Lesley Clark, writing for the Miami Herald, described how about 500 members of Haiti’s diaspora (which is about 2 million strong) convened in Washington for three days to discuss how to help rebuild their home nation after the January 12th earthquake. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full article below.
Those who left Haiti and now live abroad, Edeline Clermont says, can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt. “Maybe if we had been there we could have done more,” she said, acknowledging a sense of helplessness as she watches news reports about the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left the government reeling. It’s that sense of responsibility, she said, that prompted the Miami nurse and 500 others with Haitian roots to spend three days in conference rooms at the Organization of American States this week, hoping to carve out a role for Haiti’s diaspora in the country’s reconstruction. “We want to be a part of it,” Clermont said of the engineers, teachers, architects, doctors and entrepreneurs who took part in the meeting.
Edwin Paraison, Haiti’s minister of Haitians Living Abroad, sought to assure the group that Haiti wants to work with its far-flung diaspora — a sentiment that many in the crowd have heard before. But Paraison pledged a fresh start. “We must admit, however, that the role of the diaspora has been relegated to a second tier,” Paraison said Tuesday, as the conference came to a close. “That, too, must be history. We must ensure for the full participation of the diaspora. We will not do this alone, we will do it hand in hand with the diaspora.”
Despite his pledge, plenty of skepticism remains.
Though Haitians abroad contribute between $1 billion and $2 billion annually to the country, members say they are nearly voiceless when it comes to influencing what happens in Haiti. “There are forces in Haiti that don’t want the diaspora involved,” said Jean-Robert Lafortune, chair of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. “We need a clear signal that there is a new day.”
The forum was part of a push aimed at changing that. But attendees said they’re worried that current reconstruction plans don’t include a seat at the table for them. They circulated a petition asking for more participation at next week’s international donors’ conference at the United Nations and are asking for two voting seats — rather than one nonvoting seat — on a proposed Haiti redevelopment authority. Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff and point person on Haiti, told the group Monday that the administration will ask Congress for emergency dollars for Haiti reconstruction that would include money for fellowships to allow members of the diaspora to work as government employees in Haiti.
Members of the diaspora have long wanted to vote in the country and Paraison told the group he’d take their concerns back to the government in Port-Au-Prince. “We intend to communicate these legitimate claims,” he said. “Political participation at the broadest level will lead to a more vibrant engagement. We are determined that the Haitian diaspora be completely integrated.” He said the country is looking at developing “regional consultive centers” to bring the diaspora together.
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The recommendations ranged from the immediate, such as increasing the number of female guards in the tent camps to reduce sexual assaults, to the long-term: boosting tourism to Haiti, training for government officials and police officers, making publicly available an inventory of the nonprofits active in Haiti, their activities and their sources of funding.