Aid Not Troops: Why Wyclef is Wrong
Last week's massive earthquake in Haiti has horrified the world. All eyes seem to be on the small nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, as people watch a population that has had a the rawest of raw deals dealt to it suffer through even more tragedy and death.
With possibly a hundred thousand dead, the outpouring of sympathy is to be expected. But amidst the Clooneys, Streeps and other Hollywood big-wigs trotting out their even bigger bucks, is there a voice missing? Where have we heard a single Haitian voice since this crisis began? In the midst of a gargantuan humanitarian crisis that has sent shockwaves through every country, doesn't the world deserve to hear from one of those hit hardest?
So far, we haven't been lucky enough to hear any of these voices. The closest we have is Wyclef Jean.
Wyclef has been rightfully loved and admired for his music. The way that he has brought Caribbean rhythms and music into a hip-hop sensibility has been truly unique over the years, and as probably the most recognized Haitian musician in the world, he finds now finds himself in a position like no other to speak on behalf of his own people.
He hasn't. And the recent accusations against his Yele Haiti foundation (claiming that the foundation has grossly misused funds earmarked for disaster relief) are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the only interests he has spoken in support of so far have been those who have ravaged Haiti for 200 years. In a statement released days after the quake, Wyclef demanded that "We must act now. President Obama has already said that the US stands 'ready to assist' the Haitian people. The US Military is the only group trained and prepared to offer that assistance immediately. They must do so as soon as possible. The international community must also rise to the occasion and help the Haitian people in every way possible."
It looks like Wyclef got his wish. On Monday, 12,000 American troops landed in Haiti (joining the 1,000 already there) to deliver "aid" to the Haitian people.
So far, the act of sending troops in has been more or less unquestioned in the Western media. Recent footage of looters on the streets of Port-au-Prince seem to add to the image of a brown-skinned nation descending into chaos. In a weird twist, the now disgraced Pat Robertson's insistence that Haitian independence is on par with a "pact with the devil" seems to bear a great amount of logic for those in power.
The devil, however, didn't kick the Haitian people into grinding poverty. A corrupt and ineffective government that finds itself incapable of responding to the crisis isn't the work of Satan. No, that honor goes to... the US government. It wasn't long ago--a little less than six years, in fact--that the US and UN supported right-wing death squads in removing the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power for the second time in fifteen years. Aristide, despite his contradictions, was widely supported by the people of Haiti for poverty-relief and job creation that simply rubbed the IMF and World Bank the wrong way.
And where was Wyclef during all this? During the intensified street-fighting that lead up the coup, he was tailing the line of George Bush and the State Department in demanding Aristide step down. Referring to the CIA-trained groups that were wreaking violence in Aristide strongholds, Wyclef told MTV "I don't consider those people rebels. It's people standing up for their rights. It's not like these people just appeared out of nowhere and said, 'Let's cause some trouble.' I think it's just built up frustration, anger, hunger, depression."
Wyclef is right: these armed groups didn't just "appear out of nowhere." They were funded and spurred on by the cabal of rulers who had been selling off Haiti's resources to the highest bidder. Wyclef should know; his family is among this cabal. Seldom included in the artist's biography has been his uncle: one Raymond Joseph. According to the Haiti Information Project, Joseph is:
"the highest-ranking official abroad representing the U.S.-installed government in Haiti. He is the un-elected government's representative in Washington. Wyclef's uncle, who he has often praised, is responsible for fomenting outrageous lies about Aristide and members the Lavalas political party that has contributed to the current climate of witch-hunts, arbitrary arrests and murders in Haiti today. Wyclef's uncle is also the co-publisher of Haiti Observateur, a right-wing rag that has been an apologist for the killers in the Haitian military going back as far as the brutal coup against Aristide in 1991."
What would be a devastating humanitarian disaster in even the richest of countries is, thanks to this kind of history, a social catastrophe.
To say the least, it's a disappointing light in which to view Wyclef. On the surface, he seems to merely be bringing some "common sense" to the devastating situation in Haiti. But common sense also tells us we should consider the source. Though countless people may rightfully be moved by the music that Wyclef Jean has given us over the past fifteen years, he certainly isn't speaking in support of the Haitian people. Tragically, he is speaking for the forces that have sought to keep Haitians under their boot for 200 years.
Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist living in Chicago, runs the blog Rebel Frequencies, and is a columnist for the Society of Cinema and Arts and SleptOn.com. His articles have also appeared in Socialist Worker, Z Magazine, New Politics, MR Zine, CounterPunch and PopMatters.com.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help with aid for the people of Haiti, please go to the Haiti Action website.