Who is Laurent Lamothe, and What Are His Chances to be Prime Minister?
by Kim Ives
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 Haiti’s next prime minister.
“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 Martelly was made president in 2008. 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 Griot.info 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 passed the project of the presidency,” the journalist Steven Addamah asserted. “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, another Senegal-based website, Dakaractu.com, 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 telecom market through a deal ensuring that Yaya Jammeh, the strongman of the country, gets millions of dollars into his personal account and that the telephone communications of Gambians is monitored by his listening devices,” journalist Cheikh Yérim Seck wrote.
Global Voice formally denied the second article, which was reprinted in Haïti Liberté, 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 Liberté, 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 him, 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 Stéphanie 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.
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 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, kokott ak figaro, two peas in a pod. This troubles Washington, since Martelly and his clique have displayed neo-Duvalierist tendencies, being unpredictable and uncontrollable in 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 and warmly with Cuba and, particularly, Venezuela. They have reinforced Haiti’s participation in 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 without explanation until April, and moved tentatively to Port-au-Prince. Nonetheless, on those dates, 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 Venezuela “intends to further strengthen its ties with Haiti by multiple bilateral cooperation covering all areas, both economic, social, cultural, agro industrial, commercial, educational, humanitarian and other,” and that “South-South cooperation is crucial for the development of Haiti.” That’s an awful lot of red flags.
Lamothe tried to reassure Washington this week, telling the Haiti Press Network that “Haiti is not in a position to make a political about-face, we are simply need to provide assistance to a population that has been neglected for 208 years.”
To drive the point home, he assured that “the United States 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 nose.
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 Lamothe?
Will Parliamentarians stand firm on their promise to not budge until Martelly bows, or will they succomb to Martelly’s bribes and bluster?Stay tuned during the next few weeks for the answer.