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From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haiti President Préval calls on immigrants in S. Florida to help rebuild homeland

By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

June 26, 2006

Miami Beach -- Haitian President René Préval reached out to his country's diaspora Sunday, calling on the sons and daughters of the impoverished nation to help rebuild it.

Standing before an audience of about 400 people at the second annual Haiti Tourism Development Summit, the mild-mannered leader spoke with a soft voice, but his message of unity bellowed through the banquet hall at the Deauville Beach Resort.

"It's not up to me to know where I want to go," he said in French, while a translator echoed the words in English. "It's up to all of us to know where we want to go. And wherever we go, we want to go together."

On Sunday, during his first visit to South Florida since his February election, Préval shared the podium with the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Janet Ann Sanderson, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, Illinois State Sen. Kwame Raoul and other guests.

A former protégé of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Préval served as the country's president from 1996 to 2001. The declaration that he had won the presidential election earlier this year ended a nine-day electoral crisis. His government replaces a U.S.-backed interim regime led by Boca Raton retiree Gerard Latortue, installed after Aristide's ouster in 2004.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who was slated to attend the summit, was not present but provided a letter of support for the program. Marie Bell, chairwoman of the governor's Haiti Advisory Committee, said the governor had a scheduling conflict.

Préval, a 63-year-old agronomist, offered peace and security as the only hope for his country and promised to create a safe environment, not only for citizens and visitors but also for investors. He said his government would make tourism a top priority by addressing the need for adequate roads.

Préval said the 4 million Haitians living abroad contribute about $1.3 billion to the nation's annual economy, representing about 25 percent of its gross national product. They account for 80 percent of the tourism in Haiti and spend $5 billion as tourists in other Caribbean countries. He said his government hopes to bring that money back to Haiti.

He said the country could blame international financial institutions for Haiti's collapse, "but it's not their fault. It's our fault because we don't have a plan for our own government."

He said Sunday he was developing a 25-year plan to rebuild the country.

Since his election, Préval has appointed a coalition government that includes members of six political parties. Under his leadership, the country has made progress in international relations. CARICOM, the 15-member Caribbean regional group, lifted its suspension of Haiti last month in response to Haiti's return to democratic rule.

Préval is scheduled to give the opening address at the organization's meeting next month in St. Kitts.

He said Sunday he wants to restore faith in Haiti, "faith in justice, faith that when an investor invests in Haiti the rules don't change."

But even as Préval spread hope and optimism, political controversies simmered.

Aristide supporters who backed his election called for the release of many of their comrades who were arrested during the Latortue regime, including former Prime Minister Yvonne Neptune.

"Most of us think there could have been an executive order to let these people out of prison," said Lavarice Guadin, of Veye Yo, the pro-Aristide Lavalas group in Miami. He and other supporters also called for the return of Aristide, who remains exiled in South Africa.

But Guadin said they were willing to be patient and welcomed Préval at a cultural event in Little Haiti later Sunday evening.

"We understand that his government is young at this time and he's still under a lot of pressure," Gaudin said in an interview. "We ask the people to be patient with the new president."

But most who attended the Miami Beach luncheon said they were encouraged by Préval's message.

"I especially like the security part," said Yves Laurent, a West Palm Beach mortgage broker who has a clothing factory in Haiti. "I think he's a trustworthy guy, and I think he will keep his word."

Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2028.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel