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Caribbean-American legislators call for more international aid for Haiti

By CMC

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Lodanise Joseph sits with her 9-month-old granddaughter outside their home damaged in the 5.9 quake that hit Port-de-Paix, Haiti on Oct. 8, 2018. (Photo: AP)

(CMC) – Caribbean-American legislators in the US have called for international support for Haiti, as the country observes the ninth anniversary of the devastating earthquake.

New York State Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, told the Caribbean Media Corporation on Saturday that 2.5 million people in Haiti are still in dire need of aid.

“Haiti still needs our help,” said Bichotte, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn, stating that the 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.”

Since the massive earthquake, Bichotte said Haiti has been “battling the subsequent cholera epidemic and the multitude of natural disasters”.

But, in the midst of the struggle to rebuild, the assemblywoman laments that US President Donald Trump has decided to end Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for over 50,000 Haitian immigrants.

She noted that the decision comes “after a slew of bigoted comments made by President Trump, disrespecting Haiti and its people”.

“I am deeply offended by these words and actions,” she said. “The White House’s decision adds insult to injury with the mounting catastrophes and distress.

“I will continue to speak out against the rescission of TPS for Haitians and for the preservation of basic human rights for Haitians and all Americans,” Bichotte added. “Let’s take a moment of silence for Haiti and the people of Haiti.”

As a representative of the largest Haitian community in the United States outside of Florida, Williams said he takes “very seriously the responsibility of contributing to the ongoing mission of remembrance, recovery and rebuilding”.

“This is not a sentiment shared by the Trump administration, which is turning its back on our Haitian brothers and sisters,” said Williams, representative for the predominantly Caribbean 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

He noted also that Trump, in 2017, ordered the end of TPS, put in place after the 2010 earthquake, “despite the ongoing suffering from this earthquake and additional, mounting natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew”.

“Even as the Trump administration maintains a travel advisory for Haiti, it is attempting to force Haitians out of our country,” added Williams, a candidate for New York City Public Advocate. “This isn’t surprising, given that he has made vile derogatory comments about the Haitian people and the nation they call home.”

“This administration has no regard whatsoever for neither the strength nor the struggles of the Haitian people,” he continued. “I stand in support of the group of people who is standing up to Trump in court to protect TPS and the Haitian people.”

“Despite the harm being done by our government, however, I know that the American people still recognize the need to extend aid to our brothers and sisters in Haiti, who have done so much for our nation throughout its history, playing a role in doubling the size of our country and helping us to grow, and who we must repay,” he said.

“Our government is factually wrong, but our people can still act in a way that is morally right,” Williams declared. “I am hopeful that we can all work together in bringing Haiti to new heights in the year to come.”

In commemorating the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations noted on Saturday that half of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was destroyed, 220,000 reported dead and 1 million residents displaced.

Staff at the UN Mission in Haiti were also affected, and there were 102 UN casualties, including the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Hédi Annabi, and his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, the UN said.

“It was the ‘biggest single loss of life in the history of UN Peacekeeping,’” the then-President of the UN Staff Union, Stephen Kisambira, said at the time.

The UN said one of the survivors was Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, currently the head of communications for the UN Mission for Justice in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), who was seven months pregnant at the time, and just a few days away from home leave.

She had been in the headquarters of MINUJUSTH’s predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), when the quake hit, according to the UN.

It said the building completely collapsed, but Boutaud de la Combe “managed to escape through a collapsed wall”.

“For many hours, she and her surviving colleagues searched through the rubble, looking for anyone still trapped under the building,” the UN said. “Two days later, she reluctantly left Haiti, a situation she describes as ‘a trauma,’ her instinct being to help the UN and the people of Haiti.”

The UN said Boutaud de la Combe eventually returned to Haiti in 2013, “happy to be able to play a part in the rebuilding of the country, and honor her lost colleagues with her work”.

Nine years after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti is “very different,” according to the Haitian Government.

The UN also said Boutaud de la Combe and Haiti are now much better prepared for similar natural disasters.

“A few months ago, there was an earthquake in the north of the country. The state was prepared, and they sent their people to support those affected, without MINUJUSTH involvement,” she said.

“It was not a major earthquake, but now the population knows how to react,” Boutaud de la Combe added. “And, most importantly, we hear regularly how important it is to build better, to build strongly in case an earthquake would hit, not to endanger the people.”

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