I first met Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise at a hotel in Miami in 2015. I went to see my friend and President Michel Martelly.
Materi was nearing the end of his term and we were talking about Haiti’s next election and, of course, his successor.
We talked about continuity because there is no continuous reelection in Haiti. I needed someone with the same passion that Materi had for the people of Haiti. The country needed someone who could continue the work started under his control.
Materi approached me and always said in a gentle voice, “Damian, I want you to meet the next president of Haiti.”
Jovenel was quiet, but he shook hands firmly when he was introduced. I knew very little that I was really meeting the President-elect of Haiti.
We had a fun conversation. Meanwhile, he told me about the banana business and his vision for Haiti. I was fascinated. He spoke eloquently and passionately about the promise of the rejuvenated agricultural sector and his desire to have the same opportunities that all Haitians had to succeed in their business. It was in his banana business that our team came up with his campaign slogan, The Banana Man.
Of course, many were surprised by this slogan. It was unconventional, to say the least. I have been involved in many political movements, but this was unusual for me as well. “Bananaman” was a stretch, but it worked.
In November 2016, Jovenel won the presidential election with 55% of the votes. On February 7, 2017, he began his five-year term as President of Haiti. After his election, I continued to help Jobenel because I believed in his ideals, his passion, and his love for Haiti and the Haitians.
Jovenel wanted one thing, and only one thing. A better future for the Haitian people. President Materi was able to break through decades of failed policies, and Jobenell wanted to continue this work, but it turned out to be difficult.
Many in Haiti did not support his vision or policy, but Jovenel decided. He pushed his agenda on revitalizing the agricultural sector, water currents, and 24-hour uninterrupted energy.
Haiti’s extraordinary interests strongly pushed back his reforms, and in the end he would say his life was at stake because of his maverick presidential office. He said this publicly and privately. I always denied his claim. I knew very little, his fears would materialize.
His passion for doing the right thing has created many political enemies. In his plan for Haiti was a new constitution that more represented the desires of the people of Haiti, reformed the broken system and increased accountability to the public. He decided. This was his legacy. He had no agenda or personal interest in this new constitution. He just knew that was the right thing to do for the country he loved.
I’m having a hard time dealing with what happened on the horrifying night of July 7. Last week I was supposed to meet Jobenell in the same house where he was assassinated. I was planning the usual political talks, but I was also looking forward to hearing about the plans after the inauguration of the president. He was always talking about how to get back north of Haiti.
He didn’t deserve us to leave this way. Eventually, I am confident that the person responsible for this horrific act will be held accountable.
Jobenel was a kind person, a kind person who cared for people. His premature death must mean something. He wanted the best for Haiti, a new constitution, elections and prosperity.
He was a husband, a father, a family, and a friend of many. The Haitians will come to understand how much he cares about them, even those who may not have helped him. From the humble beginning, he became president of a country with rare, if not impossible, social mobility.
Haiti people need to get together. Haiti must keep in mind the words inscribed on the flag. Unity is power.
Damian Merlo is the head of the Latin American Advisory Group and worked with Jovenel Moise in his campaign. He also managed the campaign for former President Michel Martelly.