marlienebastien_fc.jpgTropical Storm Fay left Cuba with minimal damage. Five were reported dead in the Dominican Republic. Haiti suffered more casualties…60 dead and counting…over thousands of acres of crops were destroyed in the midst of a food crisis that toppled Haiti Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis and caused food riots.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, expressing his concerns for the people of Haiti, issued the following statement, “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the other countries impacted by Tropical Storm Fay. I will do everything I can to ensure that the United States provides the necessary assistance to help these countries recover from this storm.’’

Hastings continued: “In light of Fay’s impact on Haiti, I once again call on President Bush to grant Haitians in the United States Temporary Protected Status.  To force Haitians to return to Haiti any time in the near future not only places their lives and well-being in jeopardy, but places added strain on the Haitian government as it tries to recover from Fay and meet the needs of its citizens.”

Hastings has long been a leader in issues relating to Haiti.  He authored an amendment to H.R. 2634, the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation, which unanimously passed the House of Representatives and was signed into law earlier this year. The act seeks immediate cancellation of Haiti’s international debt.

Hastings is also the author of H.R. 522, the Haitian Protection Act, which would designate Haitian nationals in the United States as eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Maybe it is the economy — immigrants probably feel the brunt of this recession more than anybody else — adding to a sense of frustration with Haitian leaders’ incapacity or unwillingness to do what it takes to improve conditions in the country.

“Haiti is a fragile country,” said former Tele Haiti journalist and Island Television anchor Patrick Eliancy. “A few drops of rain is enough to create a catastrophe of immeasurable proportion…I would not like to be in the shoes of the prime minister…the need is so great.” 

The Haitian Diaspora sent over $1.17 billion in remittances to Haiti last year — 10 times the amount of U.S. aid to the country — yet, they have no say in Haiti’s decision-making processes.  With a government in formation — Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis was ratified by both chambers… and the level of frustration so high, I decided to let members of the Diaspora speak directly to the P.M…uncensored.

Gepsie Metellus, executive director the Haitian Neighborhood Center, Sant la, wrote, “The New P.M. needs to focus on developing a national consensus around the critical needs of the country and work on building a sense of nationhood.”

Edeline Clermont, division director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Human Services, said, “The government can and must do better.  They need to identify resources to improve the country’s infrastructure — teach the art of reforestation and soil conservation…most importantly provide alternatives to deforestation.”

Jackson Rockingster, chairman of the Haitian-American Business Network (HABNET), a powerful New York group, wrote, “Haiti’s leaders must prepare the country to receive all the aid possible from the Haitian Diaspora.  It is very frustrating to send goods to Haiti that are stuck in customs for months.. then pay an exorbitant sum of money to retrieve them.  A joint partnership with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the Red Cross in New York City would be a good start. ‘’

It is true that no country in the world can thrive through incessant interference and meddling from foreign entities.  It is also true that Haitian leaders have failed the Haitian people by their lack of vision, responsibility and a real commitment to put Haiti on the rail of development.
I pray that Haiti, which has helped so many countries in the past, will regain its status in the world as the “Pearl of the Antilles.’’

Photo: Marleine Bastien