Haitian music star Wyclef Jean’s presidential candidacy a distraction

The on-again-off-again presidential candidacy of music star Wyclef Jean is a distraction for Haiti.

On Friday, Aug. 20, the Haiti Electoral Council ruled that 15 out of the 34 candidates had not met the legal requirements to run for president of Haiti. Jean was one of the rejected candidates and he’s chosen to appeal the decision.

That’s his right, but I wish the media would focus less on this personality-driven story and more on the reality of what’s going on in Haiti right now.

Almost eight months after the earthquake, the recovery effort in Haiti is going almost nowhere.

There are 2 million homeless earthquake victims still on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been removed from the streets to make room for permanent shelters. And roughly 20 percent of those living in the 1,300 tent camps have, in the past month, been forcibly evicted with nowhere to go.

There are almost no homes to live in, no jobs to be had.

This is a disgrace, considering all the donations, upward of $1 billion, that came in to the nongovernmental institutions after the earthquake. Much of this money is earning interest for charity executives; it is not reaching the earthquake victims.

The upcoming election seems to have plenty of candidates but not much of an electorate. How are the 2 million homeless, who lost everything, including their identification cards, going to be able to vote on Nov. 28?

Will the people outside of the capital and surrounding cities where the earthquake hit be able to vote? Or is the purpose of these elections that primarily the wealthy, whose houses didn’t crumble in the earthquake and who all have their identification cards, be the ones to vote?

If so, how could this be called a representative government?

In every election since 2004, when President Bush ousted Haiti’s democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s most popular political party, the Fanmi Lavalas, has been excluded from participation.

Again, how can any government, then, be called representative?

Even if Wyclef Jean wins this appeal, how are his young constituents, in the crumbled areas without IDs, voter registrations and addresses, going to vote? Moreover, even if the masses do vote, who will make sure their votes are not dumped into garbage bins, as happened in the 2006 presidential election?

But Jean only puts on the dress of a populist to get votes and pander to a desperate population. As he’s said, “Don’t worry, I’m not a populist, I’m a capitalist.”

Haiti is a country that needs the government to lead, not the private sector that’s failed for 200 years to do so. The Haitian government must ensure the human rights of the majority to shelter, medicine, food, clean water, justice, inclusion, dignity and living-wage jobs.

We need to ask whether these rushed elections, scheduled for Nov. 28, will bring relief if they further destabilize the country by enraging the Haitian majority, which is likely to see its voice stifled yet again.

Exacerbating catastrophe to capitalize on catastrophe is a workable formula for key stakeholders in Haiti affairs, as these elections may provide fresh reasons to perpetuate the U.N./U.S. presence in Haiti.

Supposedly the Haitian government, which says it is bankrupt from the earthquake, has pledged $7 million of the $29.6 million it will cost to run these elections. The rest of the election monies will come from mostly foreigners. Will they use their clout to support a candidate that will put their interests above those of the Haitian people?

Under the circumstances, there are more important things for Haitians to do than holding this election. The $29.6 million could be better used to employ Haitians to remove all the rubble and erect permanent housing.

Ezili Danto is an award-winning playwright, performance poet and human rights attorney. She is the founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.


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