Obtaining voting rights for members throughout the Diaspora “will take time,” said Prime Minister of Haiti Evans Paul, speaking at last weekend’s National Association of Haitian Professionals (NAHP) annual conference at Florida International University in Miami.
“It’s going to be a lengthy battle for the diaspora to play its political role fully,” noted Minister Paul, acknowledging the political edge behind the strong resistance in Haiti against the Diaspora vote. “A constitutional amendment won’t resolve the issue. If I’m honest, there are people who are afraid of political competition from the Diaspora. There are some people tightening the reigns.”
Instead, the prime minister argued that advocates need to “find a way to come together with the people who are resisting the Diaspora. There is space for everyone. It is a question of patience.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Paul shifted focus on the economic benefits the Diaspora currently enjoy, from the removal of visa restrictions on descendants of Haitians, to unhindered purchasing of goods and services for Diaspora business persons.
The Prime Minister did however support the diaspora voting rights agenda, asserting that “the diaspora has to participate at the highest level in the management in the country. There should not be a rivalry.”
But the slow and steady approached to Diaspora voting rights was not enough for Haiti’s former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who also served as a keynote speaker at the conference over the weekend.
“All of you who live overseas, the diaspora, you should have been given the right to vote in this year’s election,” argued Lamothe. “You work hard. You punch in early. You love Haiti. You have earned the right to vote for Haiti’s election. This is going to be a call to action, to have a unified front to take the diaspora’s political destiny in hand. The Haitian government should send a clear signal to the diaspora to tell them that their input is very important and valued. We need to stop seeing the diaspora as just a cash machine for handouts.”
Fellow former Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, however, called for more pragmatic support from the Diaspora to target Haiti’s current economic issues. The diaspora, he said, is a huge repository for Haiti, but “loving Haiti is not enough.”
“What Haiti needs is a vision; not slogans or non-realistic promises of changing everything overnight just because you think you are better men or women than the previous team,” said Bellerive.