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Haiti receives more than a billion dollars every year in remittances from Haitian immigrant communities overseas. But since the catastrophic earthquake, the Haitian-American diaspora has redoubled its effort to assist in the recovery and help shape national politics. The Kojo Nnamdi Show begins a week of special broadcasts with a look at how local communities around the U.S. are influencing efforts on the ground in Haiti.
- Dr. Joseph E. Baptiste Chairman, National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians, and co-founder of the Haitian Diaspora Federation; Medical Director, J.B Dental Implant and Reconstruction Center
- Leonie M. Hermantin Deputy Director, Lambi Fund of Haiti
- Manolia Charlotin Editor & Business Manager, Boston Haitian Reporter; Co-Founder, Haiti 2015
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Connecting your neighborhood to the world and connecting Port-au-Prince to Washington, D.C. This week, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is exploring the situation in Haiti. Beginning on Tuesday, we will be broadcasting from Port-au-Prince, exploring how the city is reacting to tropical storms, fears about a cholera outbreak and the ongoing recovery effort.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut we begin today with a look at communities and families that live with one foot in both countries, the Haitian-American diaspora. Before the earthquake, Haitians living abroad transferred more than a billion dollars every year to Haiti. And since Jan. 12, 2010, activists in Washington, Miami and Boston have tried to deepen their involvement in the country, but it's a difficult challenge. Many Haitian-Americans say the government keeps them at arm's length, happy to take their money but reluctant to give them a say in anything else. The Haitian government does not allow dual citizenship and many second-generation Haitian Americans don't speak Creole.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore all of this, in our Washington is Dr. Joseph Baptiste. He is chairman of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and co-founder of the Haitian Diaspora Federation. He's a dentist at the J.B. Dental Implant and Reconstruction Center in Silver Spring, Md. Dr. Baptiste, thank you for joining us.
DR. JOSEPH BAPTISTEWell, thank you again for the invitation.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios at WLRN in Miami, Fla. is Leonie Hermantin, deputy director of the Lambi Fund on Haiti, which is a grassroots environmental organization. Leonie, thank you for joining us.
MS. LEONIE HERMANTINThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of WBUR in Boston, Mass. is Manolia Charlotin, editor and business manager of the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015. Manolia, thank you for joining us.
MS. MANOLIA CHARLOTINThank you for having me.
NNAMDIManolia, exactly what is Haiti 2015?
CHARLOTINIt is a grassroots international campaign that we are running in Haiti. The main goal is for it to serve as a platform to mobilize the youth, the younger generation in Haiti to be more active in the development of the country in terms of politics, education and overall civic participation in the country.
NNAMDIJoseph Baptiste, we hear hurricane, earthquake, cholera epidemic, tropical storm. And those of us who are not from Haiti or not from --or are not Haitian American say, what is it about Haiti that seems to cause this to happen? For those of you who are from Haiti, how does this strike?
BAPTISTEOh, man, I'll tell you what. This is almost -- when can we catch a break? (laugh)
BAPTISTEThis is -- it's been really a disaster that was forecast way back when a lot of people is, after the earthquake, seen out on the street and would keep saying that we have to really give them a place just in case of a hurricane. So it's been heartbreaking, but we do our best to mobilize our -- the community to see how we can help.
HERMANTINWell -- yeah. If I may add.
HERMANTINIf I may, please? I'd like to also add that while these events are natural disasters, it's -- you know, the consequences have been foretold because of a lack, the absence of infrastructure, the absence of, you know, planning, government, the presence of government in regulating either housing construction or the construction of a sanitation infrastructure in the country. You know, just -- you know, cholera does not happen everywhere. It happens in societies which lack some of the most basic amenities in sanitation. So yes, we are beset by all these horrible things that happened to us, but we -- our people suffer because there's been an absence of infrastructure and absence of involvement both from the Haitian government and from the international community, which has been involved in Haiti for at least 40 years.
CHARLOTINI'd like to...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
CHARLOTINI'd like to add to that. I also think it's a, I would like to say, a failure of the international relief effort as a result of the January earthquake. To be frank, disease outbreak like cholera was expected in Haiti. We didn't know where it would come from or how it would play itself out, but it -- this was not something that's unprecedented. And the relief effort had not distributed nor had it put in place a sustainable infrastructure to deal with transition from homeless -- from the homeless shelters into something a bit more permanent, whereas disease control could actually be worked with and implemented by the government. So I definitely think that, as Leonie said, it's an implication of both the Haitian government as well as the international community in terms of this cholera outbreak and the response to the victims of the earthquake.
NNAMDIJoseph Baptiste, by some estimates, 80 percent of the Haitian professional class currently live outside of Haiti, that includes physicians and dentists like yourself, the kind people whose expertise would seem to be desperately needed in a country with poor health infrastructure. You talk about the fact that you've been warning them about this for a long time. Are there any mechanisms for people like you to go down and not only to work, but to have more of an effect on policy? Because what I keep hearing from all three of you is a certain level of frustration about your ineffectiveness when it comes to policy.
BAPTISTEThat's correct. It's been our frustration, even during the earthquake where we have our doctors that would go there. And of course, we cannot blend in with the whole people because we are Haitian as a well. But we're gonna hear that on the news or anybody else as we, as Haitians, are helping -- went back to Haiti to help our people in the earthquake. So we come in this invisible force that always help Haiti, and now, that we want to be on the forefront and go back and help in a way -- the best way -- capability to go back and help the best way we can. We're still -- I mean, we're frustrated to the fact that they cannot use our expertise the way it should be.
NNAMDILeonie Hermantin, that, of course, has not stopped Haitians and Haitian-Americans from contributing. Before the earthquake, Haitian communities in the U.S., Canada and France sent back over a billion dollars a year, but that relationship has undergone a major change over the last nine and a half months. Give us a sense of how the diaspora is engaged with the recovery effort and how your activism has evolved over time -- over that time?
HERMANTINWell, you know, I have to say that, yeah, the Haitian diaspora has been involved -- not simply in the sending of over a billion dollars in - to support families. I mean, this -- that's what that billion dollars hasn't been really direct investment. It's been the remittances that were sent to families, so that's very significant. I think it's about over 30 percent of the Haitian budget. So our presence has been there.
HERMANTINThe Lambi Fund was created by Haitian-Americans who really wanted to do something -- to give something back to Haiti's rural communities. So the involvements have been bought in terms of remittances, in terms of organized efforts, hometown associations, so there have been different efforts, but, you know, the -- in the aftermath of the earthquake, what was very significant is that a lot of young people, a lot of young Haitian-Americans really became -- if not reengaged but even more committed to Haiti, more committed in a way that would -- and they sort of -- we're sort of asking for a greater presence or greater voice, whether it's through the Diaspora Federation who has a representative at -- within the international Haiti Reconstruction Commission, other nonvoting position, interestingly enough, but, you know, even through the international agencies, relief agencies.
HERMANTINAgain, we find that while there's been a great outpouring of support in terms of monetary donations to these agencies, there's very, very little effort as far as we have been able to observe to engage higher -- bring aboard Haitian-Americans with the cultural competency and the requisite skills to go back and work in Haiti, so it's been very frustrating. And when you go to Haiti and you look at the aid workers, the expats, they're very few -- they're few among us who work for them, who work -- who are able to contribute to the reconstruction effort in that capacity.
NNAMDIManolia, you come from a younger generation of Haitian-Americans, a group who are often born in the U.S. and may at times never really thought of yourself as Haitian, have you always thought of yourself as Haitian?
CHARLOTINWell, I was raised a bit different than most of my counterparts. I was born here in the States, but I spent some time of my childhood in Haiti. When we came back to the States, my mother was very clear with me. At home, I'm Haitian. We spoke Creole. We ate Haitian food, and she was severe the way most Haitian parents are. Thank God. At school and elsewhere she says...
NNAMDIDid you have a tendency to misbehave?
CHARLOTINNo. It's just that Haitian parents are -- I think most immigrant parents are known to be a bit more severe because they want to reserve the traditions that they hold dear from their home country.
NNAMDIThat's what my son...
CHARLOTINOf course, as a young...
NNAMDI...say about me, but I deny it.
NNAMDIBut go ahead. (laugh)
CHARLOTINExactly. What I'm find -- so I've always been known as the Haiti girl. I've also, you know, danced folklore, and that was able to help me retain my culture. But my counterparts are completely drawn to the idea that they have something valuable to add because many of them are young professionals who are born and raised here and therefore have the cultural competency that Leonie was referring to. But a clear example of that is four days after the earthquake, a group of young African-American, Haitian-American and Latinos came together. They brought over a hundred nonprofits in Boston together to do the -- still the largest massive effort from Boston to support victims in Haiti. They collected over -- about $20,000 and over 3,000 boxes of goods and services.
CHARLOTINNow, this is at a time where the government, our state government was not allowing us to send anything there. So we had to go around the state and find an alternative measure and found a ship that would bring the cargo to Haiti. It took us then three weeks just to follow and make sure that those items went to Haiti and were received and distributed appropriately.
CHARLOTINNow, I'm not saying that wouldn't have happened before, but the level of organization and interest and follow-through within the younger generation has definitely, significantly increased. Now, 10 months later, you have quite a few significant Haitian students trying to put together a database of Haitian students and professionals who are available to go down to Haiti. You have multiple fundraisers still going on within the Haitian-American constituency, and you have a lot of sort of cultural awareness happening, too, where you have folks like Edwidge Danticat speaking to several college campuses. So the interest, the real interest and commitment to Haiti has significantly increased from my generation, and it will be something that I think will sustain itself over the long run.
NNAMDIEdwidge Danticat is, of course, the famous Haitian novelist and writer. We're talking about the Haitian diaspora and its impact on events in Haiti. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing how the Haitian diaspora can influence or not influence in events in Haiti. We're talking with Manolia Charlotin, editor and business manager of the Boston Haitian Reporter and cofounder of Haiti 2015. She joins us from studios at WBOR in Boston. Joining us from studios at WLRN in Miami, Fla. is Leonie Hermantin, deputy director of Lambi Fund of Haiti, which is a grassroots environmental organization. Dr. Joseph Baptiste joins us in our Washington studio. He is chairman of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and cofounder of the Haitian diaspora Federation. Joseph Baptiste, the really big Haitian communities in the U.S. are in Miami, New York and Boston. But here in the Washington region, the community is still quite large and quite influential. Tell us about the local community.
BAPTISTELocal community here is very influential. We are the people here that are looking up to go and talk to people in the White House, Congress and talk about -- put Haiti back into the world map. We are very, I would say, the advocating group that actually would go in -- go to the State Department, by example, to advocate for better -- Haiti's program, how they can implement this program and advocate for use of our talents. I think that, again, we're Haitian-American and we could probably can use our talents in the best way to they're still try to figure out how they can use us as far as a -- and to do building process for Haiti. And I can tell them that they're expert. Even though they're expert on Haiti, but we bring something on the table that we speak the language.
BAPTISTEWe familiarize with the area. We got our families still living back home. So we are Haitians. We use our talent to try to implement their program. Most recently, we went to IDB that we know that have some money to education in Haiti. So we did that. We do have a lot of educators here. They are very smart people that can actually help you and put a program in education and investing better education in Haiti. So those are one way that -- and again, use our talent and see -- our expertise, we see how they can bring us back in Haiti to provide that wisdom.
NNAMDILeonie, can you tell us a little bit about the Haitian community in Miami, Florida?
HERMANTINWell, you know, I don't know. I think that one of the issues that hasn't been addressed yet is why there's resistance to the Haitian diaspora. And I don't know if you wanna explore that at some point, but I think that it's a significant one to explore.
NNAMDIThen let's explore it right now.
HERMANTINYou know, I think that, you know, maybe all the panelists will tell you that when you go to Haiti, there's this absolute resistance particularly from the government and sometimes even from, you know, the population itself to the diaspora. To some extent, we're seen as sometimes even the quote, unquote, "ugly Americans" who come back with a certain sense of -- well, you know, in the States, we do it that way. We have a sense of, you know, the punctuality, the time, the vision. Sometimes it varies, but -- so I think that at some level, there is resistance to the diaspora because we also say that we sent a billion dollars. We always remind, you know, our counterparts in Haiti that we do send a billion dollars -- over a billion dollars to Haiti. So I think that, you know, from our perspective, there needs to be a little more sensitivity to that fact, to the fact that Haitians in Haiti are very somewhat resentful that we sort of throw this in their face most of the time.
NNAMDIBut Leonie, in a way, isn't this a part of a universal immigrants story? You leave the country you were born in. You adapt to life in another country, in this case the U.S. You still retain a strong sense of tradition and culture, but over two or three decades, your home country evolves and all of a sudden, the Haiti for you or the Guyana for me that you remember isn't the Haiti that actually exists. Is this a part of what you think you're going through?
HERMANTINYeah. No. It's -- the Haiti of my childhood has become a construct.
HERMANTINHas become this sort of idealized construct, I think, that for most of us where the world was perfect. Children knew their places and et cetera, et cetera. But I think that as we, as a diaspora, are really poised to go to Haiti in different capacities. We need to do sort of a check, an internal check, to look at sometimes what our attitudes are. And sometimes I also think that when we go with international organizations, we also need to be questioning the policies that we are asked to go and implement. I think that that's sometimes the resistance to the Haitian diaspora because in some cases -- I can't generalize because I haven't conducted a study, but I know that some members of the diaspora sometimes question certain policies which they know because of their cultural competency will not work. So I think that these are some of the obstacles that affect us in both ways. In one way, the population sometimes resents us in some ways. And then on the other hand, the international community is sort of afraid of our comments or criticisms and our resistance to implement policies which we know may be more harmful than beneficial to the population.
NNAMDIManolia, allow me to bring you in on this because it strikes me that even if you speak Creole as you do, even if you spent a good chunk of your life in Haiti as you did, even if you call it home and visit frequently, Haitian American would also have trouble really understanding everything that is going on in Haiti. Would that apply to you?
CHARLOTINAgain, I'm a unique case. Like I said, the way I was raised was a bit different. You know, I was raised to have respect for people who live in a home country because at the end of the day there, what we call in French (speaks foreign language), is a bit more authentic than mine, given that I'm living in another country. But I think most Haitian Americans that go down, like Leone mentioned, have a certain different sense of perception because they live in a different country, right? But I think what's important to acknowledge is that when you're going into anyone's homeland, where they live, you have to respect them and their traditions. You have to respect how they do things.
CHARLOTINWhen we had co-founded Haiti 2015, one of the most frequent statements we would get from folks who do work in Haiti often or who are living in Haiti said, (speaks foreign language), and that translates, you don't know the terrain, you don't know how things are on the ground. In other words, you live in the States, you don't know how things are operating, you don't know how our deals get made, you don't know how people are mobilized in Haiti. So since you don't know, you have to come learn, right?
CHARLOTINAnd so that's what we did. We came to learn and so I think -- I always tell people I come from the two most egocentric peoples on the planet and that's being an American and being Haitian. And what that means is, you know, as an American, you think you have the best way to do everything and as a Haitian you think you have the best way of doing everything too. And so those things sort of coincide when it comes to Haitian Americans going down to either help or to start new ventures. I think being respectful of someone's living condition -- they live in the country every single day -- is important, and being respectful to the kind of expertise and discipline and training that Haitians will live abroad bring needs to be respected as well.
HERMANTINIf I may add...
NNAMDILeonie Hermantin, go ahead.
HERMANTINYes. I worked in Haiti -- I've worked with my Haitian counterpart for the first -- for about four years now. And, you know, about took us a year to sort of get used to one another, to get used to my American style and need to be used to their Haitian style. It took fight sometimes, we fought. You know, I was called the desperate and I called people other names, but we were very honest with one another about our differences, about our difference in working, but we were all united. I think that what really helped us worked together is that we knew that we had a mission, you know, we were working for the empowerment of rural communities. And that's basically what the -- and the fact that we were Haitian. We were Haitian, you know? I've been in the United States for 40 years and, you know, of course, that informs my approach to things, but at the end of the day we knew that we were, you know, as the Creole saying said, this is where my umbilical cord is tied, it's in Haiti. And so, I knew that my, you know, I was there to help and that -- and so it really helped us forge a very, very strong bond because of our commitment to Haiti.
NNAMDIYou talked about an issue that Manolia raised and I'd like for us to discuss the kind of urban bias that we have...
NNAMDI...when it comes to Haiti. Sixty percent of Haitians live outside major cities, most of them living on less than $2 a day. But the Haitian government and the international community has tended to focus on Port-au-Prince and urban development initiatives. Leonie, you called these people the invisibles of Haiti, but as the recent cholera scare showed, these communities are also very vulnerable.
HERMANTINAbsolutely. And, you know, they are considered invisible because they have no voice. And, you know, this is one of the things that in terms of -- in reaction to the earthquake, we've really -- as far as Lambi Fund is concerned, we've strengthen our advocacy effort to amplify their voices, to make sure that they're heard. And we have been warning about this sort of cholera outbreak because we knew the conditions under which they were living particularly after people fled to the countryside and went to live in this rural communities, communities which were already lacking some of the basic infrastructure in terms of latrine and access to clean water.
HERMANTINSo, the absence of government involvement in the countryside really stems back, again, we're gonna go to the international people to the structural adjustments we took place in the 1980s, which basically stopped all investments into the rural infrastructure whether it's irrigation, help to farmers, and focus on the city, on building factories and on being part of that international new world order where countries like Haiti would produce goods, export them and actually import things like rice, subsidize food from the United States and from other countries. And so, this negligence, neglect of the rural communities is linked to international policies that really devastated the countryside in the '80s and actually caused the massive migration of people from rural communities to Port-au-Prince.
HERMANTINIn the 1980s, before the whole structural adjustment led by the World Bank, there were about 500,000 people living in Haiti. And in the aftermath, there are now close to two million people living in Port-au-Prince. So, I just wanna say that the neglect, again, is not accidental or incidental. It's definitely part of an economic policy implemented by the international community.
NNAMDIJoseph Baptiste, the urban bias has been a critique about Haiti for a long time as Leonie was just pointing out, but there are those who feel that the earthquake recovery could be an opportunity to re-focus our priorities. What can people on the outside do about that?
BAPTISTEWell, again, you have to decentralize. There's two different Haiti, one is Port-au-Prince and then Haiti. So they have to really look beyond Port-au-Prince as far as to help Haitians. There has a lot of lands that can be rebuilt. Let's go back to agriculture because luckily Haiti is one land that can be really used for weave baskets so we can feed our people again. And so there's a lot of things that we can do to help. This is a great opportunity that we have to really concentrate how to set up Port-au-Prince, how we can rebuild Haiti in the best way we can. We have project like Lake Lakay that not only would create housing projects but as well as job creation, that same area where they have the housing projects. And this is our set Port-au-Prince.
BAPTISTEThe reason they go to Port-au-Prince, by the way, is through the fact that's the only place they can find a job right now. And this is a policy that's been done since Duvalier, when they'd bring the people in to Port-au-Prince to call Duvalier and so wanted to stay in Port-au-Prince. And that's why you see the slum, like Cite Soleil, still there and they didn't turn back home. And now that we have the earthquake, it's hard for them to go back home because they left home for 10, 15, 30 years. And there's no place for them outside their home. So we have to provide them a place for them to stay and find work.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the Haitian diaspora and the influence it has inside Haiti and the work that members of the diaspora are doing in Haiti in trying to influence events in Haiti. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the Haitian diaspora in Haiti. We're talking with Dr. Joseph Baptiste. He's chairman of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and co-founder of the Haitian Diaspora Federation. We're also talking with Manolia Charlotin, editor and business manager for the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015, and Leonie Hermantin, deputy director of Lambi Fund of Haiti, which is a grassroots environmental organization.
NNAMDIManolia, I picked up -- I went to the website of the Boston Haitian Reporter this morning. And there was a headline on an article there by Alix Cantave. It says "UMass focuses on improving and rebuilding Higher Education in Haiti." Talking about the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture, the University of Massachusetts leading an effort to create a consortium of colleges and universities to support rebuilding and improving higher education in Haiti. That it seems to as an influence of the Haitian community in Massachusetts. Is it not?
CHARLOTINYes. Because Massachusetts is, as everyone knows, especially Boston, is an education center of the world. And so that is one thing that we can definitely contribute -- is that to help build the higher education system in Haiti. It's something that, I think, that Alix and other professors and heads of institutions that are Haitian-American feel that very strongly about, you know. If we're talking about rebuilding a country and -- our part in that, we have to talk about building institutions, right? And you can't sustain education without building structures and institutions. And I think that is something that's very important to the diaspora.
CHARLOTINIn terms of -- I want to touch about -- I want to touch on some other different local efforts that are happening as well. Like one major central thing that the diaspora might have issues with is the whole projects and, you know, organizations and hometown associations. There's a bunch of little things going on, right? But I've been hearing as a sense and a resounding call from the diaspora. They want a vision for the country, right? And they want to be an integral part of that vision. I think many diaspora -- they live in countries like in the United States and Canada and France, where there is a vision of those countries that is articulated and then implemented into a plan. There are priorities set by government. There are institutions being built by different members in different part of the society.
CHARLOTINAnd I think that the diaspora is at the point where they want to see a vision for the country. And they wanted to come from Haiti. But they wanna also be part of implementing that plan. This sort of little projects and these sort of smaller organizations, everyone doing their little bits and pieces, is not enough. I think we've hit a point. And I think that many diaspora felt like the earthquake was an opportunity for that. That was the major silver lining that we'd finally, as a people, come together no matter where we live and have a vision and have a plan and be implemented -- so that over a time we can sustain ourselves as a nation. I think that said something...
NNAMDIWhich brings us to politics, Joseph Baptiste...
NNAMDI...and Leonie Hermantin. Let's talk about politics. As we speak, Haiti is preparing for elections with 19 people running for the presidency. Even though Haitians abroad cannot vote, many of the candidates have been coming here to speak with you. What do they say? Why are they coming? First, you, Leonie Hermantin.
HERMANTINWell, you know, I have to tell you frankly. I have not been listening too much, because I still -- I've heard platitudes. I've heard promises. I've heard people speak to our interest. They know that the diaspora is interested in getting involved. So there are always promises of greater involvement from the diaspora. But my perspective, frankly, is not about -- is not that much about the promise of diaspora involvement. My preoccupation is about the Haitian people and how their voices are included in this vision. I know that when you last spoke of a plan, the government does have a plan as does the private sector. But recently, Oxfam brought in a pheasant farmer to visit, and she kept saying, I hear that there's a plan. We hear that there's a plan. Well, we're happy that there's a plan, but we've never been consulted on the plan. And so my preoccupation -- and I haven't heard it from the candidates yet -- is how they involve -- they engage bottom up development, meaning, you know, how do they get the people from the countryside, the farmers, the poor workers, how they get them involved in this vision for the country. And I have not been satisfied yet with what I've heard.
NNAMDIJoseph Baptiste, what have you been hearing from all of the candidates who have been coming here? John, who lives in Haiti, have been complaining, we've been talking to them. They've been hearing a great deal of platitudes. They haven't been hearing a great deal of policy. And it seems like Haitians and the diaspora, as has been said on this program already, are looking for a vision that they can clearly understand.
BAPTISTEThat's correct. And as a matter of fact, we're planning to have a presidential debate here in Washington, and that was cancelled because of lack of interest of the candidate itself because we want to ask them pertinent question about their vision of Haiti for the next five years when they become president. So we are...
NNAMDIThey want your money, but they don't want your questions.
BAPTISTEThat's correct. They don't want our input or whatever. So that's been the question about the presidential candidates. They have 19 of them running right now. And to me, to see how much money that they're spending in this campaign in Haiti is ludicrous, where people are still out on the street, people still begging for food and so on. And this is outrageous. I know there's democracy need to be for Haiti, but this is really outrageous that's why I'm concerned.
HERMANTINI have to say that there was one candidate, the party of (unintelligible) spent -- has $20 million available to spend on the campaign for the party.
HERMANTINAccording to the man he held, they just over $3 million buying cars just for a month of campaigning while people have been scrambling for shelter. People have been scrambling for clean water. It's obscene. That's the only word that I can use for what I've seen happening during those campaigns.
NNAMDIThe most visible sign, it is my understanding, in Port-au-Prince these days are campaign posters for people who are running for president. Manolia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island but not much health. I know a lot of people have asked how the Dominican could have such a different development trajectory from Haiti. But I also like to compare how they approach their diasporas. There are huge clusters of Dominican Americans across the country. And unlike in Haiti, they have dual citizenship or they can have it. They can even vote in presidential elections. Why do you think there is such a difference?
CHARLOTINI think it goes back to vision. And I think it goes back to respecting institution. I mean, yes, the Duvalier era was a very difficult era for many Haitians, but there were some good things that were built during that era. Yes, the Aristide presidencies were tumultuous for many different reasons, but there were some good things established there as well. And, yes, we can say that Preval has failed many different times in many different policy areas, and in this election now. But there are some good things built there too. I think common vision to improve the country, like Leonie said, has to come from the bottom up. There have to be people who actually care about their country and want to establish sustainability and not out for themselves.
CHARLOTINWhat we've seen is many politicians and some members of the diaspora go back to Haiti or who are in Haiti are looking out for their self-interest. And at the end of the day, you know, the island is not -- Haiti is not the island. Haiti is the people. And, therefore, if there is no vision like Leonie said where there's a plan where there's -- the people are consulted about that plan. There's no buy in. And if there's no buy in, you don't have a real -- you don't have leadership that has visions to actually implement something that the people want. I mean, you have to want to improve from the bottom up and from the top down if that's to happen for any country.
CHARLOTINI also don't think it's fair to compare the Dominican Republic and Haiti because they have two different histories although their histories have been shared in different times, but, you know, Haiti did what other countries, you know, had not yet done. You know, we brought freedom to many peoples, including our own. And so I think...
NNAMDIAnd that's what we'll be talking about in the next hour. But go ahead.
CHARLOTINAnd I think because of that very strong history and what we do with that freedom, I think that unique history sets us apart in terms of once things start to -- started to head down hill in terms of fail policies and fail presidencies and/or dictatorships, it's very difficult to get it back up because you have this very, very strong history that folks are trying to held their heads up high and live up to. So I think it's very difficult to sort of compare the two islands. But the one thing I do see is missing and that I have heard time and time again for the diaspora and from Haitians in Haiti is that we need a vision for the country that involves the people and they're -- and not one leader can come and be a messiah and help make that happen.
CHARLOTINBut it needs to be over time that institutions are respected, they are built, and we respect whether you live -- whether you're from Leogane, whether you're from Port-au-Prince, whether you're from Dondon, whether you're from Jacmel. It shouldn't matter where you're from. You are Haitian and you have a contribution to the betterment of your country.
NNAMDIBut that is a vision that, it would appear, would have to cross class lines, Joseph Baptiste and Leonie Hermantin, because Haiti is a country deeply divided by class. There's a relatively small affluent class of people, a huge portion of the population that lives in the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere. And it occurs to me that many of the leaders in the Diaspora community also come from a more professional background. Is there a danger that the divisions that play out in Haiti end up recreating themselves here?
BAPTISTEI agree with you on that. The division is really deep and this is where we have to start. We have to start within ourselves to make sure that we respect each other. And this is where, I think, that if you need to have a vision for a future for Haiti, we really have to really rally within ourselves and see we can get the division that is really, you know, history. And so we're talking about people -- to give you an example, in Haiti, there is what they call the peasant, and then the peasant really is not Haitian. That's what the division is.
NNAMDISo people will tell you the peasant is not Haitian at all.
BAPTISTEWell, they're Haitian in a way, but then they are, I would say, not a citizen. That's why they're called a peasant, and then...
BAPTISTE...you have a citizen of Haiti. And so there's a deep division between the two. And then gonna come -- after that you have the small economic elite that is -- feel like they are way beyond the peasant and the Haitian people. And really that's why they see yourself as a middle class. And so that division is so deep between all three classes that -- I think that we have to find a way to really get ourselves as a Haitian and -- so we can work together, respect each other and -- so we can move forward. With that division, we won't be able to apply our visions.
NNAMDILeonie Hermantin, do you think the Haitian Diaspora, if allowed to be more influential in Haiti's internal politics, can help to bridge that divide?
HERMANTINWell, it depends. Again, not all Diaspora are similarly situated. I remember growing up in the '70s in New York and -- where my family would tell me strictly that I was not to speak Creole, that even though we were in the United States, you should not forget your social standing.
BAPTISTEYes. Very well.
HERMANTINAnd so there was a hardening. Actually, with the Diaspora, and as I said, construct, there was a recreation of class in Haiti where we all were from palatial homes and we had 20 servants and -- you know, we just created this la la land about Haiti. And so the class lines, even within the Diaspora, were hardened.
HERMANTINI know -- so that's one group, and that's my generation. I'm in my 50s. I'm hoping that things have changed for the younger people, but I knew that in Miami...
CHARLOTINYes, they have.
HERMANTIN...in Miami -- thank you, Manolia -- and in Miami it's a different situation because the Diaspora itself has a different class status. The majority of people who came to Miami, a great number came from those remote rural communities. They came here by boat. And they, you know, made incredible lives for themselves through their entrepreneurship and their vision for their children. And so you have a lot of young professionals in Miami who are the children of those folks who made this incredible voyage by boat and who built, you know, great lives for themselves. These children don't have that sense of class identity. They are not French-speaking. They are doctors, lawyers, you know, professionals.
HERMANTINAnd sometimes when they go back to Haiti, this is where you have the clash of classes because they go back to Haiti talking to their, you know, professional counterparts who expect them to be conversant in French. And when that happens, when the fact that they cannot speak French, or they can only express themselves in a broken Creole or in English, that creates a gap, a space, and they feel it. They feel it not just in terms of language, in terms of color, because that C word also has, you know -- there are issues around that in Haiti. So if you are of the darker pigmentation and you don't speak French, and you have a name which places you in that geography of the outside, as it's called peasants sometimes, an deyo...
HERMANTIN...from the outside of the city...
HERMANTIN...if you have a Creole accent which places you in that geography, then you are looked upon as a different person. You are perhaps less -- you know, you are not one of the gang. You are one of them. And so, again, I hope that this changes. I know I've seen it traveling with people in Haiti where, you know, they could not be part of the -- you know, the name game. You know, my name is Leonie Hermantin. And they'll tell me, well, what's your mother's maiden name? And when I tell my mother's maiden name, they'd say, oh, I know -- I knew her or, I knew her sister. I went to medical school with her sister. So even as a Diaspora, I became part of that family. And that becomes very difficult for those who did -- never grew up in Port-au-Prince, whose parents were poor peasants who migrated to Miami or to other parts of the country. So even class, even within the Diaspora, means that my children would not be treated the same as the children of someone with a name that says clearly that they're from rural communities.
NNAMDIManolia, how is that changing?
CHARLOTINIt's changing because there's a different reality. I think Leonie's generation, many of those folks were already adults, you know, or they were at least, you know, in their late teens, I think.
HERMANTINWhen I was very young, Manolia.
CHARLOTINWell, I know my mom is in her 50's, and she was like in her 20's when she came here as is many of my own counterparts' parents. Not many -- in terms of the generations, there are different migration patterns, right?
CHARLOTINThere are some folk who came when they were older. But there's a huge constituency of Haitians that came as adults or younger adults. And so I think there's -- that sort of system has already sort of been played out in their minds so that they can have that experience that Leonie's referring to when they go back home. But as someone like me who's born in the States and I go to Haiti, I got a different reception because they know I don't -- they know I -- they will -- they assume that I don't speak French and they have a different assumption about where my family is from, because they just -- you know, you're an American, you know?
CHARLOTINWhen I do open my mouth and I do speak French and Creole and then I do say my last name or my maiden mother's last name then -- and I sort of taut this bit of I'm from, you know, and Port-au-Prince, it sort of, you know, throws them off a little bit. But then when you throw in your education in the States and you come with a, you know, sort of a high-caliber group of folks, it changes the dialogue. So I think that exchanges, it varies depending on who's in the room.
CHARLOTINBut in terms of the young people, in terms of folks my age who were going back to Haiti, there's a huge learning curves that needs to happen. But in that learning curve, we were not learned about the actual class system. You know, we were raised as Americans in terms of -- so we don't understand, we don't know and we have not lived that class structure in Haiti. So it's very different. So it doesn't play itself out here amongst our peers. We're just Haitian Americans.
NNAMDIWell, I do have a few more seconds so I will ask Joseph Baptiste. If you ask Haitians or most Haitians in Haiti what they think about the U.S., it's -- I guess you'd get a pretty complex answer, would you not?
BAPTISTEYes, definitely. But I think that all of them see the U.S. as a land of opportunity. And the fact that we're here, we send them money back and for remittances and everything else, we become the life call of Haiti's economy in Haiti. So they're always looking at the diaspora as the land of opportunity. However, seeing that when they have so many NGOs in Haiti, the U.S. that were visiting NGOs in Haiti, they see them as -- in a different light.
NNAMDILet's talk about that for a second. Because over the last nine or 10 months, Haiti has seen an influx of NGOs, not only from the U.S. but around the world. At their best, these NGOs are able to adapt much quicker than government agencies. They can experiment with innovative ideas. On the other hand, they can also seem unaccountable and wasteful. Do you think there may be too many people in Haiti trying to help?
BAPTISTEYes. We got almost, I would say, maybe three or 4,000 NGOs in Haiti right now, and most of them unaccounted for. The government of Haiti don't even know that they're existing. And they have their own money, sometime they have even more money than the Haitian government itself. So they become not a problem, but in other word, they have to really get themselves in a ways that -- so they can work, so they can leave something behind for Haiti. And right now, again, I'll make my statement is that they also reacting on emergency basis not on a long-term basis for Haiti. And it's time for them to really start working a long-term project that can give a vision again in order for them to work symbiotically to leave something back for the country.
NNAMDILeonie, I have get to let you weigh in on that.
HERMANTIN(laugh) Well, you know, I have to concur that there is -- there's been this deluge of NGOs, some of them -- most of them well intended but -- intentions, but, you know, unfortunately, lacking the coordination from the government. And also, you know, we've been approached -- the Lambi Fund has been approached by many organizations to partner with. And we've had to sort of decline working with them because they still believe that they're coming in to teach us what to do without really including our voices. So we've had to sometimes decline partnership with some of these new organizations because they would not agree to our bottom-up approach, our inclusive approach where we let people sort of let us know what they need, what they want and we support them along the way.
HERMANTINSo it's been disheartening to see that folks have been giving money to organizations which don't know the terrain, don't know the culture and sometimes come in with the attitude that they're gonna teach people what to do and not leave them with the skills and the tools to continue the work once the money works out. Because for us, if you're not coming in to help us be sustainable, if you're not coming in to help us carry on whatever you are investing for the long run, then don't -- you don't need to come.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Leonie Hermantin is deputy director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti, which is a grassroots environmental organization. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIManolia Charlotin is editor and business manager with the Boston Haitian Reporter and co-founder of Haiti 2015. Manolia, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Joseph Baptiste is chairman of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians and co-founder of the Haitian Diaspora Federation. He's a dentist at the JB Dental Implant and Reconstruction Center in Silver Spring, Md. Dr. Baptiste, thank you for joining us.
BAPTISTEThank you so much for the invitation. I really appreciate the time.
NNAMDIAnd good luck to all of you and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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