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Haitians Told To Use Their Vote

By AVA TURNQUEST Tribune Staff Reporter aturnquest@tribunemedia.net HAITIAN president Michel Martelly yesterday advised Bahamians of Haitian descent to band together and lobby for a political party that they feel would best protect their interests. During his two-day stopover in The Bahamas, President Martelly held frank discussions with officials and the Haitian community with the view to develop trade opportunities and improve the conditions of Haitians residing legally in the country. "I told them to organise themselves and identify in this upcoming elections who is on their side," he said. "By being determinate in the elections they may have people taking care of them, this is the democratic way. I promised them to work for them to better their possibilities to remain in Haiti so I had a very open discussion with officials as to how can we protect those who at least have the legal papers." President Martelly said he was committed to working with the Bahamian government to find responsible and humane solutions to reports of mistreatment of legal residents and persons born in the Bahamas of Haitian descent. However, he explained that his ultimate focus was to stem the flow of Haitian migrants by creating jobs and restoring economic independence. "I have reports that at times people with legal papers have been arrested, I have reports that kids who are born here and who have to wait until they turn 18 to choose whether they will become Haitian or Bahamian. Until they are 18, they don't belong to anywhere and yet they were born here. "Do I have to tell anyone if you send them back to Haiti they will not know anybody, and that they probably won't recognise the place where they land. This could be considered as a crime, but that's not the issue to talk about crime, the issue is to stop migrants and find better solutions." He added: "To make sure that Haitians do not have to leave their country anymore looking for opportunities." Speaking to hundreds from the Haitian community at the Church of God auditorium on Joe Farrington Road Tuesday, President Martelly advised Haitians in the country that The Bahamas government was not responsible for their problems. "[Haitians] came here to look for opportunities that they could not get at home so I did ask them to follow the law, to be respectful," he said. "We spoke with officials about solving the issues of the migration of Haitians here, it's not just about closing the doors, it's also about improving their lives in Haiti." President Martelly met with both Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and Leader of the Opposition Perry Christie yesterday. Along with Haitian Foreign Affairs, Tourism, and National Security delegates, he also met with Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Brent Symonette, and Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest. Part of a world tour to reshape Haiti from "aid to trade", the Haitian president explained yesterday that the embattled nation was "open for business." Down from the estimated 1.6 million displaced after the 2010 earthquake, President Martelly said there are currently some 500,000 still living in tents. He underscored numerous economic and social initiatives launched in the country over the nine months since he took office. Among those include the construction of an industrial park and a decentralized airport; free education for some 1 million children; and assistance for mothers to purchase locally produced goods. He noted that there was specific focus to develop the northern side of the country as this was where most of the migrants in the Bahamas were from. He said: "In the past, we were able to pay our independence, that debt was $41 billion, we paid it with coffee. Today we import everything we have. We need to organize ourselves. We feel that Haiti is open for business, we are putting together laws, we are giving tax incentives." "Digicel has invested $450 million and plans to inject another $150 million. Heineken just built a brewery, Marriott is building a hotel and the Best Western is coming. Things are moving." President Martelly listed numerous investment opportunities in Haiti's relatively "virgin" industries of construction, electricity, and agriculture. "We want trade, we need to create jobs, as we create jobs, companies make money, they pay their taxes, and Haiti prospers," he said. "We have this culture of immobility, of accepting everything, our mission is to stand up and build our country, not run and go to The Bahamas, not run and go to New York. To believe that we Haitians, only we can change our country." President Martelly added: "If I don't change that mentality, in 25 years my successors could be standing here talking about the same problems."

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