Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn poured cold water on Wyclef Jean’s bid for the Haitian presidency on Wednesday, questioning the motives of the musician and those backing his campaign. Penn, who has spent extended periods in Haiti since the devastating January 12 earthquake, told CNN in an interview that Jean had been a “non-presence” during efforts to rebuild the state in the months since the disaster. “He has been virtually silent for those of us in Haiti, he has been a non-presence,” said Penn, who has been running a 55,000-person tent camp through the J/P Haitian Relief Organization he co-founded.
While acknowledging Jean was an “important voice,” Penn also accused the hip-hop artist of misusing more than 400,000 dollars donated to his charity. “His voice has really been most loudly that which allegedly has taken over 400,000 dollars designated for Haitian relief for himself and claims he didn’t do it,” Penn said. “That has to be looked into. I’ve been there. I know what 400,000 dollars could do for these people’s lives and for a 24-year-old girl right now who is dying. So, I want to see someone who is really, really willing to sacrifice for their country and not just someone who I personally saw with a vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that — in context, I felt a very obscene demonstration.” Earlier this year, Jean broke down in tears after denying that his Yele Haiti Foundation had misused funds.
It followed publication of a 2006 tax return which showed more than a third of the foundation’s revenues had been diverted to miscellaneous expenses. Jean’s bid for the presidency of the quake-hit nation has won support from some in Haiti, where many hail him as a hero, but has also drawn sneers from politicians skeptical of a hip-hop star in the national palace.
The Haitian-born Grammy award winner told supporters that he hoped to usher in a new era for the impoverished Caribbean nation. “The United States has Obama, here you’re going to have Wyclef,” said the former Fugees singer in his first public comments since arriving in Port-au-Prince on a private plane Thursday to officially launch his bid for president. “We have to live together, work together to change Haiti, open more schools,” added Jean, who encouraged the youths around him to get voting cards.
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