For an event that was predicted to attract hundreds of people, the first Haitian presidential debate at Eckerd College on Saturday generated an underwhelming attendance.
“There were around 250-280 people. The room fits 350, and about 75 percent of it was full,” said Cesar Hernandez, student body president.
“I have been looking forward to this, but I am unhappy that there (weren’t) a lot of people (there),” said Elizabeth Chery, a senior majoring in microbiology. “It’s kind of sad. But it’s so far (a) majority of the Haitian people live in Tampa. I live close to USF, but I still had to drive like 45 minutes.”
Even the number of candidates who attended the forum was smaller than originally expected.
Out of 19 candidates, only five were actually at Eckerd College for the forum. Ten had agreed to attend the event and, during the forum, it was announced two were traveling from Miami but didn’t arrive in time for the debate.
The candidates who attended were Dr. Ann Marie Josette Bijou, Grard Marie Necker Blot, Eric Smarcki Charles, Gnard Joseph and Garaudy Laguerre.
“I think all of them have something to offer. The main thing is can they keep their word? What they say is one thing, and what they do is another,” Chery said.
In the three-hour forum, the candidates answered 10 questions that were all written by students. The questions covered topics like health care, tourism in Haiti, how they plan to repair the country after the earthquake and why he or she believes they are the best candidate.
With help of translation from USF students in Club Creole, Charles said “tourism will play a big role in his government policy.”
“Haiti is the only country not being able to benefit from tourism,” he said. “(They) need to secure the country. Haiti has a great history that can attract many tourists.”
Another topic of discussion was Haiti’s army. All the candidates agreed that having a large army will help fight high rates of crime and will keep Haiti protected.
Bijou said she believes that “the army is necessary.”
“I think that we need to touch these issues on the social dimension,” she said. “I think that people often become violent because people are marginalized. We work with people in the slums.”
Joseph agreed with Bijou.
“We must secure the country,” he said. “The constitution speaks of two security forces. It is a country with his army. The nation was created by the army. Haiti has needs an army to fight against delinquency, an army to help the peasants. The army is necessary.”
The forum was largely planned and organized by a mass group of USF students. Hernandez helped in the preparation.
“A lot of people didn’t think we could pull it off in four weeks, and we did,” Hernandez said. “All the translators, the moderator, the ushers and even security are USF students. So, you have USF students coming all the way to another venue to host an event. That speaks value to me of the type of students we have.”
Though only a few of the candidates attended, Daniel Thelusmar, president of Heart to Heart Caribbean Ministry Inc. and organizer of the forum, said, “I think it turned out well. We reached our objective, which was to inform the international community about the elections process in Haiti, and also to create an interaction between the Haitian abroad and Haiti.”