2008 National Congress & Convention of Haitian-Americans (Summary and Next Steps)
The Annual National Congress & Convention of Haitian-Americans is a partnership between the Haitian League and the Haitian-American Leadership Council. From October 10-12, members of the Haitian Diaspora came together to discuss how they could contribute to Haiti's development. Topics discussed included remittances, direct investment, development assistance, dual citizenship, and adovcacy. Below is a summary of the discussion and a list of next steps. The Diaspora has much to offer and forums such as this help to keep Haitians abroad connected.
Under the auspices of The Haitian League (TLH), numerous delegations of Haitians, Haitian-Americans, and other ethnicities - - civil, religious, professional, artistic, social, educational and political - - met for the 2008 National Congress and Convention of Haitian-American (NCCHA) at the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel in Newark, New Jersey, USA. The purpose of the 2008 NCCHA was to obtain a comprehensive and authoritative view of the 2 million plus Haitian-Americans living in the United States, and to identify and help capitalize the vast Haitian-American resources to aid Haitians in Haiti and in the Diaspora. The first NCCHA attracted Haitian and Haitian American representatives from the States of Haiti, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, and New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington D.C Metro area.
The Congress and Convention started with a cocktail reception sponsored by the Center to Facilitate Investments in Haiti (CFI). CFI with the support of IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) established a virtual network for promoting foreign and direct investment to the Haitians living abroad. This virtual network will help promote the image of Haiti and increase information sharing and communication between organizations of Haitians living abroad, the office in Haiti, the Haiti Ministry of Commerce and various Consulate and Embassy offices.
The Congress and Convention continued with numerous workshops discussions on topics ranging from Post-Hurricanes Reports and the Involvement of the Haitian-American Community in Rebuilding Haiti with emphasis on Sustainability, Development, Deforestation, Water Management, Infrastructure, etc. The congress also tackled Domestic issues concerning the Haitian-American community - - Poverty, Inequality of United States Immigration Law, Temporary Protective Status (TPS), as well as the Urgent Need to create greater synergy and unite as one voice in addressing Haitian and Haitian-American issues.
Both Presidential Candidates -- Senator Obama and Senator McCain -- were invited. Senator Obama sent Congressman Donald M. Payne as a surrogate; however, Senator McCain was unable to attend, but offered the opportunity to have a conference call at a later scheduled date. Due to illness, Congressman John Conyers sent his Chief of Staff Cynthia Martin as his surrogate and New Jersey State Senator Sandra Cunningham attended and participated. Dr. Daniel Henrys, chief of staff of Haiti’s Prime Minister Michèle Pierre Louis, represented the Prime Minister. Dr. Kelly Bastien, the President of Haiti’s Senate, attended and participated in the event.
A Gala reception recognized various notable members of the Haitian and Haitian-American community for their outstanding achievements: Mona Scott-Young of Monamie Entertainment in the category of Business, Wyclef Jean in the category of Music, Samuel Dalembert in the category of Sports, Edwidge Danticat in the category of Literature, Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald in the category of Journalism/Media, and Brother Francklin Armand of Haiti in the category of community Service.
From all the discussions that ensued throughout the weekend, it’s obvious Haitian and Haitian-Americans have a deep sincere love for their homeland of Haiti. Because many of their own family members still reside in Haiti, the Haitian and Haitian-American community wanted to know what can they do to work hand and hand with the government of Haiti, the people of Haiti, donor countries etc. to make Haiti the country that everyone knows it can become. Below are the top 12 actions, solutions and/or issues participants have resolved to address:
RESOLUTION OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Participants of the 2008 National Congress and Convention of Haitian-Americans have agreed to form a sub-committee that will be responsible for ensuring all resolutions made during the 2008 NCCAH will be completed. This subcommittee will consist of individuals that will represent Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and the Republic of Haiti. In addition, participants propose that The Haitian League in Haiti start chapters in all the 10 departments of the country. This will further help us partner with Haiti in educational endeavors for the youth, create exchange student programs to share ideas, train on vocational skills and environmental knowledge, and other sustainable information.
DISSEMINATION OF THE RESOLUTIONS: Participants agreed that the resolutions of the 2008 Congress and Convention will be disseminated to all concerned parties, including Donors to Haiti, Haitian, Haitian-American and Non-Haitian Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), the Government of Haiti, the United States Government and any other parties who request a copy of the resolutions. Furthermore, a full document will be published by December 19th, 2008 that will detail all the events, workshops, attendees, speakers, panelists, organizations and resolutions.
ANNUAL CONGRESS OF HATIAN-AMERICANS: Participants agreed to reconvene annually to assess the progress made from previous Congress and Conventions and continue to deal with issues that affect the Haitian and Haitian-American community. Various locations across the United States and Haiti will be considered for future annual gatherings. The location and date of the 2009 Annual Congress and Convention of Haitian-Americans will be published by December 1st, 2008.
HAITIAN AND HAITIAN-AMERICAN CENSUS: Determining the exact number of Haitians and Haitian-Americans living in the United States and their demographic characteristics ranked as the number one priority coming out of the Congress and Convention. Participants felt in order for the Haitian-American community to have true bargaining power whether here in the United States or in Haiti, it’s necessary to have clear statistics and demographic information concerning the Haitian and Haitian-American community.
The Georgia delegation reported that they had already taken steps to work with the Census bureau to begin preparation for the 2010 Census. Thus, it was agreed that the Georgia delegation would be put in charge of developing a specific plan of action to create a “Sub census” of the Haitian and Haitian-American community. The goal is to have this sub census completed by the end of June 2009.
DUAL CITIZENSHIP: The issue of Dual Citizenship proved to be the most attended and heated discussion of all the topics discussed during the Congress and Convention. The participants expressed their concern about the blockage existing in the Haitian Constitution on the subject of Dual Citizenship. The participants felt there is a lot they can do to help the country; however, they cannot fully use their unified resources to help Haiti without the possibility of involvement in the legislative process. The Congress and Convention participants wanted to know the specifics steps they could take to possibly obtain and be granted Dual Citizenship status.
The Chicago Delegation has been leading the charge regarding this issue. Therefore, they have agreed to continue to lead the way and carry out the task of consulting with all Haitian-American organizations throughout the USA and other countries in order to assess and proposed legislation to the current Legislative body of the Haitian government. The Chicago Delegation will due all their due diligence in contacting all possible parties with information regarding this topic in order to present the most effective legislation to the Haitian legislative bodies and the Government of Haiti.
HAITIAN AND HAITIAN-AMERICAN STEERING COMMITTEE: Participants agreed that they would recommend to the government of Haiti, the possibility of forming a non-partisan committee to work alongside the government of Haiti regarding oversight of affairs, conditions, opportunities and constraints affecting the fate of Haiti. A proposal was made that a “Steering Committee” composed of non-partisan Haitians in Haiti and Haitians Living Abroad be formed. This committee would sit with Bilateral and Multilateral agencies, meetings, conferences, fundraising events, roundtables, policy discussion in Haiti and elsewhere in order to help create a non partisan Group to advise on decisions made regarding Haiti.
ACCOUNTABILITY OF AID TO HAITI: Recognizing Haiti’s continuing deteriorating conditions, the participants have raised concerns regarding whether or not foreign aid has contributed to the sustainable development of the country. As to invaluable foreign aid to Haiti, many questions were raised regarding the amount of aid, its destination, and what levels of accountability was attached to the DONORS and RECEIVERS. Similar questions were raised at the 2005 Paris Convention. Participants were introduced to the DSNCRP and its importance as a strategic poverty reduction plan for Haiti.
Therefore, participants recommended that a subcommittee work with the government of Haiti to better understand and clear up misperceptions about foreign aid and also bring forth a mechanism to work with charitable, international aid and religious organizations within a master plan that contains mandatory long term sustainability solutions attached to their respective aid.
SOLIDARITY FUND: The participants recommend that a committee will promote the creation of a Solidarity Fund based on the joint efforts of Haitians Living Abroad. Haitian-Americans currently contribute 1.82 billion dollars to the economy of Haiti but this money has not been used towards the sustainable development of Haiti. There is a need to create a fund to address the sustainable development needs of Haiti. This fund would allow Haitians living abroad to intervene or address specific necessities in their hometowns or to assist their communities in development projects as a unit. Participants also propose the creation of a bond for the future.
COMMUNICATION WITH THE GREATER COMMUNITY: Participants agreed there contain a tremendous spectrum of talents, information, resources, and organizations within the Haitian and Haitian-American community. Therefore, effective immediately, all formats of communication will be utilize to obtain a thorough database of all Haitian and Haitian-American organizations and their purposes, professionals and their talents and skill sets and all others that can represent a resource to the Haitian community in the United States and Haiti. The objective will be to have a clear way of contacting and interrelating with the Haitian and Haitian-American community and to improve and intensify the networks with similar agendas and cooperate more effectively as a unit – one voice.
A National Congress and Convention of Haitian-Americans is only as strong as the depth and breadth of the participation of all its leaders. Participants of the NCCHA recommend and recommit to access, meet, listen, learn and continually invite the active participation of Haitian-American leaders to work together as allies in order to fortify the Haitian-American community.
RIGHT TIME IN HISTORY: Recognizing and coming to grip with this critical period in economic and political affairs in the United States, participants agreed to go out and urge greater awareness, involvement and participation by the Haitian-American community about important issues and opportunities in their social, cultural, educational, political, housing, health care and employment environments.
Participants suggested that a national educational campaign be developed by a specific committee to educate the Haitian and Haitian-American communities where ever they are clustered in order to help them get better acclimated to the issues/ opportunities in the above mentioned. To help ensure the uniformity of this project, participants suggested that a fund be started to build Haitian or Haitian-American community centers that will serve to specifically deal with issues that affect the Haitian or Haitian-American community.
FUTURE HAITIAN-AMERICAN GENERATIONS AND HAITI: Participants also expressed a lot of concern regarding the future generation of Haitian-Americans and there possible total disconnect to Haiti. Participants expressed the need for a plan of action with Haiti’s Minister of Haitians Living Abroad, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Public Works and Communication, Minister of Economy and Finance, and Minister of Environment, etc. Given the economical support, cultural importance of Haitians Living Abroad to Haiti, this plan will need to have a focus on how to work with the next generation of Haitians living abroad to reconnect them to Haiti.
DOMESTIC PRIORTIES: Participants agreed and recommended that a committee be formed to deal with issues that specifically plague the Haitian or Haitian-American community living in the United States. This committee would deal with the general condition, welfare and opportunities of the Haitian-American community.
Some of the issues to be undertaken include the following: (1) Concerted efforts to form alliance with other Haitian organizations in the Diaspora; (2) Working with friends and partners in the United State Congress to develop a distinct policy regarding Haitian’s fleeing Haiti to the United States; (3) Working with friends and partners in the United State Congress to establish community centers in areas of main concentration of Haitians; (4) Working with friends and partners in the United State Congress and the United States census bureau to develop and conduct a sub census of the Haitian and Haitian-American community; (5) Establish a college scholarship fund for the youth in need in the Haitian and Haitian-American communities and make education a high priority within our communities.