Penn criticizes the singer's candidacy; Jean retorts by saying he's qualified and not acting on emotion

By Eunice Oh
August 06, 2010 06:15 PM
Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty; Frazer Harrison/Getty

Wyclef Jean’s bid to become the next president of Haiti has already met its first round of criticism – from Sean Penn.

The same day Jean officially launched his campaign, the Oscar winner voiced his concerns about the singer’s qualifications, alleging he mishandled $400,000 in earthquake-relief donations and has been absent in the country.

“This is somebody who’s going to receive an enormous amount of support from the United States, and I have to say I’m very suspicious of it,” Penn, 49, who has been running a 55,000-person tent camp through his J/P Haitian Relief Organization, said Thursday on Larry King Live.

“I’m not accusing Wyclef Jean of being an opportunist; I don’t know the man,” Penn added. “One of the reasons I don’t know very much about Wyclef Jean is that I haven’t seen or heard anything of him in these last six months that I’ve been in Haiti.”

Jean, 40, however, defended himself on Friday, saying he has “sweat my blood” for the country and is fit for the position since “the psychology of the Haitian people is something that I understand ever since birth.”

“What I want Sean Penn to know is, if I was not in Haiti after [former president] Jean-Bertrand Aristide left, if I did not create [my charity] Yéle Haiti to start stopping the violence, even him coming to Haiti would not have been possible today,” the Grammy-winning hip-hop artist said on The Gayle King Show.

Jean also pointed out that he flew to the country immediately after a devastating hurricane in the Gonaives region and negotiated “with the gangs” after Aristide was ousted from office.

“I would like to tell Sean Penn I do not act on emotions when it comes to the Haitian people,” he said. “Sean Penn must understand that besides what he sees in Haiti, there are 4 million diasporas living outside of Haiti that is actually the commerce that’s bringing $2 billion per year [for the country]. And guess what, I am part of that community also.”