The Most Prominent Two of Haiti's 34 Presidential Candidates Offer Little Hope for Change
Haiti's embattled nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), headed by Gaillot Dorsinvil, continued its forced march toward Nov. 28 presidential and parliamentary elections this week, closing presidential candidate registrations on Aug. 7.
The CEP has excluded Haiti's largest party, the Lavalas Family of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, prompting weekly and sometimes large demonstrations calling for its removal and that of President René Préval, who hand-picked it.
While Lavalas base organizations and even some politicians say they will boycott any elections carried out under Préval and his CEP, the announcement of certain presidential candidacies have inflamed passions and may alter the political chessboard dramatically.
Candidacies can be contested up until Aug. 12, and the CEP says it will issue a list of those accepted on Aug. 17. Some of the 34 candidates who registered will likely be disqualified for violation of certain requirements like that for five consecutive years of residency in Haiti prior to the election.
Here we present a brief description of the two most prominent candidates, including who and what they represent.
Claiming he was "drafted by Haiti's youth," Haitian-American hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean, 40, was certainly the most spotlighted Haitian presidential candidate to register this week, but, ironically, he is also one of the most disdained by Haitians both in Haiti and its diaspora.
"He has no education, no preparation, and no competence to be Haiti's president, especially with the complicated crisis we face now," said Joseph Ulysse, 38, a Brooklyn-based cab driver. "His candidacy is a mockery."
Indeed, Jean's live announcements of his bid on Miami-based Bonjour Haiti and CNN on Aug. 5 have unleashed a torrent of critical articles and editorials calling on him to quit the race.
"Jean, an incredibly savvy entertainer, clearly lacks the political wherewithal to deal with the complex situations he is likely to face abroad," wrote Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor of the moderate Haitian-American English-language weekly Haitian Times, in the Guardian. "His internal challenges are more troublesome because he needs to surround himself with a strong cadre of competent people well-steeped into the ins and outs of governance.
Pierre-Pierre represents exactly the demographic to which Wyclef Jean is hoping to appeal. But Pierre-Pierre calls Jean's platform - education, healthcare and job creation - "unremarkable" and urges him to "stick to what you know best," namely "continue as a roving ambassador, bringing a certain Hollywood glamour to the hemisphere's poorest nation."
Meanwhile, the Haiti Action Committee's Charlie Hinton in the San Francisco Bay View focused on Wyclef's seamy political past. "Wyclef Jean supported the 2004 coup," Hinton wrote. "When gun-running former army and death squad members trained by the CIA were overrunning Haiti's north on Feb. 25, 2004, MTV's Gideon Yago wrote, 'Wyclef Jean voiced his support for Haitian rebels on Wednesday, calling on embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down...'"
Just as actor Sean Penn suggested on CNN that U.S. "corporate interests were enamored" with Wyclef Jean and behind his campaign, Hinton contends that the "floating of his candidacy is just one more effort by the international forces, desperate to put a smiley face on a murderous military occupation, to undermine the will of the Haitian majority by making Wyclef Jean the Ronald Reagan of Haiti. Let us be clear. Jean and his uncle, [Raymond Joseph, also a presidential candidate and] the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., are both cozy with the self-appointed czar of Haiti, Bill Clinton, whose plans for the Caribbean nation are to make it a neo-colony for a reconstructed tourist industry and a pool of cheap labor for U.S. factories. Wyclef Jean is the perfect front man. The Haitian elite and its U.S./U.N. sponsors are counting on his appeal to the youth to derail the people's movement for democracy and their call for the return of President Aristide. Most Haitians will not be hoodwinked by the likes of Wyclef Jean."
Ansel Herz, a Haiti-based independent journalist, also published a critical piece on his blog at Mediahacker.org. He wrote: "So what about breaking the stranglehold that a few of Haiti's most obscenely wealthy families have on the government and economy? 'We have to build an open system that doesn't stop them from making money, that will work for them, if only because what they're making could double, triple,' Jean told Esquire Magazine in a recent interview. Those families have been making a killing on the backs of the Haitian poor for decades, paying them dirt-cheap wages to work in sweatshops while stifling the country's emergent middle class. Make no mistake, Jean's politics are those of the Haiti's miserable status quo."
The Smoking Gun website has put out several documents detailing how Wyclef Jean has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from his charity, Yele Foundation, to himself and to companies he owns or controls. It also revealed that the IRS believes Jean owes it $2.1 million in back taxes. Most Haitians are therefore leery of letting Wyclef Jean and his acolytes anywhere near the already paltry and pilfered Haitian treasury.
Finally, there is the little matter of whether Wyclef's candidacy is even legal. "Article 135e of Haiti's Constitution is clear," explained Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) on Aug. 4 on Pacifica Radio's KPFA program Flashpoints. "In order to be President, you need to have a residence in Haiti for the five consecutive years before the election. Mr. Jean has not lived in Haiti for, I believe, 28 years, and his residence is in New Jersey, not it Haiti. So it's a pretty clear disqualification." Wyclef claims that his 2007 appointment by Préval as Haiti's goodwill ambassador - an essentially honorary post - exempts him from the residency requirement.
During Jean's announcement, CNN played and replayed clips of young women grinding and young men bouncing on motorcycles, all wearing T-shirts with the name of his party: Live Together.
JACQUES EDOUARD ALEXIS
He served as Préval's Prime Minister from Jan. 1999 to Feb. 2001 and again from May 2006 to Apr. 2008, when he was dismissed from his post by the Haitian Senate following nationwide food riots.
Alexis, 62, has been an unannounced presidential candidate for the last two years, courting the Lavalas base with the promise of bringing back Aristide from exile in South Africa. He had expected to be the candidate of Préval's Unity party, and indeed was for two days last week after clearing several daunting hurdles.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that Alexis' candidacy was kaput when it came to public attention that he had never received from the Parliament a "décharge," essentially an audit and stamp of approval saying his administration was not corrupt.
Alexis' problem was that Haiti's Parliament expired in May, so there was no way for him to now get the clean bill of health, even though there may have been problems there too.
The whole dilemma went away last week when Préval's CEP announced that it would simply disregard the electoral law article mandating a "décharge" from former government officials.
Haiti's entire "political class," from the Lavalas Family to right-wing political fronts, cried foul, but Préval was unmoved. He announced that Alexis would represent Unity.
However, Unity the next day became far from it. The party rebelled against Préval's nomination of Alexis. In a night-time meeting at the National Palace on Aug. 5, Moise Jean-Charles, the party's Northern Senator and an Alexis supporter, got in a fist-fight with Senate President Kelly Bastien, who backed the Southeast's Senator, Joseph Lambert.
Finally Alexis was unceremoniously ousted and replaced by Jude Célestin, a low-profile technocrat who heads Préval's pet agency, the National Equipment Company (CNE), which has more machinery than the Department of Public Works. The CNE's dump-trucks and backhoes have been the principle excavators so far of rubble after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
A veteran of such political wrangling, Alexis quickly switched his candidacy to the obscure Mobilization for Haiti's Progress (MPH), his back-up banner, but not before he and Préval had a bitter fight over his ouster from Unity on the night of Aug. 6 at the Palace.
Born in Gonaives, Alexis has spent much of his life in academia. Trained as an agronomist and a chemist, he taught at the college level in Haiti and Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. He then helped found the private University of Quisqueya, where he was the first rector from 1990 to 1995.
Under Préval's first administration, Alexis was also Minister of National Education, Youth, and Sport, Culture Minister, and Interior Minister.
Alexis, who has the backing of sectors like the Open the Gates Party (PLB) of Francois Pierre-Louis, would pursue policies similar to Préval, who represents Haiti's "enlightened" bourgeoisie. This current seeks accommodation with the U.S. and France, which politically and economically dominate the country, while making eyes at and paying lip-service to entreaties from vanguard neighbors like Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia for Haiti to break away and join anti-imperialist initiatives like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).