Statement of Dr. Ron Daniels, Founder of the Haiti Support Project
On the Occasion of the Welcoming Reception of the Diaspora Reconnection Forum
July 12, 2006, Port Au Prince, Haiti
To Serge Parisien, our Coordinator and Dumarais Simeus, the Chairman, Honorable Rene Preval, President of the Republic, Members of Government, Ambassador Janet Sanderson, Ambassador Claude Boucher, Ambassador Christian Connan, other members of the diplomatic corp, sisters, brothers and friends, the Haiti Support Project (HSP) applauds you for convening us, and I welcome the opportunity to offer a few remarks at what is potentially a historic gathering, the Disapora Reconnection Forum.
I would first like to offer commendations to President Rene Preval for assuming the mantle of leadership at yet another critical moment in the life of a great people in their collective aspiration to fulfill the promise of one of the greatest revolutions the world has ever witnessed, the Haitian Revolution, which produced the first Black Republic. Reminiscent of the late great Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, some have called you the “reluctant President,” a man who did not initially aspire to a second term but rather heeded the call of citizens of the Republic from all walks of life, but especially the masses of peasants, workers and the poor, to rescue, heal and restore the nation in a moment of great national trauma. And, Mr. President, in undertaking this awesome responsibility, we commend you for your clarion call for dialogue, reconciliation and your courageous effort to bridge the deep social, economic and political divisions which have so often hindered Haiti on its path to a vital, vibrant democracy and sustainable economy.
This approach is consistent with the message which HSP sought to convey at the two National/International Symposia on the Future of Democracy and Development which we convened in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta in 2005 (the latter Symposium in collaboration with Ambassador Andrew Young) and in private and public conversations and meetings with leaders across the political spectrum and leaders from various social strata and sectors in Haiti. In the interest of the long suffering but resilient, energetic, hard working and gifted Haitian people, it is time for a critical mass of Haitian leaders to put the needs of the society and nation first. In that regard, a government of justice, reconciliation, national purpose and unity are the order of the day! And, in this pursuit, the critical term is justice — social, economic and political justice for the vast majority who are locked at the bottom in Haitian society, including the most angry and alienated among the dispossessed. Without justice for Haiti´s “wretched of the earth,” there will be perennial chaos and instability in the land and all that we collectively aspire to achieve at this momentous conference will be for naught. Without security based on justice, economic development will be a tantalizingly frustrating mirage. “No Justice, No Peace!”
And, so we must all collectively share the burden and responsibility for the uplift of Haiti, and that is very much the vision and mission of the Reconnection Forum – to fully engage the diaspora in all dimensions of the process of democracy and development in Haiti. As an African American, I have come to this Forum to reaffirm the commitment of the Haiti Support Project to work as partners with our Haitian American and Haitian sisters and brothers in this crucial process. Indeed, it is our mission to build a constituency for Haiti in the U.S. primarily by galvanizing the moral, political and material support of African Americans. For more than a decade we have been diligently devoted to this mission. And, as many of you may recall, untold multitudes of African Americans and the public in general were introduced to Haiti´s extraordinary history and culture as we relentlessly promoted Cruising Into History, a Carribean Pilgrimage which, in spite of the insecurity and turbulent political waters in Haiti, attracted more than five hundred people to share in the commemoration of the Bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution.
As an outgrowth of and follow-up to that initiative, HSP is currently organizing a Pilgrimage to Haiti October 5-9th of this year to enlist 75 -100 African American and Haitian American political, civil rights/human rights, civic, religious, labor, business and professional leaders, educators, artists/entertainers and opinion makers to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Citadel. The Pilgrimage will also mark the official launch of a Model City Initiative, a five-year concentrated campaign which seeks to transform the town of Milot, strategically situated on the route to the Citadel, into a Mecca for cultural-historical tourism and socially responsible economic development.
Some have asked, why should African Americans show an interest in the development of Haiti. To that we respond, all people of African descent owe a special debt to Haiti for a Revolution that shattered the myth of white supremacy and gave us back our dignity at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the holocaust of enslavement. But not only do African Americans owe a debt to Haiti, the United States owes a debt to Haiti. Haitian troops fought in the crucial battle of Savannah in the Revolutionary War and the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly doubled the size of the newly emerging nation, would not have been possible without the success of the Haitian Revolution. Moreover, despite a shamefully discriminatory policy towards Haitian refugees, Haitian Americans continue to make major contributions to the economic, cultural and political life of our nation. Therefore, most assuredly, if the United States can spend billions of dollars building democracy in distant lands like Iraq, certainly it can patiently engage and substantially invest in building democracy in a Black Republic on its doorstep which has contributed so much to the evolution and development of our country.
And so, Brother Parisien and Brother Simeus, the Haiti Support Project welcomes this opportunity to pursue its mission to mobilize African Americans to be part of the process of building democracy and development in Haiti, including holding our government accountable for a policy of sustained and constructive engagement consistent with the aspirations and sovereignty of the Haitian People. Indeed, we ask for your support for our recommendation that the Government of Haiti create an African American Advisory Commission for Haitian Development. Working together, Haitian Americans and African Americans must forge a formidable partnership to share in the process of democracy and development in Haiti. Together we dream of a day when Haiti will no longer be disdainfully referred to as “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.” Working together, we must join with our sisters and brothers in Haiti in fulfilling the promise of the Haitian Revolution. In this great endeavor, in the name of our ancestors, we must not and will not fail!