Haiti Diaspora Conf. in DC – State Dept. to Offer Diaspora Fellowships to Work in Haiti

Posted on March 24, 2010

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“Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff and point person on Haiti, told the group Monday that the administration will ask Congress for emergency dollars for Haiti reconstruction that would include money for fellowships to allow members of the diaspora to work as government employees in Haiti.”

This is not a new concept and has been bandied about for several years.  The idea is that the Haitian diaspora could help Haiti progress by bringing a wide range of education and experience which does not currently exist in the country.  It is not clear whether Mills is saying that the State Dept. would give fellowships for Haitian members of the diaspora to work as US government employees or Haitian employees in Haiti.  And, maybe it makes little difference.  The point is that whomever signs the checks, call the shots.

This has a Peace Corps feel about it where a certain percentage of the volunteers are used to gather intelligence.  And what would they be looking for?  Plenty.  This is Haiti and everything is political. 

 

WASHINGTON
Haiti’s diaspora hopes to play role in reconstruction

About 500 members of Haiti’s diaspora — two million strong — convened in Washington for three days to help rebuild the earthquake-rattled country.

BY LESLEY CLARK
lclark@MiamiHerald.com

WASHINGTON — Those who left Haiti and now live abroad, Edeline Clermont says, can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt.

“Maybe if we had been there we could have done more,” she said, acknowledging a sense of helplessness as she watches news reports about the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left the government reeling.

It’s that sense of responsibility, she said, that prompted the Miami nurse and 500 others with Haitian roots to spend three days in conference rooms at the Organization of American States this week, hoping to carve out a role for Haiti’s diaspora in the country’s reconstruction.

“We want to be a part of it,” Clermont said of the engineers, teachers, architects, doctors and entrepreneurs who took part in the meeting.

Edwin Paraison, Haiti’s minister of Haitians Living Abroad, sought to assure the group that Haiti wants to work with its far-flung diaspora — a sentiment that many in the crowd have heard before.

But Paraison pledged a fresh start.

“We must admit, however, that the role of the diaspora has been relegated to a second tier,” Paraison said Tuesday, as the conference came to a close. “That, too, must be history. We must ensure for the full participation of the diaspora. We will not do this alone, we will do it hand in hand with the diaspora.”

Despite his pledge, plenty of skepticism remains.

Though Haitians abroad contribute between $1 billion and $2 billion annually to the country, members say they are nearly voiceless when it comes to influencing what happens in Haiti.

“There are forces in Haiti that don’t want the diaspora involved,” said Jean-Robert Lafortune, chair of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. “We need a clear signal that there is a new day.”

The forum was part of a push aimed at changing that. But attendees said they’re worried that current reconstruction plans don’t include a seat at the table for them. They circulated a petition asking for more participation at next week’s international donors’ conference at the United Nations and are asking for two voting seats — rather than one nonvoting seat — on a proposed Haiti redevelopment authority.

Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff and point person on Haiti, told the group Monday that the administration will ask Congress for emergency dollars for Haiti reconstruction that would include money for fellowships to allow members of the diaspora to work as government employees in Haiti.

Members of the diaspora have long wanted to vote in the country and Paraison told the group he’d take their concerns back to the government in Port-Au-Prince.

“We intend to communicate these legitimate claims,” he said. “Political participation at the broadest level will lead to a more vibrant engagement. We are determined that the Haitian diaspora be completely integrated.”

He said the country is looking at developing “regional consultive centers” to bring the diaspora together.

But Lafortune said the group “has heard promises before.

“We’ve heard different ministers asking the diaspora to come back,” Lafortune said, asking for proof in the next 90 days — and proposing that the diaspora conference become an annual event.

The recommendations ranged from the immediate, such as increasing the number of female guards in the tent camps to reduce sexual assaults, to the long-term: boosting tourism to Haiti, training for government officials and police officers, making publicly available an inventory of the nonprofits active in Haiti, their activities and their sources of funding.

Other groups called for sensitivity training to help the large number of disabled children who will be attending schools and a Haitian version of the hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, that could dock at the harbor and provide medical care as Haiti’s ruined hospitals are rebuilt.

Gesner Mondelas, a Haiti native who runs a real estate and advertising firm in New York, said he’s hoping to launch a hotel and real estate portal for Haiti.

“The Haitian government has appealed to us to come and help,” Mondelas said. “If we lose this opportunity we may never be able to regain it.”