Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Be a good neighbor to Caribbean

Miami Herald Editorial

The 2008 hurricane season has not been kind to Caribbean nations. Haiti is in sodden tatters. Cuba has taken the brunt of what Ike delivered, and that after Hurricane Gustav slammed the island. The Dominican Republic may be better off than its neighbor, Haiti, but only because it was better off economically and ecologically before this year’s storms began pouncing. Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and parts of the Bahamas also have been pounded by storms, none meaner than Ike. And there are 2 ½ more months before the season ends.

Having been blessed so far with no hurricanes, South Florida residents have reason to show their gratitude and their humanity by reaching out to our island neighbors. This is all the more natural because so many residents in this community have family and friends back ”home.” For most wanting to help, barriers will be minimal. (See the How to Help Hurricane Victims list in this section.)

Not so for Cuban Americans, whose natural instincts to reach out to fellow Cubans are stymied by tightened restrictions for visiting and sending remittances to the island.

The restrictions, adopted by the Bush administration in 2004, placed new, stricter limits on the amount of money and other aid Cuban Americans could send back to the islands. It also restricted family visits to the island to once every three years.

Many Cuban Americans who oppose the 2004 rules are calling on the president to suspend them in order to expedite relief and recovery supplies to Cuba. President Bush should heed their pleas. Sending food, water, clothing, building materials and other goods to Cuban citizens will instill goodwill and strengthen the bond between Cubans and South Florida. It is, simply, the right and humane thing to do regardless of politics.

Equally necessary is for President Bush to suspend deportations to Haiti and grant Haitians here facing deportation Temporary Protected Status under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Haiti is in shambles. Flooding and other obstacles have made delivery of relief supplies extremely difficult, according to U.S. military officials. This is not the time to be repatriating Haitians.

Haiti is still crippled from Tropical Storm Noel’s torrential rains, which killed 66 people and destroyed 20,000 homes in 2007, and from Tropical Storm Jeanne, which killed more than 2,500 and left 250,000 homeless in 2004.

In the past, the U.S. government has granted TPS to migrants without legal status in the aftermath of natural disasters. Salvadorans, for example, were given TPS after the 2001 earthquakes. The government has granted and extended TPS to Hondurans and Nicaraguans, too.

The U.S. government should do no less for Haitians, whose government is utterly unprepared to absorb them back into the community — in part because there is very little community left standing at the moment. If TPS is right for Central Americans whose countries are under stress, it surely is right for Haitians, too.

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