Port-au-Prince, Haiti In the span of a few weeks, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean turned the world’s attention to a little-known political race in a small, impoverished Caribbean country — with little campaigning, no TV ads and zero debates.
Within a few seconds at a hastily called news conference Friday night, Jean was barred from running for president in Haiti, presumably because he didn’t meet the residency requirements.
The 40-year-old singer-songwriter says he will stay involved, though in “a different role than I had anticipated it to be,” according to his statement Friday.
But the question is, how? Will he support one of the 19 candidates on the ballot? And will he help with the reconstruction of the earthquake-torn country?
Jean said little Saturday as he attended a church service in Croix des Bouquets, the small town northeast of Port-au-Prince where he was born. He was preparing to fly back to the United States where his wife and daughter live later in the day.
“It’s been a hard couple of weeks,” he told The Associated Press. “Right now, I just want to go with my family and relax.”
Jean said he believed that he had filed the necessary paperwork regarding his residency, adding, “Somehow we got overruled.”
Haiti’s electoral council did not say why it had disqualified Jean, but the singer had faced a challenge to his candidacy because he has not lived in Haiti for the past five years as required.
Jean’s five-paragraph statement Friday said he disagreed with the council’s ruling but “respectfully” accepted its decision.
“I want to assure my countrymen that I will continue to work for Haiti’s renewal; though the board has determined that I am not a resident of Haiti, home is where the heart is — and my heart has and will always be in Haiti,” he wrote.
The winner of the November vote will take charge of recovery from the Jan. 12 earthquake, coordinating billions of aid dollars in a country with a history of political turmoil and corruption. The quake killed an estimated 300,000 people and left the capital, Port-au-Prince, in ruins.
There was little evidence in Port-au-Prince on Saturday of protests or unrest due to the electoral council’s decision.
Still, both Jean and U.N. peacekeepers called for calm after the release of the candidates list.
People in Croix des Bouquets were crushed.
“It makes me feel sick, and there’s a lot of things now which are not going to come true for the people of Haiti,” said Caneus Eugonte, 27. “I don’t want to vote for no one, no other candidacy.”
Marie Michelle Claude, who lives in an earthquake survivor camp there, stayed up late listening to the radio for the election board’s decision.
Jean has given many of the camp residents tents, radios and even clean water.
“Since January 12, we have lived in this camp, and we have never seen anyone else come to give us support. It’s only Wyclef,” she said. “The CEP kicked Wyclef out of the race. But it’s us they’ve kicked out. They leave us here in misery.”
Jean’s candidacy merged politics with entertainment, charity with self-promotion.
In the weeks after the earthquake, Jean released a single, called “Hold On.” It was a message to Haiti — and the first single on a yet-to-be-released album called “The Haitian Experience.” All proceeds from the song went toward earthquake relief.
“Hold on, be strong/No matter what you’re goin’ through/You know it’s gon’ be okay, okay today/Even when the earth quakes,” he sang.
Long before the earthquake, Jean had founded Yele Haiti, a group to help poor young Haitians.
But Yele came under criticism for alleged improprieties, including that it paid Jean to perform at fundraising events and bought air time from a television station he co-owns. Jean resigned as leader of the group earlier this month as he prepared to run for office.
The electoral council approved 19 candidates and rejected 15, spokesman Richardson Dumel said Friday.
While rejecting Jean, the board approved two leading contenders: former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis and Yvon Neptune, who was the last prime minister under ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and has been active in helping to coordinate reconstruction efforts.
Also allowed to run are: Jude Celestin, head of the government’s primary construction firm and the candidate supported by President Rene Preval; and Michel Martelly, a well-known Haitian singer known as “Sweet Mickey.” The Constitution bars Preval from running for re-election.
Well-known Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat wrote in Saturday’s Miami Herald that Jean can still use his celebrity to Haiti’s advantage.
“Now there will, of course, be people who lose interest in the race, who feel that they have no dog in the fight. I hope Wyclef Jean is not one of them,” she wrote. “What he has promised to do before — create jobs and educational opportunities and inspire young people who have already lost so much to the earthquake that inspired him to run — he can continue to do through a reformed version of his Yele Haiti foundation and his music.”