First Lady Sophia Martelly's advocacy for the poor began at the age of 18. It was on Christmas Day she volunteered to deliver dinners to the hungry. It was this shared compassion for Haiti's poor that brought her and husband, President Martelly, together. Since gaining the spotlight, the Martelly's have built a reputation for becoming involved in programs and causes pertaining to the neediest on the island.
The First Lady has her own office out of which she operates at the National Palace. She is a natural in her role as social advocate, overseeing projects and heading committees for many charitable causes.
Born in 1950, Michele Bennett was the daughter of a Haitian businessman who owned 50,000 acres of land, where he mostly grew coffee. She moved to New York when she was 15 and stayed there until she completed her school from St. Mary's School in Peekskill, New York. Her first job was with a slipper company, where she worked as a secretary.
Her first marriage was with the son of a mulatto officer in 1973, a lock from which Michele gave birth to two children. Michele's first marriage ended five years later, in 1978, post which she took up a career in Public Relations. Her first stint was with a classy hotel called Habitation LeClerc.
Whoever said love only happens once had certainly not read about the twice divorced former Haitian President René Préval and his wife Elisabeth, the widow of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti's former governor, Leslie Delatour. Indeed, no strangers to matrimony at sixty-six and forty-seven respectively, the two took the familiar vows, made fresh by their new commitment to each other, on Sunday December 6, 2009 at the Delatour home in Furcy, Haiti at 11am. It was an intimate ceremony, with only fifty guests. They followed it by honeymooning for two days and then took up residence in the National Palace on December 9.
It was revealed that the two met in High school. However, the romantic relationship between Michele Bennett and Jean Claude Duvalier did not begin until ten years later. the wedding that was considered the biggest event of the time took place on May 27, 1980. The wedding was estimated to cost over US$3 million. The marriage also brought an underlining issue to the surface in the Haitian society. Many saw it as renewed symbol of alliance with the mulatto elite by the Duvalier regime. This was in direct contrast to the policy of Francois Duvalier who in 1957 was fighting against presidential candidate Louis Dejoie, a mulatto land-owner and industrialist from the north of Haiti. Francois Duvalier used used a Noiriste strategy to challenge the mulatto elite and appealed to the Afro-Haitian majority.
Following the wedding and the increased power gained by Michele Bennett as the new First Lady, new friction started to flair-up between her and her mother in law, Simone Duvalier.
Listed as an absconder/fugitive after an arrest for robbing a bank he worked in as a teller in 2007, Karl Jean-Jeune, aide to Haiti's first lady Sophia Martelly, tweeted his whereabouts to his followers and consequently the Florida Department of Corrections.
In early 2008 Jean-Jeune was sentenced to six year's probation for stealing nearly $30,000 from the Lake Worth Bank, a sum he was also ordered to pay back. While the nature of his sentencing didn't prohibit him from travelling within the U.S. it was from a Caribbean summit held in Port-au-Prince, after a riveting musical performance he witnessed, where Jean-Jeune unwittingly disclosed his abscondment to the public and his location to the U.S. authorities.
President Michel Martelly's administration has been faced with a series of controversies recently. One of the most recent issues is an allegation made by a Haitian senator from the country's North department, Moise Jean-Charles, regarding the President's lavish travel expenses.
Earlier this month, Senator Jean-Charles gave a speech in a Lavalas family party's rally in Brooklyn, New York and an interview to a Haitian newspaper, claiming that Martelly, his family and his staff were wrongly and excessively spending Haiti's money when traveling to other countries that amounted to millions of dollars. This included expensive aircraft rentals, vehicle buying, and unreasonably big withdrawals from the country's central bank for questionable purposes.
Haitian human rights attorney Louis Newton St. Juste attended a hearing presided over by Port-au-Prince's Chief Prosecutor, Jean Renel Senatus, regarding mis-handling of state monies by First Lady Sophia Martelly and son Olivier. He and his colleague André Michel have spoken with U.S. authorities about the Martellys and corruption within the president's administration at large.
In a press release issued by the Government Commissioner's office after the hearing, Senatus declined to bring charges against the Martellys. He referred to the Code of Criminal Procedure Article 21 that, according to Senatus, forbids prosecution of both Martellys. He called St. Juste's tactics illegal because he has not filed the correct paperwork that would begin an action against the First Lady and her son.
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