The two were close enough that Martelly played free for François during a 1992 protest against the arrival of Dante Caputo, a U.N. representative in charge of negotiating Aristide's return. The koudjay (jam session) brought several hundred people to the airport. As they danced and cheered, Martelly rallied the crowd with a slogan from the Haitian revolution. "Grenadier! To the attack!" he yelled. "If anyone dies, that's his business!"

In a 1997 interview with New Times, Martelly said he didn't regret the incident. "I didn't accept [the request to play] because I was Michel François' friend," he explained. "I went because I did not want Aristide back... You want me to be a de facto [supporter of the coup]. I'm a de facto. It's my right. It's my country. I can fight for whatever I believe in."

Sweet Micky's politics soon began creeping into his songs. After the coup, Martelly made an album whose title captured his ambivalence: I Don't Care. When U.N. soldiers reinstalled Aristide in 1994, "Go fuck your mother, Aristide!" became a common refrain at Martelly's concerts.

Haitian president Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly waves to fans in Port-au-Prince.
George Martinez
Haitian president Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly waves to fans in Port-au-Prince.

"By then, it became clear that Micky had really strong Duvalierist inclinations," Averill says.

"Even back in the day when I said that, I never meant it," Martelly now claims of his divisive lyrics. "That was the type of [rhetoric] we had in Haiti, and I just used it."

"I Don't Care" lyrics

If I catch them on Bicentenaire

We're going to spank them

Ruthless, Micky is ruthless

When they attack me, Micky gets ruthless

That's how we are

If you don't like it, get out!

Martelly toned down the political messages after Aristide left office in 1996. But the singer also upped his outrageous onstage antics: dressing in a diaper and leading the Port-au-Prince Carnival in a dress and pink wig. He also began talking half-jokingly about becoming president one day. By the time Aristide was reelected in 2000, Sweet Micky was "a musical figure in the halls of power in Haiti," Averill says. When a coup once again deposed Aristide in 2004, it was Gérard Latortue — a friend of Martelly's — who took over.

"Prezidan" lyrics

If one day you have to travel far

Just remember it's the problems of life that brought you here

Haiti is my country

There is nobody that is going to make me leave and not come back.

At the time, Martelly was living the high life in South Florida. He and his wife had bought a 6,000-square-foot house in Royal Palm Beach for $910,000. But in 2007, Martelly officially retired, stopped paying the mortgage, and moved back to Haiti — defaulting on more than $1 million in loans and losing three properties to foreclosure.

Then last summer, he announced his candidacy for president. He hired Spanish marketing firm Solas — which had worked on John McCain's 2008 campaign — to transform him from a reactionary into a political maverick with pop-star name recognition. It wasn't difficult.

"There wasn't much education about Martelly's background," Pierre-Louis says. "Besides, no one was really paying attention to him in the first round. He had no chance." Indeed, Sweet Micky came in third in a November 28 election, a couple of thousand votes behind Marlene Manigat, a former first lady, and Jude Célestin, President René Préval's chosen successor.

But Martelly supporters refused to accept the results, alleging massive fraud. They constructed flaming roadblocks in Petionville and Port-au-Prince and demanded Sweet Micky's inclusion in another round. Under international pressure, Haitian election officials threw out Célestin, paving the way for Martelly's commanding March 20 victory.

Paradoxically, Martelly says that despite his bad-boy act, voters elected him because they saw he was a real person, not a phony politician.

"Onstage I had that character — Sweet Micky — that was run by Michel Martelly," he says. "People enjoyed it and saw the persona for what it was. It definitely helped my [political] career because people were able to see my DNA. They were able to say, 'Who's that guy who's running for politics now? At least he is [independent].' "

Martelly says he is "the president of every Haitian," but despite winning two-thirds of the votes in the runoff, historic absenteeism meant less than 17 percent of eligible Haitians voted for him. And although he remains popular in the streets, there are signs that his reformation is just a show.

An audio recording allegedly taken only two days before the runoff features Sweet Micky insulting supporters of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party: "The Lavalas are so ugly. They smell like shit. Fuck you, Lavalas. Fuck you, Jean-Bertrand Aristide." Then there was a YouTube video in which Martelly insults Aristide while smiling, pulling up his shirt, and rubbing his belly.

Outside Bernard Mevs Hospital, however, there is nothing but love for Sweet Micky. By the time Martelly leaves, hundreds of supporters have swarmed the gate, waving flags and singing. When the crowds clear, Isselda Ismael stands next to her tiny cell-phone kiosk on the street. She remembers all of Sweet Micky's hits by heart.

"For a long time, very serious people have done nothing for us," she says. "So let's let a singer have a try."

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