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24748: Hermantin(News)Advisory group releases report on how Florida can aid Haiti
leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Advisory group releases report on how Florida can aid Haiti
Gov. Bush lauds recommendations on helping Caribbean nation
By Alva James-Johnson
and Doreen Hemlock Staff WriterS
April 12, 2005
MIAMI -- Gov. Jeb Bush and Interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue
sat side-by-side Monday as the governor's Haiti Advisory Group released
recommendations on how Florida can help the struggling Caribbean nation.
The advisory group unveiled the 243-page report at a luncheon kicking off
the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida, which drew more than
300 people to a downtown hotel.
Bush set up the task force in July after his first trip to Haiti. Made up
mainly of prominent Haitian-Americans living in Florida, the group made 25
recommendations on security, economic development and disaster preparedness.
The group calls for Florida to begin Florida-Haiti professional and student
exchange programs; mobilize Haitian hometown associations; provide law
enforcement and public safety training in Haiti, and host political
reconciliation talks for the island nation of 8 million people.
Florida has the largest Haitian-American population overseas, estimated by
the task force to be almost 500,000. Other estimates say half of that
population lives in South Florida. Worldwide, at least $1 billion is sent
back yearly by Haitians to help sustain Haiti's economy. Bush saw
opportunities for the Diaspora to do even more, working with Florida's new
"Imagine if we organize ourselves and ask every member of the Diaspora to
buy a Haitian product, help a small business or travel to Haiti," Bush told
the luncheon crowd.
The governor described the recommendations as "first-class" and "doable ...
short- and long-term goals that can be immediately worked on."
Using Latortue as an example, he called Haiti's Diaspora its greatest
resource. He thanked the prime minister for leaving retirement in
comfortable Boca Raton to return to his impoverished and troubled homeland.
"You're a hero in my eyes, Mr. Prime Minister," Bush said. "We welcome you
back to Florida."
But while the governor and other attendees praised the solidarity between
Florida and Haiti, more than 50 protesters outside called for Latortue's
ouster and the return from exile of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
They charged the Bush administration with kidnapping Aristide, a claim that
U.S. State Department officials deny.
"[President] Bush ... sent someone to take my president out," said Lamerci
Frenel, a Miami shopkeeper born in Haiti 60 years ago. She carried a sign
saying, "Coup d'etat and kidnapping are terrorist acts. Fight terrorism in
When questioned by the Haitian news media after lunch, Latortue dismissed
calls for his resignation, saying his team that took office in 2004 should
be allowed to organize elections this fall and hand over power to a new
government next February. He said none of his Cabinet would seek elected
Latortue said he has been laying the foundation to rebuild Haiti's economy
by getting its financial house in order.
When he came to office last year, Haiti had a fiscal deficit of roughly $60
million. It now has a surplus, with the Central Bank holding "the largest
reserves in Haiti's history," Latortue said.
To stem the flow of red ink, the government cracked down on tax evasion and
slashed unnecessary spending, including outlays on foreign lobbyists. It
also closed dozens of checking accounts at government offices that had been
used to funnel cash into private accounts for politicians and their friends.
Plus it tightened up management at money-losing state companies, the prime
minister said, especially the electricity and phone companies known for
waste and corruption.
Latortue said the fiscal discipline has paid off, with Haiti's currency now
stabilized at about 38 gourdes per U.S. dollar, compared to 45 or more last
year. Furthermore, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and
InterAmerican Development Bank are starting to disburse tens of millions of
dollars to Haiti -- in some cases for the first time in nearly a decade. The
international community has pledged $1.4 billion to help Haiti rebuild, he
"The conditions are set now for Haiti to go forward," Latortue said. "And we
count on you, the Diaspora."
Alva James-Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel