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9818: Black Caucus Asks Bush to Meet on Haiti (fwd)
Black Caucus Asks Bush To Meet On Haiti
by Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA)-Former Congressman Ron Dellums recalled the painful scene in the streets of Haiti last May.
''I had never seen so much overcrowdedness and poverty and people living on top of each other,'' he remembers. He said he even saw a man die before his eyes. ''How can I not try to stop this level of human misery if they think I can help?'' the 66-year-old former California Democrat told reporters at a press briefing here last week.
Dellums, now a consultant to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has agreed to take action in the wake of staggering poverty and increased drowning deaths among Haitians trying to reach America's shores.
He has convinced the 38-member Congressional Black Caucus to resume strong advocacy on behalf of Haiti. It is a move reminiscent of the early 1990s, when the CBC actively protested Haitian policies and Dellums himself was arrested for trespassing during a protest at the White House.
The caucus, on Nov. 8, sent a letter to President Bush, asking him for a meeting on the issue and imploring the U.S. to ''remove its blockade'' on monetary aid to Haiti, particularly the loans currently held up at the Inter-America Development Bank.
''Mr. President, the people of Haiti are suffering. Our current policy towards Haiti must be reviewed and changed to address the current state of economic devastation,'' the letter said. CBC leaders observed the U.S. should assist Haiti just as it has other countries during political impasses, instead of applying ''a double standard....Your help is critical in bringing about this change.''
The letter was signed by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), CBC chair; John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who has long advocated relief for Haiti; and Earl F. Hilliard (D-Ala.), who Dellums credited with suggesting the letter to Bush.
The U.S. and other donor nations have been withholding an estimated $500 million in development aid from Haiti until a compromise is established in a disputed election that took place in May of last year. In short, Aristide's governing Lavalas Family party has failed to agree with the opposition party, Democratic Convergence, on the winners of the election.
Meanwhile, adults and children, are suffering. With its population of 8 million people, Haiti has a per capita gross domestic product of only about $400 annually. More than 60 percent of its people are malnourished and it has an HIV positive population of 300,000.
''This is a disaster unfolding,'' Dellums explains. ''In a matter of years, you could wipe out Haiti if you don't address this problem.''
The CBC has not received a response from President Bush, according to Dellums. In response to questions from Final Call reporter Askia Muhammad, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer did not say whether the president would meet with the caucus.
''Certainly the stability of Haiti is an important part of America's foreign policy and will continue to be one,'' Fleischer replied. He promised to get ''more of the substantive details'' on the question of why the U.S. is withholding funds and blocking loans.
The Bush administration has given little indication that aid to the island will be renewed. Condoleeza Rice, Bush's National Security Advisor, openly criticized President Clinton's 1994 military intervention in Haiti to restore Aristide to power. She contends that the Haitian leader has yet to prove his commitment to democracy.
Secretary of State Colin Powell-a member of the mission sent by Clinton on the eve of the 1994 U.S. intervention to negotiate for the removal of the Haitian military-appears to lean more towards U.S. efforts to solidify democracy while avoiding a possible reemergence of military rule. In his January confirmation hearing, Secretary Powell encouraged the new administration to make Haiti a priority.
During the Clinton administration's efforts to settle the dispute, Haitians' attempts to flee the country had subsided after Aristide pleaded for their patience.
But the crisis is apparently growing once again as Haitians, as they did in the early 1990s, are heading for the Florida coast, desperate for better lives. In mid-November, approximately 150 Haitian migrants were reported missing and feared dead more than two weeks after they sailed away from Haiti's south coast in a sailboat on Oct. 30. The boat was later recovered empty.
The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said a boat of 113 Haitians was intercepted and turned back by the U.S. Coast Guard Nov. 14, but there was no indication it was the same missing boat, according to the Associated Press. On Nov. 11, a little girl drowned when a crowded boat of 216 Haitians sank off the coast. Everyone else made it to shore.
Dellums, who served in the House in Representatives from 1971 to 1998, has long focused on international human rights issues, including a stand against the war in Vietnam. The former CBC chair was also prime sponsor of the legislation that officially ended U.S. support for the South Africa's apartheid regime.
He said a definitive strategy has been mapped out to deal with the Haitian crisis. But he is first waiting for the response to the CBC letter.