Wyclef Jean Seeks the Haitian Presidency: A Breath of Fresh Air — or a Dabbler who will Break Haiti’s Heart?

Wyclef Jean, famous hip-hop/reggae artist and founder of the humanitarian organization Yelé Haiti, on August 5, 2010, made official his candidacy for the presidency of Haiti. The goodwill ambassador and nephew of the Haitian ambassador to the U.S. himself has no political experience and will be running against former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, likely the most formidable opposition figure as he is backed by incumbent President Rene Préval. Jean has announced that he would prioritize alleviating poverty and use his image to attract foreign investment.

His decision represents a culmination of the Haitian diaspora’s increased engagement on the island and the warm reception its members now receive. Many Haitian “ex-pats” who previously attempted to reinvest in the country were blocked by hostile attitudes towards them as being deserters and dissmemblers. This mentality has changed completely in the wake of the January, 2010 earthquake, and many today are craving a radical change in the island’s political leadership, making Jean’s presidency a popular option.

Following a history of corrupt and authoritarian government, Préval’s presidency ultimately turned out to be another disappointment for Haiti due to his failure to address the countries’ most urgent social problems and his breaching of several constitutional regulations. While his attempt to remain in office three months beyond his term was revoked after withering criticism, his selection of the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) members, who in fact are supposed to be selected by a range of government institutions and NGO’s, remains a crippling obstacle to the legitimacy of the approaching elections in November.

Preliminary surveys of Haiti’s youth indicate enthusiasm over Jean’s candidacy, and as Jean himself stated in a NECN report, “I represent the voice of the youth, which is over 50% of the population.” Jean never graduated from college. His foundation, however, has helped thousands of islanders out of dire poverty and hunger, and a limited education has not prevented several Latin American leaders from being successful, as in the case of Brazil’s Lula. Nevertheless, the political community remains skeptical of his “messiah” image and his ability to effectively lead the country. Jean grew up mostly in New York, but is linked to Haiti’s elite and voiced support for the violent coup against left-leaning Aristide, the country’s first democratically elected leader, in 2004. This history, along with accusations of Yele Haiti misusing some of its funds, makes it questionable to which extend he brings the claimed “non-partisan” component to the table or would be any less corrupt than previous military regimes.

Considering the cynical performance of most of Haiti’s past leaders and its current state of devastation, Jean’s candidacy, however experimental and controversial, still seems to some the most refreshing alternative to the country’s seventy competing political parties. Wyclef Jean’s non-bureaucratic persona, however, is also his clear weakness: with the CEP stuffed by the opponent’s supporter Préval, a victory of Wyclef Jean and his one year old reformist party “Ensemble Nous Faut” (We must do it together) would require large-scale grassroots support, which is all but certain. Wyclef’s candidacy brought a good deal of buzz to the campaign, but many fear that he would only continue the pattern of weak executive rule, which could open up the island to increased money laundering as well as drug and human trafficking.

9 thoughts on “Wyclef Jean Seeks the Haitian Presidency: A Breath of Fresh Air — or a Dabbler who will Break Haiti’s Heart?

  • August 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm
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    No mention of his support of the coup? No mention of the right wing, anti – Aristide "documentary" Ghosts of Cite Soleil?" No mention that his movie interviewed FRAPH leader with no mention of that in interview and interviewed Apaid sweatshop owner as if he were an average guy? No mention of the misuse of money in his NGO where 1/3 of the money collected from 2006 tax return was spent o miscellaneous expenses? Come on? And no mention that he will use neoliberal king Bill Clinton's recovery model?

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    • August 6, 2010 at 2:43 pm
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      Allie,

      Thank you for your comments. You are correct about the accusations of his misuse of Yele Haiti funds, and the article has been edited to better acknowledge this criticism. While Wyclef Jean is far from being perfect, he comes from a democratically weak and devastated society in which no single candidate will provide all the answers. He does, however, offer "star power" to the elections which may motivate people to become more politically engaged. As you mentioned, his ability to actually rebuild the country considering its current state (regardless of whether the model is neo-liberal or socialist), is not at all certain.

      Alice Barrett

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      • August 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm
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        He said he would use Bill Clinton's model for recovery and that is very neoliberal. As far as bring out the vote allow the Lavalas to participate people will show up. And Wyclef speaks rusty Creole and little or no French. He supported the coup and FRAPH. Come on do you know much about Haiti? Your article and even your response makes me think you don't.

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      • August 7, 2010 at 2:47 pm
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        Why do you not address Allie's primary issues i.e. the coup/FRAPH support, Jean's propaganda documentary film, the banning of Lavalas the largest political party, & so on? "Star power", you mean like Ronald Reagan did for America's poor & working class? Please, can COHA provide us with a real expert journalist on Haiti. I recommend Kevin Pena, who is such an expert & has lived in Haiti for years. This article was a fluff piece in support of Jean.

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  • August 7, 2010 at 7:29 am
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    This is a poor analysis. It proves that for COHA Haiti do not deserve serious consideration.

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  • August 8, 2010 at 11:48 am
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    Dear Readers,

    thank you for your comments; they have been taken into account. COHA appreciates your input and welcomes your continued opinions and contributions regarding this controversial topic.
    For an interview with Wyclef Jean that relates to neo-liberal development as well as a range of analyses regarding his candidacy, I recommend the following blog that focuses specifically on Haiti: http://www.jeansenatfleury.com/.

    Alice Barrett

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    • August 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm
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      Does this mean you plan to continue this kind of "journalism?" Your article is what we get from AP. There are so few places to get accurate thoughtful news from. It is disappointing to loose this site. It is not just this article but your last few articles not been up to your old standards. I am in a Haiti diary group and we post diaries on Daily kos a few times a week. The diary is mostly ignored so it won't matter to you but I am sure that if I feel this way, so do other people. I removed COHA from sources we like for our future diaries.

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      • August 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm
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        oops I used the wrong name. Sorry.

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  • August 9, 2010 at 6:24 am
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    I agree with the critics of the article. The article is too superficial. I hope COHA can publish another view from a more informed source. One commenter recommended Kevin Pena. I agree, Kevin Pena has done an amazing job covering the Haiti beat for years. Personally, I think he deservers the Pulitzer Prize for his incredible journalism.

    Reply

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