Haiti trip gives altered image
Officials from Miami-Dade County visited Haiti on a goodwill mission, finding both progress and challenges.
By JACQUELINE CHARLES
Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones still remembers the cautions she received when she told relatives and friends that she was headed to Haiti. Don't go, they said. The place is steeped in problems.
But after two days here, Spence-Jones and 12 other elected officials representing the Florida Legislature, Miami-Dade County and five of its municipalities -- Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Miami Gardens and El Portal -- are finding something far different.
''It's nothing like what people say it is,'' Spence-Jones said, between meetings with Haitian President René Préval and U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson. ``I am glad I came. I can see for myself. We have to begin to change the image.''
After months of facing violence from armed gangs and an unprecedented spree of for-ransom kidnappings, Haitian government officials have returned a measure of security to the capital. But much remains to be done.
''We cannot accomplish everything at the same time,'' Préval said. ``Today, I am happy to hear people are discussing other problems besides crime and kidnapping. They are discussing the problem of the [exchange rate]. They are discussing privatization. They are discussing energy.
``They are discussing all of the problems that truly remain as problems. But it is a good sign they can discuss all of the matters besides kidnapping and insecurity.''
Indeed, as the South Florida delegation traveled through the jammed streets here, its members saw for themselves the progress -- and the work that remains.
''We want to show the people not only in Miami but in the United States that what they think about Haiti, what they read in the paper, what they see on the TV is not the truth,'' said Philippe Derose, one of four North Miami Beach council members, three of whom are Haitian American, on the four-day fact-finding trip.
As local government officials who represent communities with large Haitian populations, Derose and North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse, who organized the visit, said they want to build a bridge between Haiti and their cities.
Prime Minister JacquesEdouard Alexis welcomed the gesture but also offered one cautionary note: What Haiti really needs, he said, is investment and technical assistance.
Don't send us junk, he said referring to used cars and other equipment that cities often send here but that often don't work.
''It's better you send less but send equipment that is new,'' Alexis said.
``Haiti is a country with a lot of opportunities. The question before us now is investments, and how do we attract investments?''
Also in the South Florida delegation were North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns, Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and state Rep. Ronald Brise, D-North Miami.
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