Tuesday, May 1, 2012


(Miami Herald) - By Jacqueline Charles

At a Miami Beach economic conference, top Haitian government officials are inviting Haitians elsewhere to return home and invest in the country.

A two-day Haiti investment conference opens in Miami Beach on Monday (April 23rd), where the focus is on getting Haitians living in South Florida and elsewhere to invest in their quake-battered homeland. The 2012 Investment Forum will feature 30 speakers, almost all of whom are Haitians. They include Haitian entrepreneurs already creating jobs in Haiti, outgoing Prime Minister Garry Conille and the country’s new ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor.

Organizers have also invited Laurent Lamothe, the country’s prime minister designate and current foreign minister, who has called on his ambassadors and consul generals to promote business diplomacy by promoting investment opportunities back home.

Business diplomacy, if utilized properly, could “lead to economic growth and job creation,” said Altidor, who served as vice president for programs and investment for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund before being tapped for his new diplomatic role.

But equally as important as the economic growth and job creation is the conversation Haitians in the diaspora need to have among themselves about how to better engage in their homeland’s future, said Johnny Celestin, executive director of the Haitian Diaspora Federation. The federation has partnered with the Sustainatopia conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Founded by Fort Lauderdale consultant John Rosser, Sustainatopia celebrates global and social change while focusing on Haiti’s sustainability.

Born out of the devastating January 2010 earthquake, the Haitian Diaspora Federation is composed of more than 20 nonprofit, mostly professional Haitian organizations. It seeks to organize Haitians in the diaspora while focusing on newer strategies to help Haitians living abroad better leverage themselves to bring social change to Haiti.

“What are Haitians in the diaspora investing in? They are sending money back home to support schools and clinics, to provide food and housing,” Celestin said. “We are not going to ask them to do more than they are doing. What we are saying, is to think about how you can do it differently to get better outcomes.”

For now, the focus will be in the areas of technology, agriculture, energy and infrastructure, including hospitality.

“There are so many opportunities that exist,” Celestin said.

But organizers and the Haitian government have their work cut out for them. After years of seeing opportunities come and go in a troubled Haiti, Haitians living abroad have become increasingly frustrated.

They complain about being their country’s “new cash cow,” as President Michel Martelly’s administration taxes their remittances and telephone calls for education but refuses to publish a constitutional amendment giving them greater rights including the power to own land hassle-free.

“The diaspora isn’t going to disengage with Haiti,” Celestin said. “We know that we are being milked. The question is: ‘What are we going to get out of it?’ We can’t just sit on the sidelines and not take chances.”

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