Some members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), the Free National Movement (FNM) and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) said Martelly’s comments were inappropriate. Some observers also said they were ill-timed, considering the fact that the next election is so close.
It was also suggested by some on Thursday that newly-regularized Bahamians might heed Martelly’s advice and be inclined to vote for the FNM.
“I thought it was an insult to the Bahamian people that a foreigner would come here and instruct Bahamian citizens to vote one way or the other,” said PLP chairman Bradley Roberts.
Roberts, who was briefly a former immigration minister in the Christie administration, pointed out that only Bahamian citizens can vote in elections. He said they should therefore vote for the party that best serves the country, not a particular sect or group.
His sentiments in this regard were echoed by MP Fred Mitchell and former PLP MP and senator Philip Galanis.
“People vote for their best interests, they don’t in my view vote as a bloc. Every Bahamian who is voting will vote for the party that is in the best interest of The Bahamas,” said Mitchell.
He said, however, that the PLP was assured by the Haitian Embassy that the comments were not meant to be inflammatory.
However, Galanis said Haitian-Bahamians who were eligible for citizenship and regularized by the government over the past five years may see Martelly’s words as an endorsement of the FNM.
“It was totally inappropriate for him to make those statements in the run-up to the next election because there were so many persons who just received citizenship by the FNM, and they may take that as [a cue to say] that’s who they should vote for,” said Galanis.
The government granted citizenship to nearly 2,600 people in the four-and-a-half years it has been in power, Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette revealed earlier this week, but he did not indicate how many were of Haitian descent.
On Thursday, the Democratic National Alliance said Martelly’s comments were not suitable considering the heightened political season.
DNA leader Branville McCartney said the president’s remarks were a “direct attack on Bahamian democracy and all Bahamians — those of foreign descent or otherwise — who uphold the ideals of the nation and their right to vote for whichever political party they see fit”.
“Haiti’s president should respect the sovereignty of our democracy,” McCartney added in a statement on Thursday.
FNM Chairman Carl Bethel, who did not speak for the party but gave his personal views, said Martelly’s political statements shocked him.
“Non-Bahamians cannot dictate what goes on in The Bahamas, whether they visit or live here,” said Bethel, who stressed that this comment did not refer to President Martelly.
He also shot down speculation that Martelly’s visit was orchestrated by the FNM to gain votes from the Haitian-Bahamian community.
“The FNM is a Bahamian party whose first interest is the interest of The Bahamas,” he said.
During his brief visit to The Bahamas, Martelly urged Haitian-Bahamians with the right to vote to support the party that could serve and protect their interests.
He made the statements during a meeting with Haitians and people of Haitian descent on Tuesday night, and repeated them on Wednesday.
Last year, PLP leader Perry Christie said successive governments have been hesitant to take a strong stance against the illegal Haitian immigrant problem because they fear a voting bloc of Haitian-Bahamians.
“Once governments become frightened of the numbers of Haitians who have become Bahamians and who can vote… they have become an important voting bloc. So somewhere along the line the purity of the commitment to protect The Bahamas and its territorial waters is sort of merged to the fear of doing things that might cause you to lose an election,” Christie said.
“…We allowed ourselves to be influenced too much by their presence as opposed to using our own commitment to convince and satisfy them that they are Bahamians, accepted as Bahamians, and that the programs that we are offering them to close down illegal immigrants coming into our country are programs as much in their favor as in any other Bahamian’s favour.”
Meanwhile, the Haitian Embassy in The Bahamas on Thursday clarified what it termed a ‘misunderstanding’ over Martelly’s statements.
“President Martelly’s sole purpose during his stay in The Bahamas was to seek opportunities to improve the lives of Haitians, so they don’t have to migrate to other countries,” the embassy said.
“At any moment, President Martelly did not intend to interfere in any way in the internal politics of The Bahamas.”
The embassy said the primary purpose of the visit was to revitalize the relations between The Bahamas and Haiti and to discuss with the business sector business and investment opportunities in Haiti.
“To that end, the delegation was very satisfied as they departed from Nassau in regards with the talks they had with the government, with the leader of the opposition and the business sector of The Bahamas,” the statement said.
“The Embassy of Haiti wants to highlight the importance of making inroads towards improving relations between the two countries through mutual and respectful cooperation. The government of Haiti looks forward to working together with the government of The Bahamas to achieve common goals and objectives and to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.”
Some Bahamians expressed displeasure over Martelly’s comments regarding ‘stateless’ people of Haitian descent living in The Bahamas.
Children born in The Bahamas to foreign parents do not automatically get citizenship.
Under the law, they are able to apply on their 18th birthday or in the 12-month period that follows.
Martelly said, “So until they’re 18 they don’t belong to anywhere, and yet they were born here, meaning do I have to tell anyone if you send them back to Haiti they probably don’t know anybody or won’t recognize the place where they land?
“This could be considered as a crime, but that’s not the issue to talk about crime here; the issue is to stand by them and find the right solution. Be responsible, be humans and see how to better assist these Haitians.”
United Haitian Bahamian Association of The Bahamas coordinator, Michael Telairin, said on Thursday that Martelly’s visit to The Bahamas this week was positive, but his message was misunderstood.
Telairin also said Martelly’s timing was “unfortunate due to the political climate” which has escalated the negative reaction to his message to members of the Haitian community here.
Telairin is a Bahamian citizen, whose parents are of Haitian descent.
Telairin reiterated that Martelly’s message was taken out of context and insisted that message was very informative and needed.
“[The president’s message and] visit really wasn’t to stir up any commotion,” Telairin said.
Radio talk shows were flooded with calls from angry Bahamians onThursday, claiming that Martelly’s comments would encourage newly regularized Bahamians to vote for the Free National Movement.
“The negative opinions that Bahamians have been expressing on many radio talk shows are not called for,” Telairin said.
“He (Martelly) said that those who have the opportunity to vote, should vote for the party who has their interest at heart and these comments are articulated by every politician and religious leader so it should not have such a negative reaction.
“His position right now is to get the people to understand that he is for them and his address and tour during his time here was to reinforce that message.”
Telairin added, “What he was also telling [Haitians and Haitian-Bahamians] in attendance…is that they have to understand they should not expect all the laws in The Bahamas to be to their advantage and he said to continue to respect the law of the land.”
Martelly arrived in The Bahamas Tuesday night and left on Wednesday.