pop star to president: Michel Martelly becomes Haiti’s 56th president

PORT-AU-PRINCE – “Haiti first, Haiti always,” said Michel Martelly as he was sworn in Saturday as Haiti’s 56th president. Martelly, 50, promised to deliver “concrete solutions” for the rebuilding of his Caribbean nation, which still faces overwhelming challenges after a Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake and subsequent deadly outbreak of cholera.

In a message that focused strongly on security, Martelly said, “to create jobs, we must have security.” He called for an end to kidnappings, warning criminals that “justice will punish you.”

“Enough with the violence; enough with injustice,” Martelly said, adding that he was “confident” in the country’s police forces and judicial system and its ability to re-establish a state governed by law.

Martelly’s investiture marks a new era in Haiti’s troubled history, as it brings to the country’s highest political office a man who defines himself as a political outsider. He has said his that status would allow him to put an end to the poor leadership of past administrations.

“We are going to change Haiti. We are going to rebuild this country,” he said from a stage erected in front of the presidential palace, which was destroyed during the earthquake. His speech was frequently interrupted by applause from thousands of onlookers who gathered to hear the singer-turned-president address the nation.

Haitians hope the new government will speed up stalled reconstruction projects and convince the international community to follow through on aid promises.

Since the 2010 earthquake, discontent with the handling of reconstruction by outgoing President Rene Preval’s administration helped boost Martelly’s campaign. The new president will inherit parliament dominated by lawmakers from Preval’s Inite party, which enjoys majorities in both parliamentary chambers.

Martelly became famous in Haiti as a popular singer of “compas,” a Haitian style of music often heard during carnival festivals and other celebrations. He promised to govern “for everyone.”

Martelly also promised to improve the country’s education system through free and mandatory schooling. Haiti ranks 153rd in the world in terms of literacy rates, according to the United Nations Development Program.

“This is how Haiti can escape its current state of misery,” Martelly said.

Saturday’s ceremonies began with the president’s swearing in at a makeshift office outside the Haitian parliament building, where “Sweet Micky” – Martelly’s musical stage name – promised to “respect and secure the respect of the rights of the Haitian people.”

Former President Preval draped the presidential sash over Martelly’s shoulder as a presidential band played. Preval said that like past presidents, Martelly had “written a page of history.”

The ceremony continued in front of the National Palace, a symbol of the destruction the country suffered during the earthquake, which killed 300,000 people and left millions homeless.

In front of one of the many makeshift camps erected for displaced earthquake victims, where tens of thousands of Haitians live in inhumane conditions, workers installed bleachers and a platform to enable invited guests and members of the international community to see the ceremony.

Surrounding streets soon filled with thousands of Haitians, many wearing the pink and white colors of Martelly’s campaign, and who often interrupted the festivities with boisterous applause. Many columns and walls lining Port-au-Prince’s chaotic streets were decorated with the same colors, and hand-painted murals depicted the new president and many of his campaign slogans.

Among the invited guests were U.S. President Bill Clinton, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and Dominican Republic’s president, Leonel Fernández.

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