Arthur Jean Pierre contributed to this report from Washington
WASHINGTON / MIAMI – In a landmark meeting with the Haitian community in Miami, Florida, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged to listen to Haitians and take their views into account in Congress’ outreach to the Caribbean nation.
“I love Haiti. I love the people of Haiti,” Pelosi said Thursday. “And no matter how brutal the circumstances, whether it’s a natural disaster or just injustice in the community, the love and shining eyes, the love of family the endless hope for a better future, it’s just remarkable and different from other countries.”
Pelosi added, “They [Haitians] just never lose confidence in themselves. And we can’t let that spark be any less than brighter and brighter.”
The speaker traveled to Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood to discuss Haiti’s political crisis and hear the Haitian diaspora’s concerns. Pelosi was joined by Florida Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, whose district includes Little Haiti. Fourteen members of the Congressional Black Caucus also attended the meeting.
Pelosi, whom Wilson introduced as “the most powerful woman in the world,” received an enthusiastic welcome.
The roundtable discussion included a panel of prominent Haitian Americans active in the community and was centered on the protests and violence that have rocked Haiti for months.
“We really appreciate your presence here today, as the third most powerful official in the United States,” an attendee said.
The latest protests stem from Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s decision more than a year ago to end fuel subsidies, a move that came at the request of the International Monetary Fund. Although Moise reversed the decision after violence erupted, frustration has mounted over his inability to improve the economy and end corruption in the poorest nation in the Americas.
Pelosi told the audience she has traveled to Haiti numerous times, including shortly after the January 2010 earthquake that caused 230,000 deaths and left millions homeless.
Among criticisms attendees voiced was Washington’s lack of attention to developments and problems in Haiti. Congresswoman Wilson indicated she took the message to heart.
“Having Speaker Pelosi here at this time, for sure will shine a bright spotlight on what is happening in Haiti so that the world will know,” she said.
After hearing from the Haitian American community, Pelosi urged broad international involvement in solving Haiti’s crisis.
“I do think multilateralism is really important in this regard,” she said. ” I know what the possibilities are, but I want to make sure they are used in ways that will make a difference for the people of Haiti.”
Wilson told VOA Creole that the input lawmakers received on Haiti was invaluable.
“We got a lot of feedback from a very well-versed panel. They brought all kinds of recommendations and observations that they have received from Haiti and so it was a great, robust discussion about where to move forward and how we can help our neighbors,” she said, “because when Haiti bleeds, our community bleeds and we want to stop the bloodshed.”
After the meeting, members of the Haitian community told VOA Creole they were very happy to see powerful American officials paying attention to their native land.
“I’m thrilled about how the Haitian American community spoke and amplified the voices of the Haitian people to let them know exactly what the people want and how we feel,” Leonie Hermantin, a member of Concerned Leaders of Little Haiti, said, adding that Haitian views rarely seem to resonate in Washington.
Michelet Nestor, a Haitian American entrepreneur who owns businesses in the U.S. and Haiti, said the diaspora wants to be a catalyst for change.
“That’s why this [meeting] is so important,” he told VOA Creole. “We want a new constitution, a new system of government [for Haiti] so that everyone has the same opportunities. That’s why we’re here and that’s what the Haitian people need.”
The U.S. State Department expressed concerns about Haiti during a meeting with the country’s foreign minister, Bocchit Edmond, in New York last week.
“(U.S.) Deputy Secretary (of State John) Sullivan and Foreign Minister Edmond agreed on the importance of political stability and an improved investment climate to spur private sector-led growth,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
The United Nations has also expressed concerns about the consequences Haiti’s political and economic crisis are having on the population.