PORT-AU-PRINCE — While one senator from Florida spent Tuesday meeting with Haiti’s interim government, a congressman flew in a military helicopter to assess the humanitarian crisis in several northern cities.
Their missions were different but the goal for Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Kendrick Meek was the same: to shine a light on Haiti even as Americans’ attention focuses on Iraq and the 9/11 panel.
”The world community has to provide the resources so that Haiti can progress economically and socially,” Nelson said. “The new government, which I am impressed with, needs help in providing for police and organizing elections down the road, for healthcare and for sanitation.”
But that help, Nelson said, cannot be on the cheap.
”Regardless of the mistakes of the past, it is time to focus on the future of Haiti to try to help a country that has had scores of coup d’états finally begin to stabilize,” he said.
Tuesday’s visits by the two Democrats were the first by any member of Congress since the Feb. 29 resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after a string of rebel uprisings.
”If we are going to avoid having a multinational force come in there every five years, we are going to have to get it right this time,” Meek said.
Meek, who will return to the capital on Thursday for meetings with nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian groups, traveled to Fort Liberte, Cap Haitien and Gonaives to follow up on reports about shortages, transportation difficulties, thefts, customs delays and other problems plaguing the humanitarian relief effort.
Neither lawmaker spent the night in Haiti for security reasons, despite the presence of U.S. and other military peacekeepers.
Nelson used his visit to also champion a bill he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. If approved, the legislation would allow yarn to come into Haiti and be made into fabric for exportation to the United States, which would create thousands of new jobs.
Both Nelson and Meek also expressed support for freeing up about $400 million in frozen international aid for Haiti. A more immediate concern is the return of electricity — which has been out for weeks — in Port-au-Prince.
During his meeting with interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, Nelson urged him to do what he could to quickly remedy the problem. He presented the prime minister with an analysis showing it would take about $2 million to get the country’s power plants operational again.
Nelson also met with U.S. Ambassador James Foley, Haitian officials and representatives from the Organization of American States.
As a last word of advice, Nelson said, “It is time for the people of Haiti to stop looking to the past and start looking to the future.”