haiti-food-crisis_web.jpgSouth Florida's Haitian community recently met with officials from the U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) to discuss the federal agency's efforts to support the impoverished nation.  Haiti is one of the largest recipients of USAID support. This year, the agency has already invested $170 million to build up the nation's economy and provide social services to people living in Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Jose Cardenas, acting assistant administrator of USAID's Latin American and Caribbean bureau, said the agency wants to maintain dialogue with Haitians living abroad.

“So many people care about Haiti and Haiti’s future,” Cardenas said during the two-hour July 11 meeting at Miami's Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center. “We need to have a better dialogue of what we as a government are doing and what members of the Diaspora are doing. The Diaspora is essential to Haiti's future to get where we want to get, which is a prosperous and stable Haiti.”

He said one of the biggest challenges of bureaucracy is “connecting with real people doing real things to resolve problems.”

In response to Haiti's food crisis, USAID is providing emergency assistance, with 5,700 metric tons of food sent this month to the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, Cardenas said. But he said the agency wants to focus more on long-term goals – such as putting men and women to work in agriculturally oriented jobs – to avoid “lurching from crisis to crisis.”

“The high food prices put so many basic staples out of reach for working Haitians,” he said. “We want to put money in [their] pockets to promote economic growth.”

Leonie Hermantin, deputy director of The Lambi Fund of Haiti, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to strengthening society in Haiti, asked USAID officials if they had an assessment of the work they had already done in Haiti to find out if progress had been made. Since 2004, the U.S. has provided more than $600 million in aid to Haiti, according to USAID.

“We've spent millions of dollars in the past 30 years and we're embarking on yet another strategy,” she said.

Cardenas said it takes time to see progress unfold in struggling countries.

“We've poured billions of dollars overseas developing countries still racked by poverty,” he said. “We are trying to figure out what policies work best to promote development and we continue to engage that challenge. The programs we are involved in need long-term fruition to get the results we want.”

He said the lack of stable government also has proven to be a hindrance to getting goals accomplished.

“The biggest challenge for us as an agency is maintaining continuity of programs,” he said. “We've had a lot of successes, and we've had a lot of failures.”

Nadine Patrice, executive director of Operation Green Leaves, a Coral Gables-based group focused on Haiti's environment, said political stability is key to Haiti's future.

“We need a stable government that is functional,” she said. “Haiti is not going to move forward until people understand their rights.”

Belinda Bernard, senior Haiti advisor for USAID in the agency's Latin America and Caribbean bureau, said making progress in Haiti depends on the agency's ability to work with the nation's public and private sector.

“USAID tries to engage in an ongoing dialogue to get input and identify the problems,” she said. “It has to be in partnership with those on the ground. We alone can't solve the problem.”


AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos. Rivilade Filsame, an 18-month-old boy who suffers from malnutrition, sits next to his mother at the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti, Tuesday, June 17, 2008. Funding delays, a dysfunctional central government and transportation problems along crumbling rural roads are keeping aid from reaching critical areas such as the fertile Artibonite Valley, where one out of three children are malnourished.