Wyclef Says His Troubled Haiti Campaign Isn’t Done Yet

Shady money dealings, and Haitian residency, become the candidate's biggest roadblocks.

By Jamilah King Aug 20, 2010

Update @ 1:50p: The Miami Herald reports that Wyclef Jean’s not ready to count himself out of the election. According to Jean, election officials have not in fact ruled him ineligible, as Reuters has reported (see below). Jean told the Herald that he’s got the staunch support of at least three of the eight members of the council that must approve his candidacy. But Herald sources say only the board president:

But sources familiar with the debates of the council have told The Miami Herald that only the president of the council, Gaillot Dorsinvil, has been pushing Jean’s candidacy, despite 20 pages of legal documents submitted as proof that he is not eligible to run. 

Dorsinvil’s staunch support has triggered rumors of possible payoffs. Dorsinvil told The Miami Herald that it is not true” and the rumors are from people trying to destabilize the process. 

Jean denied that he or anyone associated with him have made any payments. 

He also said he had heard three members of the electoral council are trying to get exile because they are being pressured from all sides.”


Wyclef Jean will not be on the list of approved presidential candidates Haitian election officials are to release today, according to a Reuters news report

"He is not on the list as I speak," said the member of the country’s provisional electoral council, who asked not to be identified. 

He said the electoral disputes bureau entrusted with settling challenges to candidacies had ruled that Jean did not meet several legal requirements, but he gave no details.

Things have not looked good for Jean’s run since the day he triumphantly announced it. Questions immediately surfaced about how the singer’s managed Yéle Haiti, his well known charitable organization. On Monday, the New York Times published a damning piece that summed up the singer’s philanthropic efforts this way: If his leadership of Yéle Haiti–not to mention the state of his own personal finances–is a measure of his qualification to govern, Jean’s presidential bid was over before it began.

Jean, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, had to prove that he’s lived in the country for five consecutive years. If the Reuters report holds true, this requirement was likely Jean’s undoing: He has mostly lived in the U.S. since leaving Haiti as a small child. 

But there’s also the bigger picture: his money is a mess. According to the New York Times, Jean’s fiscal mismanagement includes: the widely reported $350,000 in questionable payments by Yéle to two companies owned by the singer dating back to 2006, $2.1 million in tax liens against a house in New Jersey, and an unfinished Miami mansion lost to foreclosure in 2008.

Perhaps the most damaging allegations surround Yéle’s work on the ground. According to some, it just doesn’t do much, and the work that it does do is short-lived. The organization is headquartered at a $15,000-a-month gated compound and at least four of the nearby camps it claims to support say they’ve yet to receive any food or supplies. "Not even a cookie!" one camp leader told The Times. The foundation did reportedly donate a TV to another camp, but it broke midway through the World Cup.

Though Jean maintains that "culture is part of the youth population in Haiti," and thus Yéle’s "cultural outreach" is legit, so far it seems like those efforts have mostly been star-studded celebrity events featuring the singer posing for pictures with Angelina Jolie, Akon and Matt Damon. And at least $250,000 of the questionable payments to Wyclef-owned businesses went toward covering the costs of a carnival float, according to sources.

The singer maintains that the though the foundation’s made some missteps, the work is still important. Jean has downplayed the criticisms, calling them hearsay egged on by months of fear and anger by people in camps still devastated by January’s earthquake.

And there’s evidence that Jean still has at least some popular support, though it’s clear that support has more to do with his celebrity than any measurable skill to govern. Proof? "After God is Wyclef," Jocelyn Augustin, a resident in a camp that’s been aided by Jean’s charity, told the New York Times.

Certainly not everyone in the country is happy about Jean’s desire to run. The singer has reportedly gone into hiding after receiving death threats.

"Wyclef has been repeatedly getting anonymous threats from people who are saying that he should think twice before running for the president. We cannot tell who are sending these threats, but the closer the announcement, the more threats Jean is getting," his lawyer, Berto Dorce, told CNN.

To make matters worse, the singer was widely expected to run an American-style campaign, led by two American-based PR representatives–Marian Salzman and PJ McCann, who helped lead President Obama’s primary campaign–with no experience in Haitian politics. And so far, Jean’s only done one interview with a major Haitian media outlet.

All this comes as news continues to surface about Haiti’s bold statements against its centuries-long economic bondage to the West. Last week an international group of academics and writers sent an open letter to President Nicholas Sarkozy asking France to repay an 200-year-old "independence debt" estimated to be worth more than $22 billion.

But if the singer is able to get past the eligibility requirements and death threats, his biggest challenge may be reaching out to a population of mostly young people under the age of 21. As Ruxandra Guidi wrote in a recent ColorLines dispatch from Haiti, "when it comes to reinventing and building Haiti, it remains to be seen whether young Haitians will see Jean as one of them."

So far, it doesn’t look like Jean’s exactly helping his case.