When Evica learned she and 24 others had scored a meeting with Haiti President Jovenel Moïse, the Haitian migrant, who scrapes a living sorting through used clothing, rummaged through her closet and pulled out her Sunday best.
A gray jacket and matching blouse with a hint of glitter, paired with a black skirt and clutch purse, were fitting, she thought. “I was really excited about the possibility of meeting with him,” said Evica.
But the meeting did not happen.
Moïse, who was scheduled to meet with Evica and others who are among the 58,700 Haitians in the Temporary Protected Status or TPS program ahead of a Little Haiti community forum, canceled, said activist Marleine Bastien. By contrast, Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez met with 20 Central American leaders from across the United States in Miami on Wednesday to discuss their TPS fight on behalf of 57,000 Hondurans, said activist Francisco Portillo.
Bastien pushed for the Moïse meeting after learning he was giving the keynote address at the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce’s “Top 20 Under 40” gala on Saturday at the JW Marriott in Miami. The gala honoring Haitian-American professionals is the culminating event of the Haitian American Business Summit, co-sponsored by Haiti’s Central Bank and the chamber, to discuss the country’s economic challenges and investment potential.
“We spent resources that we do not even have to bring 25 TPS families to a confirmed 4 p.m. meeting with President Jovenel Moïse,” said Bastien, who has criticized the Department of Homeland Security’s May 23 decision to give Haitians an additional six months in the TPS program rather than an 18-month extension. “The families, some took time off of work, are gravely disappointed. They realize that President Jovenel Moïse is more concerned about propaganda than discussing serious issues that will destabilize their lives.”
Unbeknown to Bastien and the families, hours earlier it had been announced that the president would be appearing live at 4 p.m. on the popular Radio Mega (1700 AM) show Carrefour with host Alex Saint-Surin. But that too didn’t happen. An upset Saint-Surin told listeners that when he arrived to do the live broadcast at Moïse’ hotel, he was told the president was sleeping.
“It’s disrespectful,” Evica, who asked that her last name not be used, said about the cancellation with Haitian families. “I wanted to meet with the president face-to-face to see what he could say on our behalf to President Trump. And if they send us back to Haiti, can he accommodate us with our kids, whom we can’t even do anything for?”
Farah Larrieux, a TV personality who has TPS, took her frustrations to Facebook. “Shame on the Haitian President,” she wrote on a post that went viral. on social media.
Moïse, who was joined by his wife, Martine, didn’t address the canceled meeting or interview at the community forum where Haitians packed the 300-seat auditorium on Friday night to hear him speak. Instead, he spoke of his plans to bring back the Haitian Army within the next two years, root out corruption, and bring solar, hydroelectric and wind-powered energy to Haiti. He also described how he’s curing rivers and repairing agricultural roads through his “Caravan of Change” initiative.
“You all sent me [to the presidency] to take care of one thing: Put the state at the service of the people,” Moïse said, adding he wants “to create an environment so that all Haitians can live in their country.”
Focusing on Haiti’s energy sector, which is a drag on the country’s foreign-aid dependent $2 billion-a-year budget, is a top priority, he said.
While international financial institutions have called on Haiti to fix Électricité d'Haïti (EDH), the state-owned, corruption-plagued electricity company, Moïse spoke of prioritizing production and making Haitians pay for energy upfront.
“I’ve given myself 18 to 24 months for Haiti to have electricity 24 hours around the clock,” Moïse said, promising to bring 24-hour electricity to the small town of Les Irois in the hurricane-ravaged Grand’ Anse by the end of July.
The ambitious promise, which echoed that of former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who failed to bring 24 hours electricity even to Port-au-Prince, was one of many Moïse outlined during his speech, which did not explain how his cash-strapped government plans to pay for any of it.
An amended $1.8 billion budget that was recently sent to the Parliament for a vote, for example, allocates more money to salaries for new government hires than it does for investments, or agriculture, the main platform Moïse campaigned on under the moniker Neg Bannan Nan or the Banana Man.
“The budget is not in line with the promise of the candidate Moïse and Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant’s [political program] presented at the Parliament,” economist Kesner Pharel said. “Salaries have increased by 5 percent to reach 50 percent of the resources collected by the government. ... The operational expenses have increased, but the investment spending has decreased by more than 10 percent.”
As Moïse spoke at the forum inside the Little Haiti Cultural Center, where a small group of protesters had gathered earlier, someone yelled: “Don’t forget TPS.”
Moïse defended his much-criticized handling of the issue, saying, “From day one, we addressed it. … Everything we had to do in Washington, we did it.”
Though Haiti’s embassy in Washington played an active lobbying role on TPS, activists and TPS recipients wanted Moïse to lobby President Donald Trump on the issue, noting that U.S. officials often cited the lack of a letter from Moïse requesting an 18-month extension in their conversations.
“The ambassador we have in Washington worked day and night with the newly installed people; that’s why we were able to get this recent decision,” Moïse said, referring to DHS’ decision. Haitian and immigration activists, faith leaders and Republican and Democrat lawmakers had made an intensive push for an 18-month extension.
“We know an extension will terminate the 22nd of January 2018. But we are already prepared to seek another 12 months,” he said. “I’m telling everyone who has TPS, calm down; know that you have a president who is working for you today.”
While some found hope in Moïse’s statements, others found them to be disingenuous, especially when the president took credit for the DHS decision. Immigration lawyers and Bastien note that the TPS law automatically grants a six-month extension.
On Thursday, Moïse met with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Florida International University on the margins of the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America. He said he raised the issue of aid — “I told him what you can tell President Trump for me, ‘Haiti doesn’t need aid; aid gives us problem. It’s better to give us support instead, for me to [tackle] correct the corruption” — as well as TPS.
“We were clear to say that when it comes to the 60,000 Haitians who have been here for seven years, there needs to be a study done on a case-by case basis. That’s where we stand. And that is what they’ve given us as a guarantee,” he said. “It is out of the question that they will be sending back 60,000 Haitians. There is none of that. It has to be clear in your minds, that’s not what they have in mind.”
A readout of the meeting from Pence’s office said, “the two leaders stressed the importance of pursuing an economic reform agenda to attract investment and generate growth.”