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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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Yet the diaspora’s political participation has long been less welcome than its economic assistance. The 1987 Constitution prevents Haitians from holding multiple passports, which prevents many expatriates from voting or seeking office.

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There are about 1 million voting age members of the diaspora, though it's not clear how many are eligible to vote. About 4.5 million Haitians inside the country are eligible to vote. One diaspora representative sits on the country’s Interim Reconstruction Commission, but as a non-voting member.

“It’s time that our diaspora is no longer only a cash cow, but that the Haitian state allows it to enjoy its rights,” Paraison said in a statement Monday.

Reversing the law to allow dual citizenship and granting Haitians abroad the right to vote was one of the few actual proposals that Wyclef Jean put forward before his campaign was cut short by the CEP’s ruling. Others, including his uncle Raymond Joseph, were also calling for greater diaspora participation, and that appeals both to Haitians living abroad and those who have returned home to find that they lack the same rights as their countrymen.

“Sometimes people here feel like we are aliens in their territory, but we are the ones with the money and the education,” says Bryenne Jonassaint, a diaspora member who recently visited Port-au-Prince. She was born in Haiti, raised in New York, and now lives with her family in Miami, where she works as a school teacher.

'Diaspora people only run for president'

Ms. Jonaissant’s American husband and daughter have never been to Haiti, and she is admittedly less interested in Haiti elections than she is in the four Haitians running for US Congress from Florida. But she is also one of many diaspora members who have felt the need to get involved in reconstruction efforts. Since the earthquake she has been back three times and is planning more trips.

“We are coming to help, not to hurt," she says. "The government needs to understand that and make people understand that."

Many in Haiti are suspicious of returnees like Jonaissant, who are perceived as removed from their reality. They often see returnees with political aspirations as carpetbaggers. They suspect that some returnees are motivated by greed at a time when millions of dollars are being moved into the country, rather than by a genuine, long-term commitment to its people.

“These diaspora candidates haven’t been doing anything for us," Carel Pedre, a popular radio host in Port-au-Prince, told the Monitor in an interview. "They are great doctors and engineers, but you only hear about them when the election time comes."

“They should have been involved in Haiti much before the election,” he says, while pointing to Wyclef Jean as an exception.

“Diaspora people only run for president, you don’t see them running for other positions,” Mr. Pedre says. “I would love to have a well-educated, diaspora mayor of Port-au-Prince, but they only come here when they think they can become president.”