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From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Mon, Jun. 26, 2006

Préval seeks help from all Haitians
New Haitian leader René Préval visited South Florida in search of Haitian expatriate support and investment.

Haitian Americans can play a pivotal role in rebuilding Haiti, Haitian President René Préval said during a visit to South Florida on Sunday.

''We need to recognize them as Haitians,'' Préval said in an interview with The Miami Herald. ``We need to have dual nationality.''

Préval's statement is perhaps his strongest to date on dual nationality, and an effort by the new leader in Port-au-Prince to draw support from Haitians abroad.

Haiti's 19-year-old constitution does not allow dual citizenship, but Préval suggested change may be in order to include many Haitian Americans who otherwise feel shut out in their attempts to help their troubled homeland.

The issue of dual nationality has become a political football, used by some on the island to keep Haitians who have become naturalized citizens elsewhere out of political decision-making. Expatriate Haitians in the United States and other countries argue that their experience, influence and resources should be tapped to help their homeland, long plagued by political and economic instability. Last year, Haitian Americans sent $1 billion in remittances to their native homeland.

Préval said he had met on Friday with some opposition leaders in Haiti to discuss the matter, and had asked a leading Haitian constitutionalist to study the possibility of amending the constitution.


Préval was the featured speaker at the three-day Haitian Tourism and Economic Development Summit in Miami Beach that promoted tourism in Haiti. Sunday night, he received an emotional welcome when he hosted a town hall meeting at the Joseph Caleb Auditorium in Liberty City.

But as the estimated 900 Haitians and Haitian Americans clapped and chanted his name, they also called out the name of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a sign that despite Préval's desire to distance himself from the ousted leader, some Haitians still want to bring back Aristide.

Though Préval delivered the same message as he did at the tourism summit, he made a special appeal to the Caleb crowd, saying Haiti needs foreign investments but can't attract them because of kidnapping and crime.

Also, in a show of unity, he pointed out that he was traveling with business executives as well as members of grass-roots organizations that have the stronghold of Aristide's support.


Préval, who is popular with Haiti's poor, made a special effort during his speech to point out the importance of Haiti's economic elite.

''We need investments in the country,'' he said.

Of Haiti's 112,000 visitors last year, 80 percent of them were Haitian expatriates. Préval said the country must work to increase tourism and return Haiti to its days as a Caribbean vacation destination.

The audience responded to his message with applause.

''It's clear he recognizes the importance of the diaspora,'' said Haitian-American businessman Pepe Bayard. ``And I believe he has the will to do it and to give the diaspora what it needs.''

Still, Préval conceded that his plans will take work. The country also needs political stability, security -- and roads.

''Everything cannot happen in one day,'' he said.

As a result of aid from the international community during the past two years, Haiti will be receiving millions of dollars to help build roads throughout the country.

''I don't see how we can talk about tourism if we don't have comfortable roads,'' Préval said. ``We have to start somewhere. Let's start with the roads.''

Plans are also under way for the renovation of the Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien airports.

In the interview with The Miami Herald, Préval reiterated his goals of bringing economic development to Haiti. However, he is currently facing challenges.

Reports of kidnappings and police shootings have recently increased, which some observers say is an indication that gangs have become restless with Préval's government.


Préval dismissed the claims of increased violence, saying kidnappings were being staged by a group of ``bandits that are taking advantage of the social misery.''

He said he is trying to address security issues and noted that he is waiting for parliament to approve his choice for a new police chief.

''We need security, period,'' Préval said.

While Préval has received high praise for building a coalition government since his February election, Haiti still must hold local elections for mayors and senators.

Préval said he did not know when those elections will take place.