Reliance on international assistance or lending programs, such as Venezuela’s PetroCaribe, is not a substitute for long-term economic growth in Haiti, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti told a gathering of Haitian-American professionals on Friday in North Miami.
“Haiti’s economic development is the single most important issue the country faces,” Ambassador Paula Caldwell St. Onge said. “Without a fully functional economy, there are no jobs, no revenue generation, and no tax collection for the state.”
Haiti’s economy emerged as a key focus during the National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals’ fourth annual conference at Florida International University’s Kovens Center in North Miami. Other topics included dual citizenship and the diaspora vote; the plight of Dominicans of Haitian descent; and the state of education in Haiti.
“The conference has evolved over time to bring a lot more issues for advocacy,” said Lionel Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian-American judge in the Chicago area who was among the attendees.
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Looking at the room of mostly young professionals looking to engage more in Haiti, Jean-Baptiste, attending his third conference, said he hopes that attendees “find something they could work on that is relevant to Haiti rather than to strictly go back to their professional lives.”
Taking place over three days and co-hosted by Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Jean Monestime and North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph, the conference opened Thursday and ends Saturday. Its 400 attendees included a who’s who in the Haitian diaspora and Haiti politics with keynote addresses by three Haitian former prime ministers — Garry Conille, Jean-Max Bellerive, and Laurent Lamothe — as well as current Prime Minister Evans Paul.
At the foundation of all of the addresses: leveraging the power of Haitians living abroad beyond their annual $2 billion in remittances to elevate Haiti and its diaspora.
“If we empower this Haitian diaspora, we can do good work in Haiti,” said Dr. Jean-Philippe Austin, a radiation oncologist who serves as Florida finance chair for the Democratic National Committee and a founder of Haitian-Americans for Progress. “We don’t need to do one more [nongovernmental organization].”
There is no quick-fix for Haiti.
Charles Castel, Central Bank Governor
Welcoming the focus, Haiti Central Bank Governor Charles Castel told the group that “We are really open to benefit from your expertise.” But the case of Haiti, he warned, is not simple.
“It’s a very complex and complicated situation,” he added. “Sometimes, we criticize the players of today, forgetting what we are facing, the reality of Haiti.”
That reality includes a country that’s struggling financially and facing a deepening political crisis over its recent elections. Weeks after the Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections, opposition protests continue to grow in the country, raising questions about the fate of the Dec. 27 runoffs.
While the political situation will most likely come up Saturday when Paul and the U.S. State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten address the conference, St. Onge did touch on it in her remarks. An environment that is conducive to business requires a stable political situation, she told attendees.
“The current electoral process underway in Haiti is of paramount importance and will have a profound impact on the country’s ability to foster further economic growth,” she said.
All Haitians need to be in agreement that it’s time to change the way we do business.
Jean-Max Bellerive, former Haiti Prime Minister
Bellerive, who led the country’s recovery after its devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, also addressed the economic and political challenges. The diaspora, he said, is a huge repository for Haiti, but “loving Haiti is not enough.”
What Haiti needs, he said, is “a vision; not slogans or non-realistic promises of changing everything overnight just because you think you are better men or women than the previous team.
“We need real programs that people can understand and support. To do that, we have to build teams beyond public-relations and marketing staffs,” Bellerive said. “All Haitians need to be in agreement that it’s time to change the way we do business.”