The Reconstruction of Haiti Spurs Debate at Forum
Barrington M. Salmon | 9/14/2011, 9:27 p.m.
Participants asked a number of pointed questions of the panelists during the question-and- answer period and the presentation stimulated a spirited discussion among participants as the meeting broke up.
Joseph said delegates at a conference for Haitian reconstruction at the United Nations in New York in June of 2010 articulated a new vision of Haiti. They are working to create a decentralized country that is modern, strong, diverse and inclusive, he said. With $3.5 billion allocated so far, the International Office for Migration has overseen the removal of half the people living in tent cities back to their homes. In addition, 250,000 Haitians have been hired and $20 million has been injected into the local economy.
Dr. Joseph E. Baptiste, a U.S. Army Colonel and dentist, showed a slide presentation depicting Haiti before and after the devastation.
Guests saw images of Port au Prince's wide vistas and clean streets; vendors behind stalls laden with fruits and vegetables; lines of palm trees on a beach blown by a stiff wind; the white-washed palace of justice; verdant, rolling hills; multi-storied villas and mansions nestled in the mountains; a man rafting down a lazy river; a young boy with his upper body leaning against the broad root of a palm tree; groups of people on a sidewalk engrossed in conversation; churches; azure waters; beaches; and young men playing soccer at a stadium.
They also grappled with the stark and jarring aftermath: a solitary white sneaker; a child in tears; hundreds of people huddled in the middle of a street; anguished faces of Haitians holding candles at a prayer vigil; a woman covered in fine white dust; a dusty, white arm held tightly as someone pulls up a victim; buildings gone awry; a wooden coffin sticking out of a truck bed; a grieving man holding a dead baby; prosthetics on a table; thin, black crosses stretching off into the horizon; women, arms outstretched, eyes raised toward the sky; a crooked single wall of what was once a factory standing against the sky; flattened buildings, cracked structures, jagged walls and chaos hanging in the air.
The images of destruction drew a collective gasp from the crowd.
"The (presidential) palace was a symbol of power in Haiti," said Baptiste. "It being toppled helped us realize how bad things were."
Jean-Michel Voltaire was animated as he asked a question about Haitians living abroad and became visibly agitated as he offered a prelude to his question and listened to the answer.
"The Diaspora has been excluded from the government. There is no contribution from people living overseas. The Haitian government likes money from Haitian in the Diaspora but not its ideas."
Joseph sounded apologetic.
"The answer is not really hard. Every politician and every segment of society understands the importance of the Diaspora," he said. "We have a tiny or no middle class in Haiti but we have a middle class in the Diaspora. If we want to develop the country, we must be inclusive. We have to work with the Diaspora. Government, businesses, schools understand that. In our constitution, it is clear that we want to take steps to incorporate the Diaspora into the country."