Originally: Haiti Democracy Project Hosts Representative

As part two of its series ?Bridges to the Policy-makers?, the Haiti Democracy Project [HDP] hosted a meeting between Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and the Haitian-American community of Maryland?s eighth congressional district on Tuesday, May 27, 2003.  


The meeting took place at St. Michael’s Church in Silver Spring, Md., and drew a large number of Haitian-Americans from Montgomery and Prince George Counties. During the two-hour session that was followed by a nice reception, participants had the opportunity to discuss a variety of issues with their Representative ranging from the lack of interest on the part of this Administration and the Democrats in Congress about the current crisis in Haiti to the ways in which Mr. Van Hollen could support their efforts to end the current political impasse and strengthen democracy in their homeland. Participants insisted that if left unattended, the current  situation could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe in the Hemisphere?s poorest nation.


At a time when democratic values have suffered momentous setbacks due to the absence of the rule of law, poor governance, corruption and drug trafficking, the community is growing alarmed and is slowly mobilizing to search for ways to assist Haiti.  As expressed by participants, the situation is particularly worrisome now with recent moves by Aristide?s contested ?rubber-stamp? parliament to amend the Constitution to extend his presidential mandate and possibly have his American-born wife succeed him, bringing back the specter of a life-presidency.  The listing of Haiti as a major transshipment point for drugs entering the United States with the complicity of government officials at the highest levels also came across as an unsettling point in the community.


Most of those present were eager to learn about the process involved in defining U.S. policy towards Haiti and directed several questions to Rep. Van Hollen to that effect.  The exchanges were very informative and participants felt a genuine interest to help on the part of their Congressman who candidly explained the reasons for a failing policy on Haiti and also for many other foreign policy mistakes by the U.S.  Rep.Van Hollen said that he truly appreciated this initial contact and promised to continue the dialogue with his Haitian-American constituents and the many friends of Haiti who also attended this meeting.


It is worth noting that Congressman Van Hollen is a co-sponsor of the Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act (Hero Act) and has recently joined others in Congress in supporting the plight of Haitian refugees in the U.S.


Steve Oriol, a young professional born of Haitian parents and a resident of Montgomery County, served as Master of Ceremony.  Vicki Butler, wife of former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Timothy Carney, a strong supporter and Board member of the Haiti Democracy Project, encouraged the community to pursue this route to more effectively impact U.S. policy on Haiti and exercise their constitutional right as citizens of this country.  Jim Morrell, Executive director of HDP, actively engaged the attendees to meet Congressman Van Hollen and his Chief of Staff, Ken Cummings.  Local Haitian-American television station Haiti à Suivre and representatives of the Web-based magazine EchodHaiti.com were on hand to cover the event.


HDP and its volunteers hope to expand this initiative and invite other policy-makers and members of Congress to meet the Haitian-American community in the DC area and in other parts of the United States to discuss their concerns regarding U.S. policy toward Haiti.    HDP also plans to continue the publication and dissemination of policy papers that reflect the concerns of Haitians living in this country regarding the enduring electoral stalemate which has alienated Haiti further from its friends in the International Community and the U.S. Administration.