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'If I Was President': Wyclef Jean sets eyes on Haiti

August 6, 2010 | 11:08 am

Latimes wyclef jean

Wyclef Jean, the New York-raised hip-hop star, has declared himself a candidate for the presidency of earthquake-torn Haiti, reports Joe Mozingo in the L.A. Times.

"My father always told me life without sacrifice is not worth living, so today I take on the greatest sacrifice that a man can take on in the 21st century," Jean said, announcing his candidacy Thursday. "I'm running for president for my country of Haiti."

The announcement has met cheers and skepticism among Haitians, with younger people expressing enthusiasm for the idea but members of the political and intellectual establishment doubting Jean's viability as a leader as Haiti struggles to emerge from the disaster of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"Bon bagay," Saintil Wilson, 22, said from a seaside slum. "Good thing. We need somebody who is younger and stronger and has more power to run Haiti."

"First, he doesn't know how the state works," sociologist Laennec Hurbon told The Times. "He hasn't any knowledge of the political parties. This is not a good thing for democracy in Haiti."

A journalist and United Nations advisor notes in the story that Jean does not speak French and is not fluent in Creole, the primary languages used in Haiti's government. There are also unresolved questions about whether Jean even qualifies to run. He was born in Port-au-Prince but left when he was 9 and has not lived permanently in Haiti since.

Jean, 37, the son of a Nazarene preacher, is a former member of the influential hip-hop group the Fugees. In the days after the quake, Jean was in Port-au-Prince helping collect dead bodies. His Yele Haiti Foundation raised millions of dollars for Haiti's quake recovery but also faced criticism for its financial practices.

Only a day into his run, the entertainer is already facing resistance in the thorny world of Haitian politics. For starters, an electoral council must validate whether Jean meets the qualifications to be a candidate. If he is certified as a candidate, he'll be running against an uncle, Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States. The party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom Jean criticized in 2004, is planning on painting the new candidate as a puppet of U.S. interests, Mozingo reports.

In 2008, Jean released a song titled "If I Was President," in which he sings, "If I was president / I'd get elected on Friday / Assassinated on Saturday / Buried on Sunday / They go back to work on Monday." One video for the track uses U.S.-style electoral imagery, not Haitian. Watch it here.

The Fugees were a New Jersey hip-hop trio featuring Jean along with Pras and Lauryn Hill. The group rose to prominence in the 1990s with such politically charged hits as "Fu-Gee-La" and "Ready Or Not," but they later split up as the members embarked on solo careers.

Count one former bandmate as a Jean skeptic. The New York Daily News reports that Pras is not endorsing Jean's run and will support a rival candidate in elections in November.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Wyclef Jean greets supporters after filing candidacy papers in Port-au-Prince, Aug. 4, 2010. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times