Thursday, March 8, 2012

Who is Laurent Lamothe, and what are his chances to be Prime Minister?

By: Kim Ives - Haiti Liberte
     Laurent Lamothe is Haitian President Michel Martelly’s brain, just as political strategist Karl Rove was to former U.S. President George W. Bush.
     Lamothe was the guy who figured out how to finance Martelly’s
presidential campaign, and who brought in the professional Spanish
public relations firm Ostos & Sola to run it. Now he is President
Martelly’s nominee to be the next prime minister, Haiti’s most
powerful executive post.
     “The man is a financial genius,” exclaimed musician Richard Morse, who manages Haiti’s famed Oloffson Hotel and is Martelly’s cousin and part of the president’s inner circle. “He knows how to take a little from over here, a little from over there, put it together with this over here, and make it all work out.”
     Lamothe’s prowess for financial wheeling and dealing stands out when one reviews his business history with Martelly over the past decade.
     Lamothe, 39,  has been close to Martelly since 2002 when he recruited
the former lewd konpa singer known as “Sweet Micky” to be a partner
and the advertising front-man for NoPin Long Distance, a calling-card
alternative service which became wildly popular in Haiti and spawned
several imitators. In fact, according to Florida State corporate
records, the original name of One World Telecom, Inc., the parent
company of NoPin, was “Sweet Micky Long Distance Services, Inc.”

Lamothe, along with fellow NoPin founders Patrice Baker and Gilbert
Pasquet, were all directors with Martelly in another Florida
corporation, Coco Grove Holdings, Inc., of which “Michel Martelly
a/k/a Michael Martelly” was made president in 2008, documents say.
Coco Grove Holdings, in turn, was owned by a British Virgin Islands
shell corporation, Lightfoot Ventures Limited, again directed solely
by Lamothe and Martelly.

Lamothe learned his financial skills studying business management at
Miami’s Barry University and later earning a Masters in the field at
another Miami Catholic school, St. Thomas University. In Haiti, he
went to high school at the College Bird.

Born in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 12, 1972, he, like his older brother
Ruben, became a Davis Cup tennis player in 1994 and 1995, representing
Haiti. But, while his brother stayed in the sport, the lure of
business drew Laurent away.

In the late 1990s, he tried to start up a business importing wood to
Haiti from Suriname’s Amazon forest, but that never took off.

So in 2000, Lamothe launched Global Voice Telecom, Inc. with tennis
buddy Patrice Baker. While his business in Haiti thrived, he also made
inroads into Latin America and Africa, being fluent in both French and
Spanish. He built Global Voice into a major telecommunications player,
especially in the Third World, and became very wealthy, keeping pricey
homes in Cape Town, South Africa, and Miami, Florida.

But he began making enemies as well. The France-based website Le published a Nov. 11, 2010 article charging that Senegal’s
president Abdoulaye Wade had been “manipulated by Laurent Lamothe...
to be able to establish Global Voice in Senegal.” Lamothe “corrupted
the authorities with sums of money and voyages to South Africa
arranged by him, to have the president’s project passed,” wrote the
journalist Steven Addamah. “Several people including a minister, an
advisor of the president, a woman senator, and a Director General
should make $29 million on the backs of the Senegalese taxpayers and
SONATEL (the national telephone company) after signing the contract.”

In July 2011, a Senegal-based website,, reported similar
charges of Global Voice corruption in countries across Africa,
including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, and the
Central African Republic. “In Gambia, where there reigns a despot as
absolute as he is predatory, [Lamothe] managed to get the telcom
market through a deal ensuring that Yaya Jammeh, the country’s
strongman, gets millions of dollars into his personal account and that
the telephone communications of Gambians is monitored by his listening
devices,”  wrote journalist Cheikh Yerim Seck.

Global Voice formally denied the second article, which was reprinted
in Haïti Liberte, saying that the “slanderous article” was filled with
“gossip and lies” in “an attempt to destroy Laurent Lamothe’s
reputation” and “damage Global Voice Group’s image.”

Lamothe’s nomination for PM will now go before the Haitian Parliament
for ratification. His first, and highest, hurdle will be to prove that
he meets the Haitian Constitution’s residency requirement, under which
the prime minister must have continuously lived in Haiti for the past
five years. This provision has disqualified several PM nominees over
the years, and almost sank the nomination of Garry Conille, Martelly’s
first prime minister who resigned Feb. 24 after only four months on
the job (see Haïti Liberte, Vol. 5, No. 33, 02/29/2011). (Conille only
avoided the pitfall because his overseas residency as an NGO official
was equated with being on diplomatic assignment, although it was
nothing of the sort.)

Another hurdle will be that Lamothe has been Suriname’s Honorary
Consul to Haiti in recent years. Martelly’s first PM nominee, Daniel
Rouzier, was felled in part because he was an Honorary Consul for
Jamaica in Haiti.

There are also charges that Lamothe may hold foreign citizenship,
which the Constitution also forbids for the post. A Special Senate
commission is looking into the double-nationality charges against
Lamothe, Martelly, and 37 other high government officials.

Lamothe, who acted as Haiti’s Foreign Minister under Conille, has two
young daughters by a Colombian woman, all living in Miami, Florida,
but his current girlfriend is said to be Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin,
the current Tourism Minister.

Lamothe’s father, Louis, was the founder of the Lope de Vega
Institute, a school in Port-au-Prince which teaches Spanish and
promotes links to the Spanish-speaking world. During the Duvalier and
post-Duvalier dictatorships, the senior Lamothe often sponsored
scholarships for Haitian soldiers to be trained in Latin American
countries, for example on Ecuador’s Manta Air Base where the U.S.
military was also based. (In 2009, Ecuadorian President Correa closed
the U.S. base there.) 2004 coup leader Guy Philippe and several other
Haitian soldiers were trained in Ecuador during the 1991-1994 coup.
Laurent Lamothe became the absentee but formal director of the Lope de
Vega Institute after his father’s death.

What is Washington’s reaction to Lamothe’s nomination? So far it is
muted, which suggests that the reaction is mixed. On the one hand,
Lamothe was pro-coup in 2004 and is pro-capitalist and an architect of
the Martelly government’s “Haiti is open for business” campaign to
attract foreign investment. That he went to school in the U.S. and
operated businesses there will also work in his favor.

However, Lamothe is not Washington’s man, as Conille was. He belongs
to Martelly. He and the president are, as Haitians say, kokot ak
figaro, two peas in a pod. This troubles Washington, since Martelly
and his clique have displayed neo-Duvalierist tendencies, being
unpredictable and uncontrollable by making their own policies, for
instance, their initiative to reestablish the Haitian Army,
demobilized by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995. This
is seen as a challenge to the U.S., which controls, ultimately, the UN
force known as MINUSTAH which has militarily occupied Haiti since the
2004 coup against Aristide.

Most alarming for Washington, though, is that Lamothe and Martelly
have shown a troubling tendency, as their predecessors did, of dealing
closely with Cuba and, particularly, Venezuela. They have reinforced
Haiti’s participation in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of
Our America (ALBA), the anti-imperialist trade front led by Venezuela
and Cuba. In fact, ALBA was to meet for the first time in Haiti, in
the southeastern town of Jacmel on Mar. 2-3; it was to be a conclave
of ALBA foreign ministers.

But at the last minute, the meeting was postponed until April, and
moved tentatively to Port-au-Prince. Nonetheless, on Mar. 2-3, Lamothe
hosted Venezuela’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Curacao’s
Prime Minister for a Summit of Haiti-Venezuela Solidarity, which he
called a “testimony to the indestructible and immovable friendship
between the peoples of Haiti and Venezuela.” Saying that Venezuela
remembers the contributions Haiti made to the anti-colonial
revolutions on the continent, Lamothe announced that the Bolivarian
Republic “intends to further strengthen its ties with Haiti through
multiple bilateral cooperation covering all areas including economic,
social, cultural, agro industrial, commercial, educational, and
humanitarian,” and that “South-South cooperation is crucial for the
development of Haiti.” That’s an awful lot of red flags for the U.S..

Lamothe tried to allay Washington’s fears this week, telling the Haiti
Press Network that “Haiti is not in a position to make a political
about-face, we simply need to provide assistance to a population that
has been neglected for 208 years.”

To drive the point home, he reassured “the United States [that it] is
and remains Haiti’s greatest partner; we are working on several
projects. We have tremendous respect for what the U.S. does in Haiti.
There is no estrangement,  but we inherited a series of relationships
which we have revitalized.”

Conille had asked Martelly to publish Haiti’s amended constitution,
which allows the Prime Minister to replace the President if he has to
step down. Martelly knew the game that Conille and Washington were up
to and refused to set the stage for Conille to replace him. However,
last week, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s long-time agent, Cheryl Mills
(presently Hillary’s chief of staff), flew to Port-au-Prince to put
pressure. Martelly agreed to publish the amendments... as soon as the
prime minister, his prime minister, is ratified.

Meanwhile, Haitian parliamentarians have said that they will not
ratify any nominee until Martelly cooperates with their
double-nationality investigation, at which he has been thumbing his

Will the U.S. hold out to see their own candidate, a technocrat like
Conille, become the PM nominee, or will they take a chance with

Will Parliamentarians stand firm on their promise to not budge until
Martelly bows, or will they succumb to Martelly’s bribes and bluster?

Stay tuned during the next few weeks for the answer.

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