MIAMI – More than 400 Haitian-Americans gathered at a South Florida university Sunday hoping to hear how a handful of Haiti’s presidential candidates would rebuild their Caribbean homeland.
But they also were skeptical that anything in Haiti would change after the Nov. 28 election because so little has been accomplished since a catastrophic earthquake in January. More than 1.5 million people remain homeless, and just a fraction of the $1.15 billion pledged by the U.S. for reconstruction has been sent. Meanwhile, a cholera outbreak that began last month has killed more than 917 people.
“I would love to see the country prosper, especially during this time when there’s so much investment,” said Miami-born Jeffy Mondesir, a 33-year-old restaurateur. “I’m here to see what the future holds for Haiti.”
All 19 of Haiti’s presidential candidates were invited to the forum at Florida International University to outline their platforms for health care, education, reconstruction and the judicial system.
Three showed up: Gerard Blot, Garaudy Laguerre and former first lady Mirlande Manigat. A fourth, Charles Henry Baker, participated by satellite.
Haitian-Americans can’t vote in the election, but many feel entitled to participate in the campaigns because their financial support is so critical. Haitians living abroad sent home more than $1.6 billion last year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Even before January’s earthquake, remittances were a major source of income for the country, where 70 percent of the population is unemployed.
Many of Haiti’s candidates have been campaigning and fundraising in the large Haitian communities of Miami, Boston and New York. About 830,000 Haitians live in the U.S., nearly half of them in Florida, according to 2009 U.S. Census estimates.
At a similar forum last month at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Haiti’s Minister of Haitians Living Abroad, Edwin Paraison, urged the candidates to outline their plans for working with the Haitian Diaspora because they effectively vote with their checkbooks.
Max Janty, a 41-year-old engineer who left Haiti in 1987, said he didn’t think the money flowing to Haiti’s elections was well spent, especially with so many people living under tents in Port-au-Prince.
The candidates “only see us as a milk cow. They come here and get our money and go over there and do whatever they want to do,” said Janty of Miami. “I have no idea why they come here. I appreciate the fact that a group of people were able to pull them together and talk to us, but I don’t see what we can do for them besides offering our money.”