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Wyclef Jean's disqualification signals Haiti diaspora not welcome in politics

Wyclef Jean and all the other presidential hopefuls from the diaspora were disqualified from running in the Haiti election. Many see it as a politically motivated decision.

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The CEP declined to identify the motivations behind its exclusion of Jean, former ambassador Raymond Joseph, New York medical doctor Kesler Dalmacy, and Miami activist Lavarice Gaudin, among others. Lawyers for Jean and Joseph announced Tuesday they will appeal the decision.

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Most of them were likely rejected on residency grounds, as the Constitution requires all presidential candidates to have lived in Haiti for the five years leading up to an election. Grammy-winning hip-hop musician Jean has lived in the United States since age nine. His lawyers have argued that since Jean owns a home and business interests in Haiti, and in 2007 was appointed the country's roving ambassador-at-large, he should qualify.

The Ministry of Haitians Living Abroad, in a statement Monday, argued that the electoral law fails to indicate the minimum number of days a candidate is required to remain in the country each year to meet the 5-year residency requirement. “There is a certain fluidity around the question of residency, which leads to different interpretations, often negative for the aspirations of diaspora candidates,” Minister Paraison said. “This is a situation that must be clarified through constitutional reform.”

The ministry called on the CEP to operate with more transparency and explain its reasoning for excluding candidates.

'Our voices will be heard'

The CEP did release a document evaluating each candidate on 17 requirements set by electoral law, but in many cases that didn't explain their decision. For instance, Jean appears to have met all 17 requirements.

Jean's uncle, Mr. Joseph – who first announced his candidacy to the Monitor – was exempt from the residency requirement because he was appointed ambassador to the United States in 2005. But according to the CEP he failed to meet the requirement for a "decharge" (discharge), which is a clearance procedure whereby the Superior Court of Accounts says the candidate has properly managed public funds while on his previous post.

Joseph argued that, as an ambassador, he was not in charge of public funds as local office holders might have been, and therefore he says the requirement shouldn't apply to him.

The blogger Jean-Junior Joseph, who is not related to the former ambassador, says that nine Haiti residents also failed to meet that requirement but were approved nonetheless. “Our voices will be heard," he says. "We will build up a vast campaign against those accepted candidates.”

Money welcome back. Politicians not.

The diaspora has long retained strong economic ties to their homeland. Before the Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti’s diaspora contributed some $2 billion in yearly remittances, making up almost 25 percent of the country’s GDP, according to Paraison, the government minister. He adds that the diaspora was first in mobilizing funds after the earthquake and has been actively involved in reconstruction efforts.