Discussion on Haiti with:
- Peter Bell, president emeritus of CARE USA and vice-chairman of the Inter-American Dialogue
- Carlo Dade, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL)
- Duly Brutus, permanent representative of Haiti to the Organization of American States
- Robert Maguire, director of international affairs, Trinity University
- Rudolph Boulos, senator from the Nord-Est department; founding member of Haiti Democracy Project
Senator Boulos considered that the Inter-American Dialogue report, Haiti: Real Progress, Real Fragility, hit all the points exactly right. He stressed that the danger of the senate losing one-third of its membership was real and would seriously threaten the functioning of the senate and the whole parliament. The elections should already have been held last month. The damage this would do to the senate and parliament would have a destabilizing effect on all the efforts to strengthen institutions in Haiti.
Senator Boulos considered that the report was right in noting the lack of staff and technical resources to the Haitian senate. Nevertheless, the senate had passed all twenty-five pieces of major legislation submitted by the executive. It had closely worked on the law with the executive branch for the reorganization of the judiciary.
The senate had also sent delegations since October 2007 to Washington, Canada and Mexico to ask for help in keeping the senate open and also, of course, to study the procedures of the legislatures in the three largest countries of North America. Senator Boulos considered these missions a form of parliamentary diplomacy. The missions were well-received in all three countries.
The senator added that another challenge facing Haiti, besides the threatened destabilization of institutions, was the fallout from three natural disasters which had three times destroyed the harvest. As a result, one could today see more hunger in Haiti than in many years.
During the question period, Senator Boulos was asked about the Haitian constitution and Haiti?s relations with the Dominican Republic.
The question on the constitution concerned President Préval?s finding that the constitution was destabilizing Haiti by its impediments to foreign investment and other outmoded features. Yet the process for amending the constitution was extremely lengthy.
Senator Boulos recalled that Haiti had had twenty-two constitutions. Twenty-one of them had been written by one man for one man. That is, they were written by presidents seeking to overstay their terms.
He considered that active legislation by the senate could be undertaken on the basis of the present constitution. This legislation could address impediments to foreign investment.
On the issue of relations with the Dominican Republic, Senator Boulos said that he preferred to emphasize the positive. The situation of Haitians working in that country was changing for the better. Of the seven hundred thousand Haitians in that category, there were only about thirty thousand left in the sugar industry. The rest were working in export agriculture, construction, and tourism. In all cases they were working in the Dominican Republic because they could not find work in Haiti.
In the Dominican construction industry, one could go to the work sites and find 95 percent of the workers were Haitian. Yet they received the same protection under Dominican labor law as Dominicans. The only thing was that their specializations were not recognized and compensated as they should be.
In tourism, one could find bright Haitian youngsters greeting foreign tourists in several European languages. They were moving into various entry-level positions. Also, one could find twelve thousand Haitian students in the universities in Santo Domingo and Santiago.
In the free-trade industrial zone in Ouanaminthe, in his department, the Dominicans were the leading investors. The factories had generated 3,500 jobs for Haitian young people and it was expected, with the impact of HOPE, to double that to 7,000.
On the other side of the ledger, Senator Boulos mentioned the fact that certain members of the Dominican army on the border were in the habit of shaking down or extorting from Haitians as they sought to cross the border back into Haiti to visit relatives. These soldiers well knew that the Haitians had money in their pockets from their work in the Dominican Republic.