Rapper and former Fugees singer Wyclef Jean made the first televised announcement of his bid for Haitian president last night on CNN. After several satellite interview segments between Wyclef and Wolf Blitzer, philanthropist Sean Penn shared harsh words for the Haitian rapper, questioning his motives and value as a leader.
"This is somebody who's going to receive an enormous amount of support from the United States, and I have to say I'm very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent. For those of us in Haiti, he has been a non-presence," Penn said.
Jean, 37, was born in Haiti but left soon after and was raised in Brooklyn and New Jersey. He established the Yelé Haiti foundation in 2005, providing aid and opportunities to the country's citizens.
Penn, who has been active in Haiti since the earthquake, highlighted allegations that Wyclef mishandled $400,000 donated for the country through his Yele Haiti foundation. "He claims he didn't do it. That has to be looked into it," Penn said. "I've been there. I know what $400,000 could do for these people's lives."
Wyclef's political motives were a particular concern for Penn. "I see in Wyclef Jean somebody who could well have been influenced by the promise of support of companies. I think Haiti is clearly vulnerable ... There is a history of American interests coming in and underpaying people. This is a culture or one to two dollars a day, that they were making."
Penn openly worried about American corporations and individuals "enamored" with Wyclef becoming "opportunists on the back of the Haitian people."
"I haven't seen or heard anything of [Wyclef Jean] in these last six months that I've been in Haiti. I think he's an important voice. I hope he doesn't sacrifice that voice by taking the eye off the very devastating realities on the ground," Penn said. "I want to see someone who's really, really willing to sacrifice for their country, and not just someone who I personally saw with vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that, in context, I felt was a very obscene demonstration."
In 2008, Wyclef recorded a song called 'If I Was President'. Notable lyrics include: "If I was president / I'd get elected on Friday / Assasinated on Saturday / And buried on Sunday" and "Instead of spending billions on the war / We can use some of that money, in the ghetto / I know some so poor, when it rains that when they shower / Screaming 'fight the power.'