Sunday, October 16, 2005

 

The Washington Diplomat

In a lengthy interview with The Washington Diplomat, Joseph said the HERO Act�sponsored in the House by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.)�would create 100,000 to 150,000 jobs in Haiti�s once vibrant manufacturing sector.

�From 80,000 jobs at one time, the manufacturing sector has dwindled to 25,000 jobs,� Joseph says. �My priority is to help get this HERO Act passed in Congress in order to entice U.S. companies to come back to Haiti, especially in textiles. We think it would be a good thing, especially when China is gobbling up the whole market.�

The ambassador suggests that �passage of this act would go a long way to alleviate the problem of would-be economic refugees who desperately try to make it to Florida in search of a better life. Obviously, HERO will also benefit the United States, which won�t need to spend valuable resources in its interdiction of boat people, and in the incarceration of those who manage to get through the Coast Guard net. It will also mean less foreign aid going out from the United States to Haiti.�

But even non-protectionist members of Congress are likely to oppose HERO, given Haiti�s particularly volatile recent history.

At present, about 7,000 U.N. peacekeepers�mainly Brazilians, Argentines and Chileans�are maintaining law and order in a country that has suffered from anarchy ever since the overthrow of Jean-Claude �Baby Doc� Duvalier in 1986.

�I think 7,000 is not enough,� the ambassador says. �We need 12,000 to 15,000 troops, and they should be concentrated in Port-au-Prince, because the rest of the country is now quiet.� Joseph, 74, is Haiti�s first full-fledged ambassador in Washington since 1997. He represents the interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, who took over following the February 2004 ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. National elections to replace the current transitional government in Port-au-Prince are scheduled for Dec. 11, with a runoff set for Jan. 3.

Yet chaos and violence is nothing new for Haiti, which in 1804 became the world�s first independent black republic following a violent struggle against French colonizers. The ambassador, who looks considerably younger than his age suggests, has been around long enough to know that 200 years of poverty and bloodshed won�t be erased overnight. He was born in 1931 in the Dominican town of San Pedro de Macoris, which is famous for producing more professional baseball players than anywhere else on earth.

�My father left Haiti when he was 17, my mother when she was 20,� Joseph recalls. �I spent the first seven years of my life in the Dominican Republic. Spanish was my first language.� Like his father, a Baptist minister, Joseph devoted much of his life to religious studies. He attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and in 1960 translated the New Testament and psalms into Haitian Creole under the auspices of the American Bible Society.

Joseph later spent 19 years in New York under a death sentence imposed in absentia by the murderous regime of Francois �Papa Doc� Duvalier, who was enraged by his broadcasts and writings against the dictatorship. During that time, Joseph got a job as a financial reporter for the Wall Street Journal. From 1970 to 1984, he covered everything from the Manville asbestos trials to the advent of the Sony Walkman. In 1984, Joseph resigned from the Journal to edit the Brooklyn community newspaper he owned with his brother, Haiti L�Observateur.

According to a recent column in the New York Sun, �After the Duvaliers were ousted, Mr. Joseph served as charge d�affaires in Washington, but in 1991 he returned to the paper in Brooklyn. Although Mr. Joseph recognized the work against the Duvaliers of Jean-Bertand Aristide, he issued early warnings against Mr. Aristide�s penchant for dictatorship. In the past two years, he kept readers of both the Observateur and the Sun well ahead of the curve of Mr. Aristide�s descent.� Joseph returned as charge d�affaires of the Haitian Embassy in April 2004, and officially became ambassador in August 2005.

�When I presented my credentials, I had to bring in the letter of recall of the last ambassador, Jean Casimir, who left here in 1997,� he says. �There had been no Haitian ambassador for eight years, which means the former government didn�t give the United States the recognition it deserves. Mind you, this is the most powerful nation on earth, the biggest neighbor of Haiti, the one that did more to help the former government return to power than anyone else, and we didn�t even have diplomatic representation at the level of ambassador.� In his new capacity, Joseph oversees 40 staffers. The Haitian Embassy, fronting Massachusetts Avenue, operates on a monthly budget of $150,000, the bulk of that money coming from passport and visa fees. It maintains close ties with the Haitian-American community, estimated at 1.5 million. Joseph also supervises four Haitian consulates in New York, Miami, Chicago and Boston. A fifth consulate will be opening later this year in Orlando, Fla. In addition to the United States, large Haitian expatriate communities flourish in Canada, the Dominican Republic and the overseas French departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana.

�The Haitian Diaspora is what keeps Haiti alive, with about $1 billion in annual remittances,� Joseph says. In addition, Haiti last year received $1.2 billion in pledges from the international community, with more than $250 million coming from the U.S. government alone. According to Joseph, �The United States and Canada are the only countries that have met their obligations. xrjkaeihk VkBWUFhQXHNER15bHVpQRQ==
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