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Haitian Americans Unhappy With Haitian Government's Response To Earthquake

  • Carolyn Weaver

A poll of Haitian Americans taken soon after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti found that a large majority are deeply unhappy with the Haitian government's response to the disaster. Most said a temporary takeover by the United Nations or an international coalition would be acceptable, until Haiti recovers.

A panel of scholars, activists and journalists met in New York to discuss the results of the telephone poll of 400 Haitian-Americans, most of them Haitian-born, that was carried out between January 22 and 24 . The poll found that 60percent had lost a loved one in the earthquake, and more than two-thirds were willing to go to Haiti to help it rebuild. 78 percent had donated money, an average of $75, and plan to give more - significant sums for a largely poor immigrant community, according to pollster Fernand Amandi.

The poll's political findings are more controversial. 96 percent approve of the U.S. government's response to the earthquake, and 88 percent approve of the United Nations' efforts to help.

Haitian-Americans' feelings about Haiti's government were markedly negative, however. Sixty percent said they agreed with the statement that Haiti's government had almost disappeared since the earthquake, and 63 percent disapproved of President Rene Preval's response to the disaster. A majority also said they might support the United Nations or another international coalition governing Haiti until the crisis is past.

Pollster Fernand Amandi said he found that attitude among Haitian-Americans especially unexpected.

"They're a very proud, independent, nationalistic community, " said Fernand Amandi. "They very much love their independence and sovereignty. And in spite of that, the poll reveals that most Haitian-Americans are not concerned at all about the large American military presence on the island."

Another finding: 46 percent of Haitian-Americans said they agreed with the statement that Haiti would never be able to govern itself. However almost as many, 41percent, rejected the statement that Haiti is a failed state.

Ricot Depuy, general manager of Radio Soleil D'Haiti, notes that the poll was conducted less than two weeks after the disaster, when the government's ability to function was also severely damaged. He said people's response at that point was still emotional.

"So it could be a sign of desperation, they're willing to say anything because they don't want the international community to have any reservation or hesitation about coming in," said Ricot Depuy. "So, that was their way of telling them, please you will be at home. We have no problem. Because what they wanted was the help."

Garry Pierre-Pierre, who publishes the New York-based Haitian Times, agreed that the negative responses may have been driven by the emotional response to the disaster - as well as by the longstanding weakness of the Preval administration.

"It's a testament to the lack of leadership in the Haitian government," said Garry Pierre-Pierre. "I understand that they have a lack of resources to do a lot of things they want to do. But you know what, leadership is not necessarily technocratic. It's the ability to move people,to inspire, to motivate. And I think in a situation like that, that's what is called for. And the Haitian government didn't. And so in that situation, frustration built up, and people look elsewhere for help."

Haiti's President Preval responded to the poll after it was released last week, saying that he was little-seen immediately after the earthquake because he was deeply immersed in working to find help to deal with the catastrophe.

The Bendixen & Amandi poll, which was carried out in English and Creole, was commissioned by New America Media, a group representing 2500 ethnic media outlets.