Will Haiti tap its overseas talent?
By Joel Dreyfuss
When the U.N. convenes a group of wealthy countries to declare their financial commitment to rebuild Haiti on Wednesday, Haitian-Americans will be paying careful attention. Their focus will not be simply on how much money the "donor" countries are putting up, but whether there will be a role for the two million Haitians and hyphenated Haitians living in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Like many poor countries, Haiti has suffered a massive brain drain over the last 40 years. One international agency estimates that 80 percent of all college-educated Haitians live outside of the country. Many have been highly successful. The second largest ethnic group of doctors in New York City public hospitals is Haitian. There are Haitian academics, police administrators, middle and senior managers in corporations and elected officials all over the U.S.
I attended a dinner of my fellow Haitian-American professionals in New York last night that included bankers, lawyers, a judge, senior civil servants, a philanthropic executive, several doctors, an architect, an accountant and an art director. The number-one topic of conversation was how much they wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of Haiti and how they worried about being shut out.
It would seem logical for Haiti to tap a deep overseas talent pool that could bring first-world expertise and an intimate knowledge of Haiti's quirks and culture to the rebuilding effort. But none around the table were assured that their voices, their vision or even their skills will be in the reconstruction.
It's interesting to compare the treatment of Haitians abroad and their counterparts from the Dominican Republic, their neighbors on the island of Hispaniola. Dominicans in the U.S. are deeply integrated into the activities of their home country. They can hold dual citizenship, and they can vote in Dominican elections. Dominican presidential candidates campaign in New York's Dominican neighborhoods and, in turn, Dominicans have elected presidents who spent most of their professional lives in the U.S.
By contrast, Haitians abroad have long been held at arm's length and even viewed with some suspicion in their native country. For years, the "Diaspora" label for Haitians abroad was considered an insult. Haiti's constitution forbids dual citizenship. Candidates for political office must have lived in the country five consecutive years leading to an election.
These restrictions have long been driven by fears that the Diaspos would compete with local talent for top positions and -- worse -- introduce concepts such as honest government, transparency and pursuit of the common good that have long been too rare in Haiti.
The expected flood of aid money -- and concern abroad that there is not enough management talent on the ground -- has the Haitian power structure singing a different tune. A PowerPoint presentation released last week by a powerful group of business leaders in Haiti opens with a slide touting the Diaspora's role. A bill voted by the current Haitian legislature would allow dual citizenship, but it can only become law if passed again in the next legislative term. A proposed oversight commission that would track spending and battle corruption in the reconstruction gives a seat to a representative of the Haitian Diaspora, but no vote in the proceedings.
While Haitians abroad will be grateful for the world community's contributions to rebuilding their native land, they will pay even closer attention to the structures that are put in place to monitor the spending -- and whether they can win a significant role in rebuilding Haiti Cherie.
Posted by: bizou20 | March 31, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: williambojan | March 31, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bernadetteshiels | April 6, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.