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lundi 9 mai 2011

Haiti debates dual citizenship change

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson visited Haiti on Saturday as a debate over dual citizenship got underway. By JACQUELINE CHARLES
jcharles@MiamiHerald.com
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- As the representative of Haitians living abroad on a commission charged with rebuilding quake-ravaged Haiti, Joseph Bernadel, a retired U.S. army major from Delray Beach, can have an opinion — but he doesn’t get a vote.
That harsh reality is just one of many examples of how Haitians who have accepted citizenship from other countries have been left out when it comes to deciding on the future of their unlucky homeland, Bernadel said.
But he and some other Haitians living outside the country are hoping that will change soon. Members of Haiti’s parliament began debate Saturday on several changes to the country’s 1987 constitution, including one that would do away with a law banning dual nationality.
“More than anything else, this double nationality gives a clear message to people of Haitian ancestry who have gone to the diaspora that there is a place for them in Haiti, not only in the reconstruction aspect, but in the everyday life in Haiti,’’ Bernadel said.
The recognition of dual or multiple nationalities for Haitians has the support of the U.S. government.
Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who visited Port-au-Prince Saturday for a few hours, said she also supports the concept. “What they are describing is fine,’’ said Wilson, who represents the largest constituency of Haitian-Americans in the United States.
It was the first time she had seen the devastation unleashed by the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. “I wanted to see what we were deporting people back to,’’ she said. “Even today, more than a year after, the place still looks like a war zone. It’s heartbreaking.’’
Wilson not only got a helicopter-tour of the country, courtesy of president-elect Michel Martelly, but she also received a crash course in the constitutional reform debate sweeping the nation.
Of equal concern to her, she said, is the fate of thousands of Haitians who received Temporary Protected Status in the United States following the quake. TPS comes up for renewal in June, and she and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are fighting to keep the benefit that allows Haitians to legally live and work in the U.S. temporarily.
Meeting with Haitian senators inside the broken parliament building, Wilson was told she was visiting Haiti on a “historic weekend.’’ Fifteen lawmakers had spent 48 hours drafting a report on proposed changes to the constitution. In addition to the nationality issue, they will debate a 30 percent quota for the hiring of women and changes in the election cycle for senators.
They have until midnight Monday to make changes, or wait four more years.
Earlier in the day, several senators — including many up for reelection in November — went to meet with President René Préval to seek an automatic extension of five years on their terms in exchange for an amendment allowing a president to serve back-to-back presidential terms. Préval had previously sought the presidential term provision but was rejected.
“It’s going to be a long day today and Sunday,’’ said Sen. Steven Benoit, a former member of the lower house who was recently elected to the Senate.
For days, the issue of dual nationality has dominated the airwaves and the Internet in Haiti and abroad.
At the very least, say supporters, the proposed changes redefine what it means to be Haitian, benefiting countless stateless immigrants living in the Dominican Republica, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.
But how far the changes should go is hotly debated. Some Haitian-Americans simply would like the chance to own and inherit land legally in Haiti without hassle; others would like to hold political office. As the amendment is currently proposed, it prohibits a run for the presidency, or to be named prime minister, head of the government. It also would prohibit dual-nationals from being police chief or head of the supreme court.
“We still can’t agree on what it means to be Haitian,’’ said Sen. Francois Anick Joseph, another newly-elected senator.
Even though he said he supports the concept, he said the lack of clarity has him hoping the proposed version of the law won’t pass.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/07/2206555/haiti-debates-dual-citizenship.html#ixzz1Lqax3MIQ

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