Also see the Charlie Rose interview with Sean Penn.
by Ezili Dantò
Forget that people’s trust and naive responses to celebrities-turned-scholar-on-Haiti and Haiti’s future are unseemly and utterly appalling.
Think: How may we use this upcoming and unprecedented three-month media glare – the elections are scheduled for Nov. 28, 2010 – to help the 2 million Haitians made homeless by the earthquake stay alive, sheltered, not in rotted tents but more permanent abodes, with water, food, medicine and maybe some jobs; push for the monies raised to be used for Haiti’s domestic growth and the victims directly, for fair trade not sweatshops and poor Haiti subsidizing toxic Monsanto’s future profits and push to get rid of the poverty pimp NGOs, end the U.N. occupation by showing the failures, these last six-years, of the U.N., the NGOs, Clinton, their repugnance? ((“Haiti ill-served by aid” by Ezili Dantò of HLLN.))
How to use this media glare to take away the smiley face that was put on tyranny and the U.N./U.S. occupation and the benevolent face put on structural poverty, white venality and vampirism in Black Haiti? The real narrative on Haiti cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks while this Penn/Wyclef hype gives the U.S. corporatocracy and Haiti oligarchy more cover to continue their pillage, plunder of Haiti’s resources, impoverishment and destruction of Haiti.
There’s work to do, people. ((See “The Slavery in Haiti the Media Won’t Expose”; “What U.N. Special Envoy Bill Clinton May do to Help Haiti, 2001” – outline and full text; “What Haitian Americans Ask of the New U.S. Congress and President”; “Haiti’s Riches: Expose the false stereotypes”; “A map of some of Haiti’s mining resources”; “The Poverty Pimps Masturbating on Black Pain: Monsanto joins the pack” and “Vision of Plantation Haiti: A White Pearl, Again!”))
“As a result of these U.S. free trade policies, over 830,000 rural Haitian jobs were lost and hundreds of thousands of Haitians were forced into the capital looking for work, where eventually they would meet up with Jan. 12 at 4:53.” ((See “Vision of Plantation Haiti: A White Pearl, Again!” and “We accomplished our own ends in the United States on the tears of Haitian children,” Introduction of the panelists at an MIT presentation on Haiti, video.))
Wyclef’s run for president of Haiti, according to Sean Penn
So far, Sean Penn’s script in Haiti has been written by USAID and the U.S. State Department, as we noted back in May when he testified before the Foreign Relations Committee. Sean Penn, new spokesperson for colonialism, exclusion and Haiti’s oligarchy, says don’t encourage Haiti’s independence; that’s premature and murder!
But Hollywood’s bad boy, one time heroin user, reputed cokehead, former husband to Lady Gaga’s godmother, Madonna, who once filed assault charges against him, is starting to get a clue almost seven months into his Haiti sojourn and the Charlie Rose interview marks that demarcation.
Still, even if Penn is starting to see that NGOs are a business in Haiti, his notion that he’s qualified to speak about Wyclef’s run because of his six months in Haiti is blatantly offensive paternalism and white privilege arrogance.
Penn is not an opportunist. I have it on good eyewitness authority that he genuinely manages the best tent camp in Port au Prince. But he seems to believe he has STANDING and legitimate media authority to say – not the Haitian people, but for HIM to say – because of his running the tent camp, that Wyclef Jean should not be running for president. There are just no words to express the temerity of these white boys sometimes.
Penn is simply NOT the proper person to take this issue to; the people in Haiti are! How is it that they are being bypassed for Penn’s opinions? How could Sean Penn not even get it that seven months after the earthquake, his very presence in Haiti, still at a tent city golf RESORT, which he puts HIS name on, is merely further evidence of the Jake Sully-Tarzan messiah complex as played out in Haiti, in Africa, everywhere in Black and Brown countries – not much different from the NGO-as-a-business issue he is denouncing. ((“Haiti and the Aid Racket: How NGOs are Profiting Off a Grave Situation.”))
There are forces behind each of these people – Penn and Wyclef Jean – with political interests that may not be similar to what the masses in Haiti see for themselves. Forces perhaps that neither Penn nor Jean are fully aware of and may not understand who pull the strings and manipulated them both into being stooges for empire.
For one, recall how, before the earthquake, Wyclef Jean was a media darling and a U.S.-U.N.-Clinton favorite in Haiti. He was ambassador-at- large with a security detail and VIP treatment at the airport. When the earthquake hit, that favor was transferred to clueless, first-time-doing-Haiti-charity-work Sean Penn! Not the security detail, but his crew had access to the airport when regular Haitians and more veteran search and rescue and first responders were being denied.
Penn had access to military logistics while Wyclef Jean’s crew had to come in through the Dominican Republic! At one point in the early days, when Wyclef Jean went to the airport with a crowd of Haitians to pick up the mounds of food, water, medicines that was just piling up there, he was denied. The crowd of eager-to-help Haiti youths who had followed him witnessed this treatment of Wyclef, embarrassed and shamed and forced to leave empty handed.
Meanwhile Sean Penn’s star in Haiti was rising, in his safe compound on a golf resort area fully protected by the military. Never mind that most Haitians in Kafou Fey and elsewhere outside this “green zone” had no access to medicine, water, blood transfusions, no safety or that, in general and notwithstanding Sean Penn’s well run camp, many of the World Relief organizations and various other NGOS are, in the main, using aid monies for paying their high-end salaries and travel, for shipping fees to their own companies, for attending meetings ad nausea, some buying prostitutes and living the high life in Haiti.
World Vision, among other NGOs, is leasing homes in the Haiti mountains of upper Petionville for from $6,000 to $12,000 per month, paying for electricity and everything else plus renting huge SUVs from the Haitian oligarchy, while the Haitian elite are taking this opportunity to leave Haiti and rent their plush homes for big money raised for earthquake victim relief. The new ROTATIONS from the World Relief organizations and the extra U.N.-U.S. deployed personnel since the earthquake have comfortably replaced those flown out as the “new foreign elite moving in.”
All this is going on. But none of the top Haiti charity moneymakers’ tax returns were publicly exposed by the IRS or were dressed down by the media for their misuse of Haiti funds. NGO businesses like Red Cross, World Vision, Care International, Catholic Relief Services, U.N. world food programs – known charities that have been collecting on Haiti’s poverty and pillaging Haiti for decades after decades – none of them were dressed down for their misuse of dollars collected in Haiti. But soon after the earthquake, ONLY Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti Foundation was singled out and uncovered to have IRS problems and a more than $410,000 questionable management issue.
Before the earthquake, these problems were not made public or cited anywhere that we know about. Wyclef was needed then to put a smiley Haitian face to U.S. imperialism. But he’s being reigned in now and there is a reason. A Black messiah who saves earthquake victims, has Hollywood cachet, a tent city and who was not stopped from competing with Red Cross for donation dollars probably isn’t controllable enough for the U.S. kingmakers in Haiti.
We’ve gone into cartoon land. The sideshow eclipses the living, breathing, suffering Haiti people enduring over six nightmarish years of U.N.-U.S. occupation and slaughters and NGO pillage never covered by the mainstream media. The election carnival is just beginning and has reduced, for the moment, the worst disaster in recorded human history to what actor Sean Penn has to say about hip hop rapper Wyclef Jean’s run to sit at the crumbled National Palace in Haiti! Elections under occupation? Neither are saying krik, not a word, about that!
Wyclef Jean: Rapper turned presidential candidate
Talking about standing. Although Wyclef Jean supported the forced removal of Haiti’s democratically elected president Aristide; although Wyclef Jean was part of the bicentennial boycott and one who called the murdering U.S.-supported Guy Philippe death squads “freedom fighters”; although Wyclef Jean used his goodwill from his music fame to open Site Soley slums up to U.N. guns and then left his young Black male supporters to be rounded up and imprisoned indefinitely without charges, a hearing or a trial for years and years, never saying a word to request they be tried or set free; although all this is true, we are not going to restate this case evidencing Wyclef Jean’s undemocratic political leanings or non-humanitarian interventions. Why? Because at Ezili’s HLLN, we try not to enter into fratricide and use our limited resources towards changing the paradigm put in place by Category One, the imperialists, not any variety of Category Zero, their Black subcontractors, manipulated or not.
Besides, Wyclef Jean has done a singularly good job in bringing a different international narrative to Haiti.
His narrative is different because when Wyclef Jean and Haiti come together, it’s not about the mainstream media’s usual violent-Haiti narrative, the in-fighting-Haitians narrative, nor the corrupt-Haiti narrative but a successful young man who won against all odds. That is not to be discounted. It must be put into context. There’s no justice or reason for destroying Wyclef Jean simply because he is running for president of Haiti and may also owe the IRS some taxes or may have connection to sweatshop investors that may fleece the people’s labor. On these points, Haitians will undoubtedly speak. The people may even vote or withhold their vote. They will do it, for themselves.
Do Haitians need Penn to “protect them” from Wyclef Jean! No. They need Penn perhaps to go to Washington, go see his own folks and use his media and Hollywood power to get Washington’s boots off their necks!
Wyclef Jean’s life story inspires millions upon millions of young Haitians, Black men in America and youths worldwide. It’s something to be built upon in the appropriate manner. His foundation’s funds also ought to be well managed and monies collected and disbursed readily accounted for. He has been important to Haiti and Haitians, living at home and abroad, not because of his music career success but also because he’s used his success to lift up Haiti, been proud to belong to Haiti and heralds from the masses. All this has been going on long before the Haiti golf course became the tent camp of Sean Penn. Long, long before.
In terms of his run for president of Haiti: Mr. Wyclef Jean, hype or not, qualified to run a country or not, all that is beside the point and there’s no need to opine on it right now. For, if the LAW applies, he simply has no STANDING to run for the post. Wyclef Jean does not meet the technical requirements to run for president of Haiti. To run, he must, according to Article 135 of the Haiti Constitution, have LIVED in Haiti for a minimum of five years. Wyclef is a legal resident of New Jersey, USA. ((See Article 135 Haiti Constitution.))
Even if by some stretch Mr. Wyclef Jean should point to his 2007 appointment as ambassador-at-large by President Preval as “residency in Haiti,” he still falls short.
We await the decision of the Haiti Electoral Council (CEP) at Ezili’s HLLN before making any further comments on the substance of this candidacy and that of the 33 others who have filed, if required. It must be noted that we are under occupation and the law has been destroyed in Haiti, so who knows what the CEP will rule. We remember under the Bush imposed Latortue, when Gerard Latortue didn’t like a legal decision, he just fired the Supreme Court.
We recall that under the puppet Preval, when that government didn’t like it that a judge ordered the Fanmi Lavalas party to be included as a registered party in the elections, he just fired the judge. So who knows, the CEP may ignore the law and let Wyclef Jean run. Bush ignored the Haiti Constitution and ousted President Aristide, put in the U.N.-U.S. occupation and the Obama administration is continuing the illegal prohibition, forbidding President Aristide and his family to return home. There’s no respect for the law in the Haiti that’s presently being run by ex-President Clinton as U.N. envoy and that’s under U.S.-U.N. control, so there’s no standard, no justice, no peace for Haiti at the moment.
What we do know, for now, is that there are some advantages to this media coverage of Haiti, through this Wyclef Jean candidacy. It may not help Mr. Jean. But it is an OPPORTUNITY for those of us who care to bring the REAL Haiti narrative to the fore on this media frenzy. I hope Ezili Network folks will take this opportunity to write op-eds and respond and comment to CNN, Larry King, New York Times, Hollywood Reporter et al.
Sean Penn’s anti-war work on Iraq did not sit well with the embedded media and U.S. military, but he made it up with the media and U.S. military in post-earthquake Haiti.
Once, the media had labeled him “Baghdad Sean” and accused Sean Penn of undermining American solidarity in a time of crisis. Penn’s support and visits to Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and to Cuba meeting with Raul Castro, both sworn enemies of American imperialism, also got him in trouble with the mainstream media and military. Not any more.
Today, he’s a CNN, Larry King, Charlie Rose et al darling, not relentlessly attacked for his “anti-American stands against the war in Iraq.” No, he’s a “humanitarian” now, losing no chance to praise the U.S. military presence in Haiti. U.S. State Department-USAID mostly write the actor’s script in Haiti. He’s palpable now. Digestible now. So, he’s become a regular “go to” person whom the mainstream media will quote and consult with on the “Haiti situation.” Ah, the uses of Haiti! ((See also “Who is Rajiv Shah, What are Haiti concerns about Shah-USAID.”))
“Baghdad Sean” gets on the good side of the U.S. military and mainstream media in Haiti. ((See the May 19 Senate Hearing on Haiti. Read Sean Penn’s testimony praising the U.S. military, Preval and the NGOs and urging the militarization of aid relief efforts as well as continued U.S.-U.N. occupation.)) Although the U.N. itself has said that violent Haiti is a myth and although the statistics show that there is more violence in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Brazil and even in some places in the U.S. than there is in Haiti, Sean Penn, mouthing the Haiti oligarchy, mainstream media, NGO and USAID-State Department’s colonial narrative, writes and testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that:
“President Preval and his administration have proven in their pre-quake efforts the will of Haiti to overcome its devastating legacy. But to demand of them or encourage their demand of a fractured society’s independence prematurely will be murder by another name.” – Sean Penn, May 19 Senate Hearing on Haiti
In fact, “Hellhole Haiti” is not as violent as Peoria, Illinois. Haiti’s homicide rate is five and a half times less than the average homicide rate in the entire Caribbean. The average for Haiti is 5.6 per 100,000 and the average for the Caribbean is 30 homicides per 100,000.
As a reward, it seems to us, for following the script perhaps put in front of him by USAID, the NGO subcontractors et al and by the mentally colonized “schooled” Haitians he runs into who are now running Haiti through the victory of two Bush regime changes, Sean Penn was presented with a medal from President Preval for his Haiti work on the six-month anniversary ceremony at the destroyed National Palace and was presented with a MILITARY coin and several honorary certificates of commendation for his service in Haiti by the deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Lt. Gen. Ken Keen.
Sean Penn’s organization appears to be trying hard in Haiti to help save the lives in his golf resort tent city. There’s no denying that his camp’s efforts have helped dying earthquake victims, have given morphine to patients screaming in pain, provided medicine, blood transfusions to keep them alive. That relief work is necessary and not discounted. Still, in the long run, when seven months on people are still in Sean Penn’s camp, living in tents, not homes, this sort of “development” may soon become dependency.
At the end of the day, if there’s no skill transfer and permanent infrastructure change, staffed by Haitians as owners not “helpers” to the foreign saviors, it’s no different than before the earthquake. And Penn’s organization may end up perpetuating itself to be in Haiti for decades like the other NGOS, trying, as Spike Lee gushes, to “get this country on its feet”! ((“Spike Lee praises Sean Penn’s work in Haiti”; and “The Plantation called Haiti: Feudal Pillage Masking as Humanitarian Aid.”))
Penn’s public statements are evidence that he does not clearly see the hands pulling the strings, manipulating from the very beginning, or that Western military power and white privilege have vied for the soul of Black folks since the days of the missionaries. Penn does not seem to question how HE came to get this privilege of his OWN tent camp in Haiti. He seems to take it for GRANTED that, with no previous Haiti experience, he actually EARNED this position to manage the camp.
He doesn’t seem to see the entitlement or the strings attached and unintended harm being done as emergency phase turns into rebuilding phase and the people’s lives evidence no rebuilding. He doesn’t seem to want to know that Haitians are not children, that with the resources, access and connections made available to HIM and his foreign organization and staffers by USAID, U.N., the U.S. military, Haitians in Haiti would have done more, saved more lives, covered a wider geographical area of people. Haitians in Haiti simply know the ground better than Penn.
Mr. Penn appears to have NO CLUE how USAID-U.S. State Department-Pentagon, more schooled in the patterns of privilege and domination, are USING him to further their “do-gooder” narrative and deflect away from six years of failure in Haiti since the occupation and NGO republic began in earnest.
Here are Mr. Sean Penn’s best and worst lines on the Charlie Rose show:
As you watch the Charlie Rose interview, there’s a clear picture the NGOs are a business. They are in Haiti to keep Haiti dependent and to continue their business existence, using the poverty for their benefit.
Penn’s best lines: 1. “The rest of the world live like this. America is the fringe.” 2. “A prominent Haitian said to me, ‘When the apocalypse comes, the survivors will be roaches, rats and Haitians.’ The Haitians will survive” (no matter what).
Penn’s worst line: Recycling unfounded charges against President Aristide, he says that Aristide’s “rising personal power issue gave in to narco-trafficking, if not personally, CERTAINLY indirectly, … that gave into violence, so you didn’t have the basic security in the country, trust in the police in Haiti!” (go to 33:15). He goes on to parrot USAID-State Department about what a wonderful job Preval was doing before the earthquake. Presumably he was “decentralizing” power!
Someone ought to have given Sean Penn a clue. Not to say a known coke-head can’t have a valid point. Smoking drugs and being a heavy drinker doesn’t mean one condones how drugs get from Haiti to America. So I won’t point out Sean Penn’s old drug problem, jail time and assault charges. I think Madonna pressed charges for assault and then withdrew them for a straight divorce. So I won’t go there at all.
The clue Sean Penn needs to get is that to come to a nation and start impugning its legally elected president on drug charges is a bit arrogant, if not hypocritical in the altogether. Besides, he’s dead wrong. Aristide didn’t bring the violence to Haiti. He was raised in the poverty violence. He was raised in neo-colonial Haiti and a 30-year U.S.-supported Duvalier dictatorship.
Violence in Haiti is not only evidenced by the NGO dependency business today but is made entrenched there by the U.S.-U.N. military occupation heralded in by the two violent Bush coups d’etat that summarily disfranchised 10 million Black Haitians, killed 20,000 and subjects the masses to the unprecedented nightmare Haitians have been living under since the bicentennial coup d’etat and return of the oligarchy macoutes-elites and vampire internationals back to power in Haiti.
Duvalier’s macoutes and Haiti’s army junta have been supplementing their income with allowing drug trafficking up from Columbia et al – way before Aristide came to power in 1990. Many of the top army leaders, like the drug trafficker Michel Francois and coup d’etat leader, Gen. Raoul Cedras, were on U.S. payroll and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, way before Aristide came into office. Haiti’s poor, for whom Aristide was a spokesperson, own no planes, no cocaine fields and the DEA suspected drug dealer who helped oust Aristide, Guy Philippe, was originally trained by U.S. Special Forces and financed by the U.S. and trained by U.N. or U.S. proxies from the Dominican Republic to invade Haiti in 2004.
In terms of decentralization of Haiti, Aristide tried to decentralize power, empower Haiti’s 565 communal sections and not just Port au Prince. That wasn’t acceptable to the U.S. and internationals because they did not want his community organizing to succeed, or participatory democracy in Haiti. The U.S. and Haiti oligarchy want ELECTORAL democracy, not participatory democracy. Elections under occupation where THEY control the elections, manage them, steal them or hijack them.
The U.S. talks of decentralization of Port au Prince, but it was the first U.S. occupation, from 1915 to 1934, that made Port au Prince the seat of power, the better to run their colony. USAID-U.S. have no intention of allowing decentralization, unless they can control all 565 sections. It’s easier to just buy off the politicians in Port au Prince and be done with it.
On CNN’s Larry King show, Penn criticizes Wyclef Jean because he saw him with a large entourage in Haiti. Hollywood’s Sean Penn lives in Malibu where displays of wealth are taken for granted. If we look through the eyes of Haiti’s endlessly suffering youths, they see Sean Penn’s entourage in Haiti is the most powerful army on planet earth – his army – for his safety and security, not theirs. Maybe that and the constant convoy of U.N.-U.S. war trucks and tanks these last six years and not Wyclef’s “vulgar entourage of vehicles” is “the obscene demonstration of wealth” they see.
Fact is, homegrown Wyclef Jean and his “vulgar entourage of vehicles” can’t outgun that; but it may be a memorable treat that brings a smile in the eye of the poorest boy in tattered rags, watching this less frightening, more accessible icon pass by and who dreams of being FREE and successful like Wyclef someday. Moreover, assuming doing roughly six months charity work in Haiti truly earned Penn the credentials to be the media’s “go to” person to speak for Haiti’s voters, then to be fair and balanced, if Penn wants to continue criticizing Wyclef Jean for supporting sweatshop investors paying slave-wages to the people, he should begin by giving up those medals he got from the U.S. military and Haiti’s President Preval. They uphold these foreign corporate interests in Haiti.
For in 2004, the U.S. Special Forces went into Haiti to take out, kidnap and exile to Africa Haiti’s democratically elected President Aristide, eventually leading to the weaker President Rene Preval and this over six years of U.N. occupation. The reason for Bush Regime Change II, besides the fear President Aristide would nationalize the country’s oil, gold, iridium and other mining resources to help truly develop Haiti, was because President Aristide raised the minimum wage to $1.60 per day and got those sweatshop assembly plant owners hopping mad! In contrast, in 2009, U.S. puppet President Preval vetoed a Parliament vote to increase the minimum wage, saying the increase would hurt U.S. businesses! ((See “Minimum wage and maximum rage.”))
The “corporate interests and individuals enamored with Wyclef” to quote Sean Penn, are, in our view, the very same folks Sean Penn hangs daily with for his organization’s works in Haiti. That is, those promoting and pursuing the failed wage slavery plan today include USAID, the Obama adminstration at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the U.N.’s Ban Ki Moon, Susan Rice, U.S. Special Envoy Bill Clinton, the Haiti oligarchy, the U.S. Congress that passed the two H.O.P.E “sweatshop” bills, along with mostly the entire Congressional Black Caucus as collaborators.
Low wage assembly plant duty free jobs are Washington’s vision for Haiti reconstruction. It’s been their vision and failed Haiti policy for over 30 years. ((See “Rebuilding Haiti: The Sweatshop Hoax”; “Obama’s empty promises: Change did not come,” 2009; “Haiti’s Holocaust and Middle Passage Continues”; “Obama’s offered HOPE is sweatshop slavery.”))
“Gonaives, Wyclef,” 2008
“Haiti’s (Would Be) Hip-Hop President,” New York Times
“Wyclef Jean Seeks the Haitian Presidency: A Breath of Fresh Air — or a Dabbler Who Will Break Haiti’s Heart?” by COHA Research Associate Alice Barrett
“Dear Wyclef, Please Don’t Run!” by Marjorie Valbrun, The Root. Interesting article by Ms. Valbrun. But besides the idea that Haiti needs TECHNOCRATS – who presumably take their marching orders from Washington, not the Haitian people – I note a statement she makes that gives pause. She writes that Haiti doesn’t need Wyclef as president but someone who can “tamp down the country’s cyclical social unrest”!
“My Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony on Rebuilding Haiti” by Sean Penn, The Huffington Post, May 19, 2010
“For whose entertainment shall we sing our agony? In what hopes? That the destroyers, aspiring to extinguish us, will suffer conciliatory remorse at the sight of their own fantastic success?” – Ayi Kwei Armah, from the book “Two Thousand Seasons.” Go to “The Plantation called Haiti: Feudal Pillage Masking as Humanitarian Aid”; “U.S. Senate report says Haiti rebuilding has stalled” and “Houston businesses look to capitalize on Haiti disasters.”
For a sampling of Ezili Dantò essays on the United States’ use of quake relief to extract wealth and power for the NGOs, Haiti oligarchy and U.S. big business on the death, suffering and tears of Haiti children, go to “Colonization of Haiti’s food and seeds is not earthquake relief,” “The Poverty Pimps’ Masturbating on Black Pain: Monsanto joins the pack,” “Vision of Plantation Haiti: A White Pearl, Again!” “The Plantation called Haiti: Feudal Pillage Masking as Humanitarian Aid,” “Tell The Truth About Haiti: Forum with Ezili Dantò of HLLN,” “Sarkozy’s visit to Haiti, Independence Debt and Sovereignty” and “A message to Paul Farmer, the Senate, Dobbins & Francois.”
Ezili Danto, award winning playwright, performance poet, dancer, actor and activist attorney born in Port au Prince, Haiti, founded and chairs the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN), supporting and working cooperatively with Haitian freedom fighters and grassroots organizations promoting the civil, human and cultural rights of Haitians at home and abroad. Visit her at www.ezilidanto.com, www.margueritelaurent.com or www.open.salon.com/blog/ezili_danto.
Editor’s note: For more on Wyclef Jean’s candidacy, see “Wyclef Jean for president of Haiti? Look beyond the hype.”