On June 20-21, 2006, the Haiti Democracy Project brought a delegation of six Haitian-American community leaders to Washington to plead Haiti’s case with members of Congress and the Bush administration. The delegation was led by Lionel Delatour, founding board member of the Haiti Democracy Project. The delegation evoked in strong terms, on the basis of personal experience, the humanitarian emergency that continued to afflict Haiti’s poor majority. Even more importantly, it stressed the opportunity offered by the restoration of constitutional government in Haiti to finally put the long-suffering country on the road to recovery.
Supporting that new government with practical measures, the United States could capitalize on this rare opportunity to make permanent progress on the vexatious Haiti issue, lay the basis for stability, and restart the motor of job-creation. In the course of the two-day visit, the delegation found broad sympathy for its message. It was a sympathy that bridged parties, legislative chambers, and branches of government. It was a sympathy that evinced pledges of action.
Although Haiti policy is usually the province of the executive branch, the delegation?s visit happened to coincide with congressional attention to two pieces of legislation vital to the new government’s chances of success. One was a textile concession acronymed HOPE (Haiti Hemispheric Opportunity Partnership Encouragement Act) that had been introduced in previous sessions and was mooted for this one. The other was a supplemental appropriation that had been passed and signed into law just as the delegation arrived.
The textile concession would extend to Haiti some of the same duty-free treatment that the United States had previously afforded to the poorest countries of Africa. It had a considerable potential for job-creation in Haiti.
Although neither bill was actively before Congress at the time of the delegation?s visit, they were both under discussion by the administration and Congress. The HOPE initiative was widely considered, both by supporters and those less committed, to be the leading example of a practical measure that the United States could take to consolidate the new government in Haiti. Accordingly, it was on the agenda of virtually all of our government interlocutors as the next policy issue to be addressed. In fact, it had acquired symbolic importance as the key test of the U.S. commitment to Haiti.
In response to the shifting political considerations cited by interlocutors, such as the sequence of bills or ephemeral personality conflicts, the delegation eschewed positioning on these matters but brought the discussion back to the dire reality on the ground in Haiti, based on personal visits and investigation by the delegation?s members. Hospitals were operating without surgical gloves and anesthesia, and hundreds of thousands of people had absolutely nothing to eat. In particular, the delegation stressed the enormous humanitarian contribution of anything that aided job-creation and its potential to resolve the insecurity that had spread in recent years.
The delegation gained confidence as it went on and worked as a team. There was no sign of the differences that sometimes divide Haitians. The Illinois members of the delegation took the initiative to add four appointments with Illinois members of Congress to the schedule: Sen. Richard Durbin, Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Janice Schakowsky, and the chief of staff of Sen. Barack Obama.
Altogether, the delegation received clear indication that key players in the U.S. government were interested in moving forward with support for Haiti. A number of well-placed interlocutors, including Senators DeWine, Durbin and Obama and Representatives Rangel and Foley indicated specific measures they were planning to take on Haiti?s behalf.
An especially strong theme from all our interlocutors was welcoming the engagement of the Haitian diaspora. Officials from the administration and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and both chambers strongly encouraged the continuous involvement of diaspora on this and all pending issues. The delegation on numerous occasions stressed the need for the human resources of the diaspora to be harnessed for the recovery of Haiti with the support of the U.S. government and international community.
The delegation urged attention to the humanitarian issue of Haiti: the need for job-creation and the unparalleled opportunity afforded by the recent elections and the installation of constitutional government. In assembling the seven-person delegation the Haiti Democracy Project had polled some two dozen current Haitian-American leaders. It received a response completely devoid of partisanship, but rather convergence on the urgency that U.S. decision-makers remain focused on issues of concern to Haiti.
Supplementing the formal schedule, Amb. Timothy M. Carney and his wife Victoria A. Butler graciously hosted a reception in honor of the delegation at their Capitol Hill townhouse, which boasts a first-rate collection of Haitian art. The gala reception drew Haiti’s strongest backer in the U.S. Senate, Ohio Republican senator Mike DeWine. It also drew the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Caribbean policy, Patrick Duddy, and the Haitian-American celebrity Samuel Dalembert, star center of the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers National Basketball Association team. Among Haitian community leaders were Dr. Joseph Baptiste, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Haitians, and Dr. Bernier Lauredan, head of the Haitian League. Also present were a number of staffers of the House and Senate, Haiti desk officers of the State Department officials, and members of such influential thinktanks as the Inter-American Dialogue and Caribbean-Central America Action. Also represented were influential law firms and foundations concerned with Haiti, other influential Haitian community leaders, the noted Haitian art collector Beverly Sullivan and her husband John, the publisher of the National Journal.
Letter of Rep. Charles B. Rangel, June 22, 2006
Dear Mr. Speaker, Mr. Majority Leader and Mr. Chairman:
I am writing to urge that we move forward on a most urgent basis to pass in the House of Representatives the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act. This legislation is in the national security interests of the United States, the economic interests of the United States, the economic interests of the people and government of Haiti, and is the moral thing to do. For all these reasons, the legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support?so much so that talk has even been that it would be brought up on the Suspension Calendar.
With the recent inauguration of President Préval, Haiti stands at a critical crossroads. This is a key moment of opportunity for both the United States and Haiti. To capitalize on this moment, Haiti needs to be able to create sustained economic opportunity for its citizens. One important component will be the jobs and investment opportunities created by the HOPE Act.
On February 2, 2005, at the Organizational Meeting of the Ways and Means Committee, I sought and received explicit assurance from Chairman Thomas that the HOPE legislation would be at “the top of the list” for Committee and Floor action at that time (more than 16 months ago). At that meeting, I raised the urgency of passing swiftly the legislation, which the Democratic Caucus had cleared for Unanimous Consent treatment on the Floor of the House on October 8, 2004. The Chairman responded that he would join me in making sure it’s at the top of the list. Wanting to be certain that we were talking about Floor action, not hearings, I was gratified when the Chair added his comment that we needed action since we had already held hearings.
In recent days and weeks, there have been comments to the effect that trade legislation will be taken up on the House floor in the following order: Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Peru FTA, then Vietnam Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR). When asked for the reason for this order, the comment has been given that this is the order in which these agreements were negotiated.
I don’t agree with “packaging” vital trade benefits for Haiti with these other bills as a matter of principle, and I don’t know that I agree that the order of negotiation of an agreement should be used mechanically to determine Committee and Floor action. It would seem to me that each agreement should be taken up on its own merits and that several key factors should be considered.
However, if the decision has been made to use the criterion of order of negotiation to sequence trade legislation, then the HOPE bill was crafted on October 7, 2004, long before any of the three bills that are reportedly being mentioned. Accordingly, for this reason, if for no other, the HOPE bill should be moved first.
I hope that we can work together to move forward without another day’s delay on this legislation for people in such great and extraordinary need, and which serves important moral as well as economic and national security goals of our country.
The Honorable Charles B. Rangel
Ranking Democrat, Committee on Ways and Means