Haitian President Michel Martelly sings with Carole Desmesmin while visiting the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Saturday (Photo: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This past weekend, Haiti President Michel Martelly visited Florida and New York in an attempt to connect with some of his nation’s biggest economic benefactors — the estimated 2.5 million Haitians living in the United States.
As part of Haitian Diaspora Weekend, Martelly made his first stop in South Florida, an area with one of the America largest Haitian populations, on Saturday. During a speech at Florida International University in front of local politicians, business leaders and members of the diaspora, he pleaded for Haitians living in the U.S. to “return home and help Haiti.”
“Everyone here has an important role,” he said. He also told the crowd that, “Haiti is open for business,” in spite of obstacles.
On Sunday, he traveled to New York, where he attended New York University’s Diaspora Day Business luncheon. During the event he listened to young leaders present their plans on improving Haiti and, again, appealed to U.S. Haitians.
“It is important that you understand, you Haitians, you cannot expect Haiti to be good to go back ... You need to put [it] together. You must be the first tourists,” he told the audience. “We need investors to create jobs, to have sustainable development.”
He also defended his controversial tax on remittances—money sent by Haitians living abroad to their homeland—and the taxes on incoming calls, saying the funds will go a long way with helping children attend school.
“As president of the republic...I asked you [for] 5 cents for each incoming telephone call and I must tell you, that gives us $100,000 per day... Basically, it costs $100 per student for one year [of school], so it is like we send 1000 students in school every day,” he said.
He capped off his U.S. visit later on Sunday at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park where he addressed thousands, echoing a consistent message from the weekend.
"With unity, solidarity of the Diaspora, Haiti will be better off,” he said. He left the U.S. Monday.
The role of the Haitian diaspora, especially considering the natural disasters the nation has endured within the past few years and the sky-high unemployment rate, can’t be underestimated. Last year, money sent to Haiti from the diaspora accounted for almost a third of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), estimated to be between $1.5 billion and $1.9 billion.