So Wyclef Jean wants to be the president of Haiti. This move by the singer has been praised by some and criticized by others, namely actor Sean Penn who has been working in Haiti on relief efforts and even his bandmate Pras. Is this just another celebrity attempt at politics or is there something more to it?
Well, off the bat, Jean is Haitian by birth and has been involved, at least as a mouthpiece, in the Haitian political scene for a few years now, so he isn’t exactly a Schwarzenegger-style celebrity parachute candidate. He is Haiti’s ambassador-at-large to the world. He also established the Yéle Haiti Foundation in 2005, which has helped in several relief attempts over the years, though there were allegations of financial conduct when he was the head of the organization, which Penn brought up in his critique.
While it’s clearly fair for Jean to run in a Haitian election, an election in Haiti under the current conditions isn’t exactly a fair prospect. You see, there’s one party blocked from running: the Fanmi Lavalas Party of twice-deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Aristide was removed from power two separate times by a coup d’Etat engineered by western countries like the US and Canada. Jean didn’t speak out against this at the time, in fact he told MTV just before the coup in 2004 that he supported the rebels who eventually overthrew him.
While there were reports earlier this month that Jean met with Aristide in exile in South Africa before announcing his run, it still doesn’t change the fact that he will be running in an election where Aristide’s party can’t. It also doesn’t change the fact that Jean produced an anti-Aristide film “The Ghosts of Cite Soleil” which ignores the kidnapping of Aristide by US forces or that his uncle, Raymond Joseph, was a high-ranking representative of the installed government, still the Haitian ambassador to the US and publisher of a right-wing newspaper in Haiti.
True, family ties are never proof of someone’s political convictions or what they are going to do, but in this case, they do lend credence to Penn’s “suspicion” that if Jean becomes president, he will simply put a friendly face on policies that keep Haitians working for next to nothing to the benefit of western companies. Indeed, while Jean may visit Haiti quite frequently, he is more a resident of the western world and the US in particular and therefore closer to those companies whose self-interest sadly generally trumps the best interests of people in countries like Haiti.
While Wyclef Jean might not be any kind of needed change for Haiti right now, at least his proposed policies for the US still sound nice. Maybe he picked the wrong country to try and become president of.