Originally: Haitians Feel Neglect from U.S.
Rose Lunise Fortune can’t wait for the United States to turn its attention
from the war on terrorism to its own back yard.
So each month, the Atlanta mother of nine sends $300 — from her earnings as
an evangelist as well as donations from friends — to an open-air school in a
small town near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The money pays the salaries
of three teachers and sometimes is used to buy books and material for student
Fortune eagerly shows a visitor photos of smiling children standing under
palm trees. She has dubbed the school Bless the Lord. Perhaps, Fortune muses,
she can also raise enough to build a health clinic.
Haiti, she said, “is a land without opportunity. The people are poor and they
cannot work. They suffer.” Her voice drops. “I wonder why they [the U.S.
government] always think about other countries [farther away], but they don’t
really ponder about Haiti.”
Seven hundred and seven miles. That’s the distance from Miami to
Port-au-Prince — less than that from Atlanta to Chicago.
But many Haitian-Americans complain that despite Haiti’s geographical
proximity to the United States, Washington has lost interest in their native
land, focusing instead on the war on terrorism and funneling millions of dollars
in assistance to countries that might be allies for a possible attack on Iraq.
William Destin, executive director of the Decatur-based Haitian Community
Service Center of Atlanta, finds it frustrating to watch politicians debate the
U.S. role in rebuilding Afghanistan or Iraq if Saddam Hussein is toppled.
Destin thinks that while the United States has a role to play in helping both
countries, the efforts should begin closer to home.
It’s especially important now, said Destin, as Haiti prepares for elections
next year. In past weeks, protests and violent outbreaks have intensified
against the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is in his second term as
On Monday, Prime Minister Yvon Neptune described the situation as “delicate”
and warned that civil war could break out. Many blame Aristide for the country’s
worsening economic climate.
“We need help more than ever,” said Destin, who moved to the United States in
1984. He would like to see more humanitarian aid but thinks the real key will be
direct investment in the country. Destin said the point hits home each time he
hears about another boatload of Haitians trying to reach America’s shores. In a
highly publicized case Oct. 31, 200 Haitians landed near Miami and swam to
shore. Most are likely to be deported.
Destin runs an import-export business, Karibu Cargo, that employs six in
Port-au-Prince. He also works with Haitian-Americans here who want to do
business back home, as well as church groups with programs in Haiti.
Haiti has long been plagued by revolts, military occupation, corruption and
In 1986, the military ousted Jean-Claude Duvalier, ending decades of brutal
family rule. Four years later, the country held its first elections and voted in
Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, as president. Months into his first term, he
was ousted in a military coup. The United States refused to recognize the new
government and suspended $650 million in aid to the nation.
On Oct. 15, 1994, U.S. troops were on the verge of invading Haiti. That was
avoided only when the military government resigned and Aristide was reinstated
— a move that is still producing fallout, said Henry “Chip” Carey, an
assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University.
“In the last century the U.S. has tried almost every policy one could have,”
said Carey, who is also a member of the newly formed Haiti Democracy Project.
“There have been two occupations, a multilateral embargo, including a blockade
and suspension of aid.”
Carey said rebuilding Haiti would call for a commitment from the United
States like the one it made in Japan and Germany after World War II.
Nation-building in both those countries was aided also by the fact there were
established systems of government infrastructure and commerce.
Carey said humanitarian aid alone cannot help a nation such as Haiti — or
Afghanistan — where such systems barely exist, and that the United States
isn’t likely to make that kind of investment.
The issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon, said Jim Morrell of the Haiti
Haitian refugees could push the issue up to the front burner again if they
continue to land on U.S. soil.
If the United States is to solve the problem of Haitian refugees, he said, it
must look at the source — ineffective government, poverty and the lack of
medical and educational institutions in Haiti.
* Size: 10,714 square miles
* Capital: Port-au-Prince
* Population: 7,063,722 (July 2002 est.)
* Life expectancy: 49.55 years
* Racial/ethnic groups: African descent 95%, African and European descent 5%
* Religious groups: Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16%
* Principal languages: French, Creole
* Government: Republic
* Chief of state: President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (since Feb. 7, 2001)
* Head of government: Prime Minister Yvon Neptune (since March 4, 2002)
* History: One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has
been plagued by political violence for most of its history. Over three decades
of dictatorship followed by military rule ended in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand
Aristide was elected president. A military takeover forced him into exile in the
United States, but he returned to Haiti in 1994. He won a second term as
president in 2000, but a political crisis stemming from fraudulent legislative
elections in 2000 has undermined his ability to govern.
Source: CIA World Factbook, World Book Encyclopedia