Originally: Refocusing On Haiti

            In a world of competing demands, there?s a flurry of actions to refocus attention on Haiti only seven months from elections intended to bring some normalcy in a country so close to the shores of America.

            This weekend, a mini summit on Haiti in Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana, is drawing some eminent personalities. The French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, went from Paris to host the event.  The Canadian foreign minister, Pierre Pettigrew, flew into Port-au-Prince Wednesday in a private jet.  There he held several meetings with top Haitian officials, including President Alexandre and Prime Minister Latortue, as well as with members of civil society.  Yesterday he departed Port-au-Prince with the Prime Minister and the United Nations civilian chief of the mission to Haiti, the Chilean Juan Gabriel Valdes.  Fred Schieck, US AID Deputy Administrator, had joined them in Port-au-Prince for the trip to Cayenne. 

Earlier in the day yesterday, four Haitian cabinet ministers and the chief of staff of the Haitian president flew to Cayenne, armed with priority projects to be financed.

            ?What could they still be discussing that hasn?t been discussed over the past year,? asked Jacques Adolphe, a savvy Haitian lawyer in Florida, who added, ?it?s long past due for the international community to release the funds promised to Haiti last July.? He continued, ?Without jobs to occupy people?s time between now and October, I?m afraid the elections will be compromised.?

            Indeed, job creation and security are top priorities for a successful transition, according to a high fact finding delegation to Haiti that released its ?findings and recommendations? Wednesday during a meeting at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Three former American ambassadors ?Timothy Carney, Ernest Preeg and Lawrence Pezzullo?all involved in Haiti either through posting there or for being in charge of policy regarding Haiti, were in the island nation late last month.  The delegation was under the sponsorship of the Haiti Democracy Project led by James Morrell. Other members of the illustrious group included Haitian-American Texas businessman Dumas Simeus and three business and political experts on the ground: Rudolph Boulos, Lionel Delatour and Arielle Jean-Baptiste.

            A key paragraph of the executive summary of the findings, posted on the organization?s web page, https://haitipolicy.org, states that ?lively debate centers on whether job or security are most urgent.? The delegation concluded, ?Long term investment and the permanent employment it generates demand much-improved security in terms of both competent policing and a favorable legal code and improved judiciary.?  But there is an urgency to create jobs now, as the interim government has proposed from its inception. Says Democracy Project: ?More urgent is immediate employment generation through expanded public works projects that put young men to work earning money and that address important deficiencies in urban sanitation and in inadequate roads around larger towns. Jobs can give young men a stake in the system and some hope that a genuine democratic process will  provide for the future.?

            The focus on job creation was the purpose of a visit to Washington two weeks ago  by Haiti?s new minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Fritz Kenol. In visits to the State Department, the Commerce Department, US AID and in the halls of Congress, the focus was put on a preferential trade bill ?formerly HERO (Haitian Economic Recovery Opportunity Act) now HOPE (Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement Act), that is intended to create some 100,000 jobs in Haiti?s hard-pressed textile industry.  That industry, like that of the United States, is being swamped by China.

            HERO, the bipartisan effort of former Senator Graham (D. Fla.) and Senator DeWine (R. Ohio) was overwhelmingly approved in a voice vote by the Senate last year. But HERO has been bogged down in the House. A rare bipartisan entente between the two heavyweights of the House?s Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Rangel (D. NY) for the minority and Congressman Thomas (R. Calif.), gives HOPE a chance. But there?s concern that the White House and the State Department, engrossed in problems elsewhere, seem detached from what?s happening in Haiti.

            Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus, that has been somewhat dormant about Haiti, is showing sign of reconnecting with the country. Yesterday and today,  a ?National/International Symposium? dealing with ?the future of democracy and development in Haiti? is underway at the Cannon Office Building on Capitol Hill. Congressman Conyers (D. Mich.), formerly close to exiled President Aristide, was featured as the one who welcomed the guests to the closed confab that has attracted about 50 invited guests. The press is excluded. Most of the ?invited guests? are former Lavalas officials or former sympathizers of that regime.

 Interestingly, among the ?invited guests? at the symposium is Marc Bazin, the rival presidential candidate to Mr. Aristide in 1990, who is trying to become the standard bearer for a fragmented Lavalas Family party. He will have to contend with Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a catholic priest who has remained an Aristide loyalist.  Alix Baptiste, the minister for Haitians living abroad, is the sole ?invited guest? who is a member of the interim government. He also held a sub-cabinet post in the Aristide government.

In this atmosphere, the announcement by the Inter-American Development Bank of approval of $270 million for urgent projects of high intensity labor couldn?t be more welcome by the authorities in Port-au-Prince.