PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti | After the hip-hop party was over, the cheering supporters back in their tents and the speaker trucks parked for the night, newly minted presidential candidate Wyclef Jean sat down to talk business — promoting Haiti’s and defending his own.
The candidate for Haiti’s Nov. 28 election told the Associated Press that he supports the U.S. and U.N. vision for rebuilding Haiti’s economy after its magnitude 7 earthquake — a plan that encourages private investment in factories, agriculture and other areas.
He also hit back at critics of his own personal finances, including allegations over his use of post-quake charity funds and the revelation he personally owes $2.1 million in back taxes to the United States.
“We can provide a way to get [Haitians] out of the mess they’re in. And the way that that’s going to happen [is] education, job creation and investment for Haiti,” Mr. Jean said in the wide-ranging interview Thursday evening.
He spoke in a Port-au-Prince hotel room as aides, his wife and their 5-year-old daughter looked on.
The Haitian-born, Brooklyn-raised singer is attempting a difficult and potentially dicey transformation: From multimillionaire international recording artist to leader of one of the world’s poorest and most dysfunctional countries — and doing so through a pivotal and difficult election.
Among the best-known figures in his native country, Mr. Jean — who left Haiti as a child — speaks American-accented Creole to crowds and New York-accented English at home. His estimated annual income of up to $18 million is more than 13,000 times more than the average Haitian sees in a year — assuming that person even has a job.
If he wins the presidency, the ex-frontman of the Fugees said he would encourage donors to invest heavily in education. He also endorsed the economic vision promoted by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy who was in Haiti last week. Those plans include creating jobs in the garment-export industry, boosting tourism and building the capacity of Haitian farmers to reduce the nation’s chronic dependence on imports.
Among other potential investment targets, he mentioned mining, an industry whose ramping up amid the rising price of gold and other minerals has sparked controversy in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Mr. Jean’s leap from entertainer to prospective head of state also is leading to some interesting transitional moments. After having previously listed his age as 37, as a candidate he suddenly jumped to 40 years old, and on Thursday he traded his urban hip-hop style for a dark suit.
The worldwide attention that his presidential bid attracts also means scrutiny and criticism — turning the campaign into what Mr. Jean called a “combat sport.” He responded directly to a revelation published last week on the U.S.-based website the Smoking Gun concerning his unpaid U.S. taxes.
“First of all, owing $2.1 million to the IRS shows you how much money Wyclef Jean makes a year,” he said, pledging to publish an accounting of his finances online and to pay the money he owes.
The singer also fumed when aides told him that actor Sean Penn, who has been managing an earthquake-survivor camp in the Haitian capital since the spring, had accused Mr. Jean of not spending enough time in Haiti after the quake and misappropriating $400,000 of the $9 million his charity, Yele Haiti, raised after the disaster.View Entire Story
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