By Chinta Strausberg
Already suffering from the loss of 1,000 victims of Hurricane Matthew, which affected two million Haitians, and not yet recovering from the earthquake in 2010, Judge Lionel Jean Baptiste said the Haitian Diaspora is seeking a Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of their country and reparations.
Illinois Haitian leaders have joined with their Florida-based peers and organizations and written a letter to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listing their priorities—many of them urgent.
“We’ve suffered from all types of calamities. We’ve had to pay reparations to France— the equivalent of $25 billion in today’s money,” said Baptiste.
“The U.S. invaded and occupied Haiti depleting its treasury. Haiti has also suffered extreme population loss caused by the U.S.-backed Duvalier dictatorship that terrorized the Haitian people over the course of 29 years (1957-1986).”
Baptiste cited data from the World Bank claiming that 86 percent of Haitian professionals live outside of the country. “With the rebuilding, will come reintegration of the Haitian Diaspora and the long-term stabilization of Haiti,” he stated
That is why 27 Florida-based organizations and 24 other prominent Floridians have written a letter to Clinton demanding reforms and social justice for the embattled Haitians, including asking Homeland Security to immediately re-designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti.
The Haitian leaders are asking Clinton to inform them of her positions on issues that are crucial to their lives. The leaders said the Haitian-American community is a “key electorate” and is asking to meet with her.
Baptiste said their concerns are urgent and pointed to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, which has devastated Haiti; stranding hundreds of thousands—killing at least 1,000, obliterating tens of thousands of homes destroying and inundating towns, livestock, crops, and livelihood.
These natural disasters have also caused a surge in cholera cases.
Baptiste stated that before Hurricane Matthew struck, cholera had already killed more than 9,300 Haitians and sickened over 800,000 “since its introduction into Haiti by the United Nations Peacekeepers in October 2010.”
Haitian leaders say the massive flooding and destruction of water supplies caused by the hurricane “has worsened the situation causing a surge in cholera deaths and infections.
“We have lost family and friends to cholera, and we live with the threat of losing more of our loved ones,” they wrote to Clinton. “Our community has taken on significant financial burdens as we support our relatives’ funeral expenses, health care costs and school fees for children orphaned by the epidemic.”
The Haitian leaders reminded Clinton that for six years, the U.N. “stonewalled and evaded responsibility for its role in Haiti’s cholera epidemic, despite worldwide criticism. The U.S. government consistently defended the U.N.’s inadequate response, including by advocating for U.N. immunity in a lawsuit brought by Haitians and Haitian Americans.”
It was only on August 17, 2016 that the U.N. finally shifted its position and acknowledged its role in the outbreak of cholera and agreed to pay for damages to the Haitian victims and to “provide material assistance” to those affected.
On September 20, 2016, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appealed to President Obama for U.S. support for the U.N.’s new package.
Haitian leaders told Clinton, “It is crucial that the U.S. government now exercise political and financial leadership to ensure the U.N.’s commitments are followed by robust and transparent action and that this tragic crisis is finally resolved.”
The Haitian leaders are asking Clinton to support the positive steps being taken by the interim authorities in Haiti to restart the electoral process; “to engage the government of the Dominican Republic to reverse its discriminatory de-nationalization policies against citizens of Haitian descent; and for the Department of Homeland Security to revert to its pre-September 22 parole and non-detention policy.”
Haitian leaders are asking that Clinton commit to using the U.S. diplomatic powers to publicly and privately advocate for the U.N. to implement a “robust and victim-centered package, including a full public apology for the actions and practices that caused and sustained the cholera outbreak.”
They are also asking for remedies to the victims and a “robust investment in cholera control and elimination measures.” Leaders asked Clinton to commit to working with Congress, the State Department and USAID to ensure substantial U.S. funding to support a “just U.N. response, including compensation for victims and cholera control and elimination. Hurricane Matthew makes all of this even more urgent,” they wrote.
On their request to reform the TPS, Haitian leaders explained that it was granted after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, but said it protects only those “otherwise-eligible Haitians who were in the U.S. by January 12, 2011. Hurricane Matthew’s devastation warrants prompt DHS re-designation of TPS for Haiti to protect all Haitians in the U.S. at the time of the re-designation announcement.
Hurricane Matthew’s destruction has “vastly exacerbated Haiti’s pre-Matthew conditions” not just the surge of cholera, but the ongoing political and economic crises and “limited recovery from the 2010 earthquake.”
They warned, “Removal to Haiti now is completely unsafe and destabilizing and resource-deprived and infrastructure-challenged. Haiti cannot safely receive, house, employ or protect additional deportees.” Leaders want DHS to re-designate TPS for Haiti and to stop deportations there in light of Hurricane Matthew.
“TPS re-designation would protect Haitian nationals, enable them to work and help Haiti by generating significant family-sustaining remittances and enable Haiti to use its too-scarce resources on disaster recovery.”
To add insult to injury, the leaders said TPS recipients of all nationalities are currently ineligible for federal student loans, which prevents them access to higher education, making them ineligible to adjust their status to legal permanent resident status.
Haitians leaders are asking the administration to “promptly re-designate TPS for Haiti” to include all Haitians in the U.S. as of the date of “your announcement of TPS re-designation and also permit TPS recipients generally to be eligible both to adjust their status to legal permanent resident status and for federal student loans.”
Additionally, Haitian leaders want the expansion of the Haitian Family Reunification program. “In contrast to over 100,000 beneficiaries approved under the Cuban Family Reunification Program, only 1,952 Haitians had been approved as of June 30, 2016 under DHS’ arbitrarily limited Haitian Family Reunification Program (HFRP).”
Their demands also include a reaffirmation of support for the Black Lives Matter campaign, including calling for an end to the war on Black immigrants; the repeal of the 1996 Crime and Immigration bills; an end to all deportations, immigrant detention, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids and mandated legal representation in Immigration Court.
On October 29th, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is holding a “Haitian Day” complete with a telethon to help raise money for Haiti. Attorney Marie Toussaint, president of the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti and who appeared on WVON’s “The Bob Shaw Show,” stated donations can be sent to www.AMHEfoundation.org or mailed to AMHE Foundation, 1166 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213, 2nd Floor.