Esquire.com Interview

A portion of this interview appears in the August 2010 cover story, “The Country That Never Was,” on Bill Clinton’s looking for hope in the dirt to rebuild — no, just build — Haiti as the de facto CEO of a leaderless nation. But Jean, an influential leader in his own right, struck as so smart — so honest (“It’s the rising, and what I mean by the rising is destroy torebuild“) — that we’d thought we should share a bit more.

ESQUIRE: What changes have you seen in the way people are living in Port-au-Prince since the quake?

WYCLEF JEAN: Before the quake we had close to an 80 percent illiteracy rate. The population could not read and write. Before the quake you had a situation of child slavery. Before the quake you had a high prostitution rate. Before the quake, Cité du Soleil was in an inhumane situation — not even animals would walk in. Before the quake, Haiti got hit with back-to-back hurricanes, the city of Gonaïves was destroyed.

ESQ: That’s a good breakdown of how it was before, but what’s the change been like since?

WJ: One-point-two million homeless. There were homes then. No matter what kind of homes they were, they still were homes. Forget the fact that people live in tents these days. Now, no homes. That will catch up to them.

ESQ: Haitians talk about this being a new beginning.

WJ: Oh, yes. Haiti has an opportunity now to start from scratch, and what that means is, we can get real schools in there, there’s a chance of getting real hospitals, of teaching a population how to read and write, where kids can get a degree, and actually do something with the degree right now. As far as investment and business, this is the best time to invest in business in Haiti.

ESQ: But let’s say this is the moment people on the outside stop paying attention. Can that be reversed? Will Americans keep Haiti on their mind?

WJ: Definitely. I think it’ll stay that way that with Bill there. An ex-president of the United States of America — I don’t know too many stories like that in the case of history, where a former president goes and decides that he’s going to be part of helping run another country. That’s big. It don’t get bigger than that. You know what I’m saying? That signal is, “Yes, the Americans are there.”

ESQ: There’s still a lot of energy in Port-au-Prince — you see kids in their uniforms going to school here. It feels like there’s a certain reverence for school. Yet…

WJ: Let me ask you something: Is that really school? Or is that the façade of school? You and me, all of us here in the States, we know what school is. Nobody bluffs us. In Haiti, there is the façade of school. But this moment — the rebuilding — is an opportunity to actually provide real schooling for a mass population, which can turn things around in the next fifteen years.

ESQ: Should that be the focus of relief efforts?

WJ: Now the effort needs to change from relief to business, because if you don’t have a country where you’re bringing in business — where you’re sure that if you put in a dollar, you’re going to get three dollars back — no one will be interested.

ESQ: I don’t know if this is a difficult question or what, but from my reading…

WJ: There’s no question that’s difficult for me. My daddy was a minister, my grandfather was a voodoo priest, my uncle was a mason, I was raised with a lot of studies.

ESQ: …everyone agrees there’s a small group of families that control money and commerce in Haiti. If that’s so, how can you decentralize that structure in order to do things like reinvent health care?

WJ: The first question is not who they are. The first question we have to ask is, What are these families? They are capitalists. They believe in capitalism, in making money, right? We have to build an open system that doesn’t stop them from making money, that will work for them, if only because what they’re making could double, triple. Everything starts with policy. We just say, If you break the law, then you’ll pay for it, because there’s an enforceable policy in place. In America, we don’t stop people from making money. If you’ve got a dollar, and you can make three with it, make three with it, you can make six, make ten, but — pay your taxes, dude. Don’t do that and you’re going to be in trouble. That’s how I see it happening.

ESQ: Taxation. The Tea Party nightmare.

WJ: Yeah. Understand what I’m saying to you. I don’t bite my tongue — some people may be scared to talk about families — but I grew up in the States, and the reality of it is: if they are in the mansion, and around them is nothing but huts, and a bunch of people who can’t read and write, then it’s not a mansion; it’s the façade of a mansion.

22 Comments

  1. With his humanitarian skills, he is the ultimate hope to help heal the country.
    As an Haitian-American professional, trained in the fields of psychology, law and US military science, i definitely would want to be his advisor to help him seize the opportunity to change the nation. i.e. if i could make contact with him.

  2. Above all else be humble. When in doubt be humble. At every opportunity, be humble.
    You’re not a shoe-in. Even if that were the case you would do the people a disservice by acting like it. The best acting you can do right is now is to be the president. Sadly to say, you shouldn’t do any performances, unless you’re on a talk show and the people want to hear a little melody, cool… but singing is in your past for the next 7 months.
    How can you act like the president without stepping on anyone’s toes? Speaking and listening to the people. If you can’t listen to a million voices per day, than you’re only fit to win an election and not manage a country. Next you must speak to the multitudes – all the people need right now is hope. They are strong enough to manage anything else. Show that you have hope in them and hope in the country.
    These are things that should begin ASAP.
    Next you’ll need a concrete plan and a way to convey it… we will comment later on that.

  3. Hello Wyclef! I read with some interest your desire to run for President of Haiti. I just want to strongly suggest you read the chapter on Haiti from _Collapse_, by Jared Diamond:

    http://www.theglobalist.com/storyid.aspx?storyid=4776

    The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the same island, yet one is impoverished and the other is much better off, partly because the Dominican Republic has done a much better job of shepherding its natural resources and forests, which have a direct impact on agriculture and other forms of natural economic wealth. If you win the election please keep this in mind: if Haiti can do a better job managing its natural renewable resources, it may be able to do a much better job taking care of its human population. This is not only a matter of rich and poor, educated and not: it is also a matter of richness of natural biological resources. There has to be a balance between short-term economic gain and long-term prosperity; Haiti needs some long-term thinking.

  4. It’s the little things Wyclef. CNN blocks the embedding of their content on youtube. This interview will be seen by 4 times less people because of this. Even if someone DVR’d it and posted it to youtube, before the views reach 5 digits youtube will block the video. It’s the little things in this new era that will matter for the nation of Haiti.

    This may sound off but I would urge you to go from the Wyclef Jean that the people drafted to the Wyclef Jean that people didn’t expect. The former Wyclef can win an election, the latter can govern a nation.

    Imagery is key in building hope. Yes, you want to be seen with the people but the good thing is you’ve earned that card. In order to earn a pass the visual must be implanted.
    In the case of tent cities, slums and rural farm land, you should dress in work attire, and look like you’ve been working. In the cities, around centers of commerce, street markets and docks dress in suits and hard shoes. The people need to believe by seeing.

    From now until the election it’s not about how much work or show you can put on, it’s about how presidential can you come off. Imagery.

  5. OMG, please stay of Clinton’s dick. A lot of Haitians, well minded Haitians, don’t like him.

  6. now Im sure this wont get approved but I have to ask… why do you keep saying “we” when speaking of Haiti’s people. Have you lived there in at least the last 5 years? Have you taken any of the money you have made off the “music” you have made in the last 10 years to help programs such as feed haiti or to fund documentaries such as those showing the affect of the hurricanes had 3 years ago?

    You have no political knowledge besides a song you made for black AMERICANS…

    you are not whats good for Haiti. Haiti is whats good for your career. Any Haitians or others voting there, do not vote for “Wyclef” trust a Jamaican living in Cali with another Hollywood person running it.

  7. Wyclef has to show better judgement when it comes to administrators. So far, it is a poor start for a campaign… proper advice was not given. It was poor selection of personnel in Yele Haiti… poor selection of artist for Sak Pase Records… reach out to the Zoes Clef. We are here to help.

  8. Mr. Jean;

    Here are the questions I will be posing to Presidential candidate Dr. Eddy Delaleu tomorrow during our live interview on the Blog Talk radio Network: http://wp.me/pydAP-1fp

    I would certainly welcome the opportunity to interview you as well or, at the very least encourage your comments.

    Thank you,

    Jon Hansen
    Host, PI Window on Business Show

  9. Zoemag
    I agree with you; he has made a lot of mistakes but i do think he has time to recover. He needs to surround himself with the right people so that he can be properly educated on haiti and its people. I wish he could speak a little bit more creole and stop with the acting; he needs to get down and get dirty. The people don’t want to hear things; they want to see them.

    Hip Hop Kreyol 4 life fam…Let’s bring real changes to the people.

  10. Dr. Jean,
    You need a massive voter registration effort and education effort in Haiti. 25% of your street force for these elections should be from the diaspora. The voters must get used to Haitians like us on a personal level. I have an educated bunch on Defend ︻╦╤─ Haiti ready to mobilize in less than a week.
    You need to begin to amass donations from the diaspora… that is what every candidate will need, that is where we can help.
    Lastly, you have already won the election if you just show that you want it. This means going out on the stump, speaking creole, dissin people because that’s what Haitians like, and having fun.
    Do not worry about attacking your opponents just yet. Allow them to attack you. You have to attack the international community, yes, you have to attack the international community, yes again, you have to attack the international community. We will handle the domestic assaults.
    Near voting time, then you begin to attack your opponents but for now, build your army, defend Haiti.

    contact sam@zoelando.com

  11. Hi Wyclef, here in France we will be very happy if you go for the presidence of Haïti ! So, do what you can for the haitian people. I’m sure you can win if you go without doubt. Go for peace and humanity !

  12. Sean Penn Skeptical about Jean’s motives for running – a video commentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THh9RjhrT_g

  13. FCK Sean Penn… who REALLY gives a flying fck about what he got to say. He don’t got no pull in this election, neither do you procureinsights, including everyone of your readers, listeners, watchers, whatever… the citizens of Haiti have their day, now let them have their day.
    the beast… smh

  14. Dear sr. Wyclef,

    I`m from Bulgaria. I`m a jurist and I`d like to work for a Haiti recovery and your management

    for a presidential election.

    Greeting from Bulgaria
    R. Rusev e-mail rp_rusev@yahoo.de

  15. Regarding investment. You have to focus on getting the investments of Haitians first. If it’s the investments of others, you do the country a disservice… this is why:
    le w’ap pale de ekonomiks se pa yon kesyon de ‘moun ki gen kob pou bay’, se pa sa mem… kesyon la se ‘can you make it move?’
    s’ak fe yon peyi gen yon strong ekonomi se lajan k’ap chanje men ANDEDAN PEYI A… eske’w konpran sa m’ap di ou la…?
    tout kote ayisien depense kob, kob la soti ayiti konmem. yo di nou gen yon lig foutbol men se manti… digicel gen lig la… se digicel k’ap mennen… eske’w konpran sa m’ap di’w la?
    pep nou yo ap depense telze kob ap achte rad brazil, argentin… mem si se yon ayisien k’ap vann chemize yo, chemize yo soti yon sweatshop… ki es k’ap mennen nan sweatshop la, chinois…
    se pa al di lot nation pou yo vinn investe, se pou moun sa yo mwen mansione al set up yon lig pa nou, al set up yon factory pou tet yo… sel jan yo ka fe sa se mete tet ansamn…
    mem jann gwo tet icit, le yo vle achte yon ekip NFL yo gen yon bagay yo rele trust… se pa jis moun ki gen lajan yo pran… se moun ki gen mem tet, moun ki zanmi, moun k’ap ede eachother… eske’w konpran?

  16. zoemagltd, interesting comments but this is not a question of “pull” as you call it.

    The questions that are being posed are questions that have to be answered by the Haitian people for the Haitian people, regardless of who is asking them.

    In this regard there have been no meaningful responses from Mr. Jean beyond overarching ideology.

  17. Today’s Post: “Haiti’s Youth: The country’s greatest promise and . . . its greatest challenge” can be accessed using the following link: http://wp.me/pydAP-1fV

  18. wish you the best but hope that you give your best for our country.

  19. #pihaiti Jean CNN Interview Painful To Watch http://wp.me/pydAP-1gk

  20. Hey All,

    I am hoping that Mr. Jean will see this.

    I believe it is imperative that you get people like Sean Penn to work WITH you, and vice versa. We can accomplish more together than apart. The real attention should be the people of Haiti, not bickering back and forth. I was envisioning a response to Mr. Penn’s comments like:

    “His comments are accurate, and it shows his true passion for the safety of the Haitian people. I hope that in the future I can earn his respect through my actions in helping the Haitian people.”

    Or some shit like that. Good luck bro.

  21. qharvard–ver funny at the end, but sound advice.

  22. I really like your post. You made some good points.

    http://www.freshmusiclist.com


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