Music-producer, rapper and U.S. presidential candidate Kanye West is in Haiti.
West, who was in Jamaica a week ago, landed at the Hugo Chavez International Airport in the northern city of Cap-Haitien 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.
So far West, an avid Twitter user, has not said anything on his timeline about what brings 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 Vertieres, was fought just south of Cap-Haitien, 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.
West was greeted by Haitian President Jovenel Moise, who traveled from Port-au-Prince to meet the American artist and serve as tour guide. The two, joined by their respective entourages, later boarded a boat at Labadee, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines's 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 island was a major center for Caribbean piracy, and today is a popular launching pad for illegal voyages by Haitian migrants.
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 wife, Kim Kardashian, and her mother, Kris Jenner, visited Port-au-Prince on a charity trip.
He 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-Haitien 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-Haitien airport as Moise 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 Laferriere.
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 deepen 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 Moise.
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 Moise 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 Moise'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 Moise 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 Moise and his allies, who are driving the Haitian people into abject poverty."
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