Progress report on Haiti from S. Florida Members of Congress
BY MARIO DIAZ-BALART ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN FREDERICA WILSON
Two weeks ago, we returned from a bipartisan congressional delegation trip to Haiti. We met with Haitian officials and U.S. personnel to examine the ongoing reconstruction efforts there after the devastating earthquake in January 2010 and receive an update on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that illustrated the deficiencies in U.S. taxpayer dollars going to Haiti.
We also raised the issue of Cuba and Venezuela to President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and asked for Haiti to reaffirm its commitment to democracy and respect for human rights by supporting the calls for freedom occurring in both countries.
The Haitian government is more than two years behind on holding elections for the Senate, local municipal councils, mayors, town delegates, and other posts. Elections are essential for a democratic country, but governing democratically is equally as important to ensure a more inclusive society and a respect for human rights.
We are comforted that key components of the “El Rancho” accord have been respected, as promised to us during our trip. Last week, the Chamber of Deputies passed an electoral law and the executive branch changed the cabinet. We commend all parties, including the Catholic Church, for working together to get consensus on a positive path forward for elections to be held in October. We urge the Haitian Senate to now swiftly pass the necessary elections legislation.
However, to conduct a safe election, the security situation in Haiti must be examined. The Haitian National Police (HNP) force, with our support, has reached 11,000 officers and is on its way to reaching its goal of 15,000 personnel by 2016 to better secure their own country.
With the support of Assistant Secretary William Brownfield from the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, our very own Miami-Dade Police Department has trained approximately 77 HNP officers, with hopefully more to come. We also witnessed firsthand the capabilities of the DEA to support Haiti’s counter- narcotics unit and encourage more vetted units to be used to combat drug traffickers that try to use Haiti as a transit point for cocaine shipments from Venezuela and elsewhere.
A misconception that must be addressed is the homicide rate in Haiti. The truth of the matter is that according to the U.N. 2011 Global Study on Homicide, Haiti’s homicide rate is in fact low compared to other Caribbean countries.
Jamaica has the highest homicide rate (per 100,000 population) in the Caribbean at 52, the Dominican Republic is at 24, and Haiti barely reaches 7. In addition, Haiti’s trained anti-kidnapping unit, with the support of the U.S., has been extremely successful. Over the past 11 months, the number of kidnappings has substantially diminished and no American citizens were among the victims.
Last summer, Congress requested GAO to investigate reconstruction efforts in Haiti and we learned that a majority of the funds for Haiti had not been disbursed. USAID spent years studying if we could build a port in northern Haiti, but instead now, it will be looking at making infrastructure improvements at the existing port in Cap-Haitien.
We commend the new change of strategy, but unfortunately, we lost many years in the process. It is also discouraging that USAID decreased the projected number of houses built, which resulted in less people being helped. In other sectors, many improvements are visible with new roads and government buildings being constructed. However, the government is still facing challenges resulting from the earthquake and other natural disasters, with droughts causing food shortages in the northwestern part of the country.
More actions are needed to root out corruption and improve transparency and accountability to help attract more private sector investment. In order to improve the Haitian economy, more educational opportunities that lead to jobs need to be created to foster economic development. The surcharges from money transfers from our South Florida community and on phone calls to Haiti have significantly helped to fund Haiti’s tuition-free program which, according to the Haitian government, enables thousands of Haitian children to go to school.
As Members of Congress representing South Florida, we believe that our local community can play a key role in helping to identify different investment sectors in Haiti and in bridging those gaps to foster the economic prosperity that we all wish to see. We are honored to represent our vibrant Haitian-American constituents who have played a key role in improving our community.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 27th District, is former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and current chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. Rep. Frederica Wilson represents the 24th District and serves on the Education and Workforce Committee. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart represents the 25th District and serves on the Appropriations Committee.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/10/4052089/progress-report-on-haiti-from.html?utm_source=Active+Subscribers&utm_campaign=73f9eaeff9-MR_041114&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_35c49cbd51-73f9eaeff9-64063349#storylink=cpy