Music-producer, rapper and long-shot U.S. presidential candidate Kanye West is in Haiti.
West, who was in Jamaica a week ago, landed at the Hugo Chávez International Airport in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien shortly after 10 a.m. Friday. He was greeted by two women dressed in a traditional Haitian maxi dress bearing two bouquets of the local flowers.
West, an avid Twitter user, did not say anything on his timeline about what brought him to the Caribbean country, or its most historic city and the region from which the nation was born. The last major battle of the Haitian Revolution, the Battle of Vertières, was fought just south of Cap-Haïtien, and the city played a role near the end of the revolution before Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti the world’s first free Black republic on Jan. 1, 1804.
Instead, West’s Twitter timeline is filled with several religious images including of a Black St. Basil The Great.
West was greeted by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who traveled from Port-au-Prince to meet the music mogul and serve as tour guide. The two, joined by their respective entourages, later boarded a boat at Labadee, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ temporarily closed private destination, to head out. A video shared on Facebook showed the two traveling along northern Haiti’s coastline without masks and chatting.
Haiti’s Tourism Ministry said on its Facebook page that West came to visit Labadee, a plant breeding center in the northwest being launched by the president and the Île de La Tortue or Tortuga Island off the northwest coast of Haiti. The inspiration for the film “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the rugged island was a major center for Caribbean piracy, and today is a popular launching pad for illegal voyages by Haitian migrants.
The remote island is also home to Pointe Ouest, where a wide swath of white sandy beaches sit at the western tip. Miami-based Carnival Corp. has been eyeing the land as part of a plan to transform it into a tourism mecca, but the entire barrier island is entangled in a 99-year lease agreement with a Texas businessman that was born out of Beatlemania.
After showing West Pointe Ouest from the boat, the group arrived in the community of Cayonne on the island. Moïse told the crowd that he was the one who brought West to Haiti to help him fulfill his promise of providing 24-7 electricity to all of Haiti. Moïse said he intended to fix heavy equipment that was brought to the island six years ago by former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who had promised to bring roads, jobs and electricity to La Tortue after a series of Miami Herald articles about how “Haiti’s island without hope” was fueling desperate voyages at sea.
“Providing electricity in all of Haiti is what you sent me to do,” said Moïse, who 86 days ago made a still unfulfilled promise that three turbine ships would arrive from Turkey to help him electrify all of Haiti. “I am going to bring electricity to La Tortue; I am going to bring it to Port-de-Paix...I don’t have anywhere I am not going to bring it.”
Then referring to West as “a huge friend,” and promising to transform the lives of the people by developing an airport and tourism on the island, Moïse said: “When I bring people like this to visit the island, I am telling you, you cannot live in an area that is beautiful like this...and you’re living in precarity; you’re living badly. It’s not possible.”
Along with West, Moïse said the group of visitors included a developer of Uber and representatives of the rockets manufacturing company SpaceX and the electric vehicle company Tesla.
Last week, West visited Jamaica, where he created a stir when he appeared maskless in a photo alongside Jamaican reggae icon Buju Banton at Banton’s Gargamel recording studio in Kingston. Also in the photo was Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke.
Due to Jamaica’s COVID-19 policies that all visitors in the country must remain in quarantine for 14 days, tourists must stay in the “Resilience Corridor,” and everyone is required to wear a mask, even in a workplace, Jamaicans demanded to know if West had broken COVID-19 protocols.
Both Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Health Minister Christopher Tufton said the matter was being investigated.
While Haiti does not have a mandatory mask policy, West was observed wearing one when he landed.
Haiti currently has 8,624 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 221 deaths. Even with the country’s poor testing record, experts have been surprised by the relatively low number of cases of the virus, which also appears to be less severe there when it strikes.
In 2011, West’s wife, reality star Kim Kardashian, and her mother, Kris Jenner, visited Port-au-Prince on a charity trip. Since then West, an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, has launched an unconventional campaign for the U.S. presidency that critics say is an attempt to siphon votes from Democratic candidate Joe Biden in favor of Trump’s reelection bid.
With six weeks left before Nov. 3, West’s name appears on the ballots of a dozen states, neither of them being Florida or New York, which are home to large Haitian and Jamaican-American voters, or enough to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.
West is the second high-profile celebrity to visit Haiti in the past few days. Tennis star Naomi Osaka, who traveled to Haiti shortly after her win at the U.S. Open, visited Cap-Haïtien on Thursday. Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, had spent several days visiting the seaside town of Jacmel where her Osaka Foundation is based. The world’s third-ranked player, Osaka recently announced that she’s sitting out the French Open, citing a lingering left hamstring injury.
The two later accidentally ran into each other at the Cap-Haïtien airport as Moïse came to welcome West to Haiti, and Osaka prepared to leave the city after a 48-hour visit that included a tour of the 19th-century mountaintop fortress, the Citadelle Laferrière.
As West received a tour of one of Haiti’s most highly sought-after areas for development, an impromptu protest with periodic gunshots broke out in the capital after a Haiti National Police officer, Pascal Alexandre, was released from jail after a month. Pascal’s imprisonment had led to violent protests by a rogue police outfit known as Fantom 509, which set government buildings and cars on fire while masked officers demanded Alexandre’s release.
The high-profile celebrity visits of West and Osaka come as Haiti’s political crisis deepens and the country continues to be marred by spreading insecurity and criminality by armed gangs, accusations of bullying by a government minister and violations of the constitution by Moïse.
In a three-page letter this week addressed to U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison in Port-au-Prince, a Haitian human rights group, the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, outlined its concerns over what it says is confirmation that “the U.S. government is instructing President Moïse on what to do.”
The Sept. 24 letter follows a series of controversial tweets by the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, including one welcoming Moïse’s establishment of a Provisional Electoral Council, or CEP, that has ignited controversy over the choice of its nine members, duration of its existence and a mandate to prepare a constitutional referendum as well as legislative, local, municipal and presidential elections.
“The forced ‘establishment’ of this new CEP, whose swearing in was rejected by the [Supreme Court], reduces the State to the personal will of President Jovenel Moïse and definitively institutes a dictatorship in the country,” the letter said. “While recognizing the legitimate right of the United States to defend its interests in the region, it must help establish a democratic society that respects human rights in Haiti and not support the dictatorial project of Moïse and his allies, who are driving the Haitian people into abject poverty.”