Students expecting a discussion with a Haitian presidential candidate at Dwight Hall Chapel Tuesday still got a chance to learn about Haitian politics — but from a hip-hop singer.
Candidate Michel Martelly was called to an unexpected ambassadorial meeting in Haiti and could not attend the Afro-American Cultural Center-sponsored talk and panel discussion. Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, a Yale-educated, Haitian-American musician best known for his work with the hip-hop trio The Fugees, who had been scheduled to speak with Martelly, stepped in as main speaker. Michel, who is also an official supporter of Martelly, spoke about the intersection of his music career and activism and how they influenced his current views on Haitian politics.
“I could not simply stand by and watch Haiti take a course off a cliff,” Michel said of his feelings following the Jan. 2010 earthquake that devastated the nation. “What Haiti needs is not just a leader. It needs someone to inspire them to want to change — and that leader is Michel Martelly.”
Martelly is one of 19 candidates vying for the presidency of Haiti this November. He has his own musical background: he was formerly a recording artist known as “Sweet Mickey.” Another former candidate, who withdrew this August after being deemed ineligible to run, is Michel’s cousin and former bandmate, Wyclef Jean. Jean, along with Michel, is a Grammy award-winning recording artist. His charity, Yéle Haiti Foundation, which raised money for earthquake relief this year, has come under fire for questionable book-keeping.
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Michel had much to say about Jean and his candidacy. While he said he admires Jean’s advocacy work in Haiti, Michel said he does not think Jean is the best candidate for president.
“As much as Wyclef can do, he can’t do it all,” Michel said. “He’s not Superman; he’s not the Messiah.”
Following his speech, Michel participated in a discussion moderated by political science graduate student Sheree Bennett GRD ’11 and Haitian TV personality Jacques Napoleon, during which students asked Michel about other issues facing Haiti. Michel said Haiti needs to root out corruption in its government, which he described as “the most corrupted” in the world.
The event was held to draw attention to the recovery effort in Haiti and the country’s current political situation, said Vanessa Obas ’11, president of Klib Kreyol, a Haitian student organization. Obas worked this semester with Ashley Edwards ’12, president of the Yale chapter of the NAACP (YNAACP), to bring Michel to campus.
Dean Rodney Cohen, director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, said that new plans are being made to bring Martelly to campus later this semester.
“Michel Martelly was and is very excited about coming to Yale to discuss his quest for the Haitian presidency,” Cohen said.
Still, Martelly’s absence did not detract from the appeal of the event for students.
“I’ve been listening to The Fugees since their album ‘The Score’ dropped in 1996, so being able to work with Pras has been an incredibly rewarding experience,” Edwards said. “I’m still star-struck.”
Students interviewed after the talk had mixed feelings about Martelly’s candidacy. Chelsea Allen ’12 said that she felt Michel made a compelling argument as to why experience, which Martelly lacks, is in fact a weakness given the corrupt political environment of Haiti.
Others felt more ambivalent about Michel’s speech. Alexandra van Nievelt ’13 said she felt that while Michel spoke engagingly and honestly, he did not convince her about Martelly’s suitability.
“It’s difficult to feel comfortable about Martelly’s political abilities, regardless of his good intentions,” she said.
This discussion is one of a series of events planned by the YNAACP, Klib Kreyol and the Yale West Indian Student Organization — with the support of the Afro-American Cultural Center — to sustain awareness of the still-desperate situation in Haiti, Obas said.
Klib Kreyol secretary Dave Fils-Aime ’12 and van Nievelt will lead a YIRA-sponsored election-monitoring trip to Haiti this Thanksgiving break.