Musician-turned-politician Wycelf Jean lashed out at Sean Penn on Monday, defending his qualifications as a presidential candidate and his role in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake. Shortly after Jean registered his bid, Penn said in an interview with CNN that “For those of us in Haiti, [Jean] has been a non-presence,” and called into question Jean’s financial management as chairman of Yéle Haiti.
In a series of interviews, Jean defended his charity, claiming that it has raised $9 million since the earthquake, and played an instrumental role in decreasing violence following the ouster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The Haitian-born artist the also characterized himself as a crucial liaison between the Haitian people and the 600,000 Haitians living in the United States. AQ interviewed Jean on his role in Haiti prior to the earthquake in the Spring 2009 issue on the environment.
The public row with Sean Penn raised several questions about Jean’s political credentials, his chairmanship of Yéle Haiti, and even his legal eligibility as a presidential candidate. However, the publicity that has resulted from the back-and-forth could ultimately prove beneficial to Jean’s campaign by raising his profile as a politician, especially among the Diaspora. The final list of candidates will be announced on August 17, three months before the national elections on November 26.