On March 30 2014, Jean-Henry Céant, projected presidential candidate for 2015 election in Haiti, spoke at University of Massachusetts Boston in Snowden Auditorium.
The event was hosted by the Africana Studies Department under a community forum organized by MCTV Network, Ch. 283 Comcast. Céant addressed the need to amend the 1987 Haitian Constitution, which excludes the Diaspora in the political life. He further talked about the political and economic rights of the Diaspora. Moreover, he plead for a full integration and active participation of the Haitians living in the Diaspora.
“The Diaspora deserves inclusion and this is the time to advocate and fight for that,” said Céant. He explained the importance of the Haitian Diaspora to Haiti, “We must not forget that the Diaspora contribute to the democratization of our motherland,” stated Ceant.
Diaspora refers to the scattering of Haitians—and indeed everyone of Haitian descent—to continents outside of their homeland, specifically Massachusetts– which is the third-largest Haitian Diaspora community in the United States, after Florida and New York, with an estimated of 200,000 Haitians.
Céant explained that during the dictatorship reign of Jean Francois Duvalier and his son Jean- Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in the 70’s and late 80’s, it was the Diaspora community who mobilized the international community and supported people back home who were craving for democracy.“ Our survival most of the time depend on them,” he added.
Like many other countries with that have a large of immigrants in the USA, the Haitian economy is dependent on remittances from members of the Diaspora. According to Center For Strategic & International Studies, calculations for total annual remittances is in a range of $1.5 to $1.9 billion, or between twenty-three and thirty percent of Haitian gross domestic product. And approximately only fifteen percent of Haitians are formally employed.
By taxing wire transfer money and international calls the Haitian government collects an estimated $50 to $180 million.
“If the Diaspora contribution to our economy is so critical, why would we [Haitian political leaders in Haiti] exclude them?” he rhetorically asked. He explained that the hidden reason might be at best, fear of competition because of either lack of competence from the leaders or ignorance of the value of competition; and at worst, lack of gratitude to the importance of the Diaspora community.
In an interview with The Mass Media Dr. Marc Prou, Chair of the Africana Studies Department at UMass Boston stated his belief when it comes to the capacity of some Haitians living in the Diaspora to lead and transform Haiti. Dr Prou mentioned how, during the past two decades, several Haitian-Americans have been elected to political offices at various levels in several states such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, and Chicago, to name a few. “There is the emergence of successful individuals of Haitian descent everywhere in the Haitian diasporic community,” he concluded.
Hence, Céant addressed the need to amend the 1987 Haitian Constitution, which excludes the Diaspora, especially those with multi-nationality, in the political life in this country. “We must understand that economic and politic go in hand in hand,” stated Céant.
Accordingly, Articles thirteen and fifteen in the Haitian Constitution of 1987 deny the Haitian identity or erases the Haitian identity from anyone who happens to naturalize in another country. And Haitians who loses their national identity can neither vote in election, nor run for high public office positions.
“These are cruel articles against the Diaspora,” Céant noted. He mentioned that there are several levels of problems with these articles. The first, he remarked, is that someone does not need to lose his initial nationality if s/he gets another one. The second, he noted, is there is nowhere in the constitution where the term ‘Haitian’ is properly defined.
“We have to define Haitian to include anyone who has the Haitian blood in their veins, and carries the spirit of Haiti in their heart and soul,” said Céant. He believes that Haitians in the Diaspora who have double nationality should not lose their political rights.
He explained that, most of the time, a Haitian will choose to have another nationality just out of necessity, and in some other cases for some privileges. “A Haitian never forgets who he is, his roots and where he is coming from,” believes Céant, “National identity is something you carry in your heart, not in a given piece of paper.”
Céant plead for a more integration and active participation of the Diaspora in the political life. “Haitians everywhere in the Diaspora should have the right to vote, to elect whoever they want to represent them,” stated Ceant. “They must also have the right to run for office,” he added.
Jean-Henry Céant is a projected presidential candidate for the 2015 election in Haiti.