- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2012

The U.S. ambassador to Haiti has been drawn into a controversy over whether President Michel Martelly, a former pop singer in Miami, is a U.S. citizen and ineligible to hold the office he won last year.

Ambassador Kenneth H. Merten insists that Mr. Martelly is not an American citizen and does not have a U.S. passport.

But the Haitian legislature is not satisfied with that explanation.

Mr. Merten, a career diplomat, appeared last week with Mr. Martelly at a news conference where the president released his current Haitian passport and seven expired ones.

“President Martelly is not American. He is Haitian,” Mr. Merten said.

The ambassador also has explained that Mr. Martelly turned in his U.S. residency card to the U.S. Embassy in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, before his inauguration in May.

His assurances failed to impress members of a special commission of the Haitian Senate investigating politicians who hold dual citizenship with another country. Three members of Mr. Martelly’s government have resigned because they are foreign citizens.

The Haitian constitution prohibits the president from holding dual citizenship and from renouncing his Haitian citizenship, according to news reports from Port-au-Prince.

Sen. Jean-Charles Moise, the commission chairman, called Mr. Martelly’s news conference a “masquerade.”

Sen. Nenel Cassy called on the ambassador to issue a formal statement to the commission on Mr. Martelly’s U.S. immigration status.

A third senator, Anick Francois Joseph, told reporters that he noticed that Mr. Martelly held a U.S. passport when they flew together on an American Airlines flight to Miami from Haiti in November 2007.

The airlines later identified a “Michael Martelly” on the passenger list but no “Michel Martelly.” Haitian news reports said Mr. Martelly often uses “Michael” instead of “Michel” when he travels to the United States.

Before he won the presidency last March, Mr. Martelly was a popular musician in Haiti and Miami. He also owns a house in Palm Beach, Fla.

TRADE WITH RUSSIA

A Cold War-era law that restricts trade with Russia is hurting American business and undermining support for pro-democracy groups, U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul warned this week.

Mr. McFaul, who has been the envoy in Moscow since January, urged Congress to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was passed in 1974 to restrict U.S. trade with nations that prohibit free emigration.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Henry M. Jackson of Washington and Charles A. Vanik of Ohio, was targeted at the Soviet Union for refusing to allow Jews to leave the country.

“We don’t believe that holding onto Jackson-Vanik advances the cause of democracy, or human rights, for that matter, in Russia,” Mr. McFaul told the Peterson Institute for International Economics during a Washington visit.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. presidents have regularly waived the amendment, but it still prevents the United States from adopting full trade relations with Russia.

A group of 150 businesses this week also urged Congress to repeal the amendment.

“Russia is an important part of U.S. business’ global strategy to create and sustain jobs at home by enhancing our long-term competitiveness abroad,” the Coalition for U.S.-Russia Trade said.

The group noted that Russia is the world’s 11th-largest market and that U.S. companies are at a competitive disadvantage because of Jackson-Vanik.

The coalition includes major companies such as Bank of America Corp., the Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and the Walt Disney Co.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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