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Lawmakers give $23,400 to Haitian ambassador for earthquake relief

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States got a surprise before giving a speech to the legislative black caucus this evening: $23,400 for earthquake relief.

Ambassador Raymond Alcide Joseph said he expected a free trip to Tallahassee and a free lunch but had no idea that he’d be going home with a fistful of checks.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Joseph told the audience gathered in the House chambers before giving a speech celebrating Black History Month. Two Democratic white lawmakers, Reps. Ron Saunders of Key West and Richard Steinberg of Miami Beach, also attended.

The donations included $5,000 from Hispanic lawmakers; $4,000 from a view-a-thon held by state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and others; and $5,000 from the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators, the first of many the black caucus said are yet to come.

“I can tell you, this warms my heart,” Joseph said.

Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, organized the fundraiser for Joseph, a journalist who founded a Haitian newspaper.

The money will go into into a bank account opened by the Haitian embassy because so many people wanted to contribute to relief efforts but were leery of giving to some of the organizations collecting the funds, Joseph said.

Haiti ambassador to U.S.: Send us your tents! Please!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Haiti's U.S. Ambassador Raymond Alcide Joseph and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando

Haiti's U.S. Ambassador Raymond Alcide Joseph and state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States Raymond Alcide Joseph made an impassioned plea for help from the U.S. government at a press conference with black legislators in the Capitol today.

“We need tents. Tents to house the people because there are more than a million of them displaced. Right now they have make-shift tents with sheets and things like that. But unless we have those tents within the next six to eight weeks we’ll be in deep trouble because that’s when the rainy season starts,” Joseph said at a press conference in the office of Sen. Gary Siplin, head of the legislature’s black caucus. “So I am asking, I cannot plead too much, please help us get as many tents as possible.”

More than 1 million Haitians have been displaced by the devastating earthquake that razed the island nation’s capital Port-au-Prince last month, leaving more than 200,000 dead and as many injured.

Venezuela has sent 30,000 tents and an unnamed Caribbean nation has pledged another 10,000, Joseph said. But that’s far fewer than the 200,000 Haitian President Rene Preval is pleading for before the onset of the rainy season.

Joseph described his visit to Port-au-Prince Friday with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders.

“I’m not a very emotional person, but I cried. I had cried before, in private. But this time I cried in public. The devastation cannot be explained,” the soft-spoken founder of a Haitian independent newspaper, now run by his brother, Joseph said.

Joseph also asked the U.S. and Canada to make it easier for Haitian Americans living in those countries to return to Haiti to help with the nation’s recovery.

“We have a wealth of resources of Haitian Americans in this country and in Canada who want to give some of their time, some of their expertise to Haiti. But so far their getting there has been stymied,” Joseph said.

The first wave of volunteers assisted the military rescue efforts, Joseph said.

More than 83 percent of Haitian-born professionals have left the country, most of the living now in the United States, Canada and France.

Joseph said those workers need – and want – to return to their native land to help with recovery.

Joseph will address lawmakers at 5 p.m. today as part of the legislative black caucus’ Black History Month celebration.

He said he came to Florida as a reminder of President Barack Obama’s pledge that the United States would be with Haiti for the long haul.

“This is part of why I’m here. For the long haul. I want the story to continue. Because rebuilding Haiti is not going to be one week, two months, a year. It’s going to take quite a few years and I want you to be with us. That’s why I’m here,” Joseph said.

Crist should appoint earthquake disaster czar, Haitian-born Rep. Bernard says

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam



Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are putting together a legislative task force to help streamline relief to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

The tri-county area is home to the greatest number of Haitian immigrants and has been ground-zero for state and federal Haitian aid efforts.

Newly elected state Rep. Mack Bernard, a West Palm Beach Democrat who was born in Port-au-Prince where the epicenter of the deadly earthquake struck last month, is heading up Palm Beach County’s delegation in the task force, which will include Reps. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, and Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, and up to 9 other South Florida lawmakers.

Bernard wants better communication from Gov. Charlie Crist, who he said telephoned him the night of the earthquake on Jan. 12 but hasn’t spoken with him since.

Bernard visited Haiti last week. His sister and her three children are now homeless as a result of the disaster, Bernard said.

Crist should appoint a “Haiti czar” to streamline efforts that could be an economic boon to financially-strapped Florida, Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, suggested.

Read the story here.

“It’s that lack of communication, especially from the governor’s office” that is creating frustration for representatives from the tri-county area, which has the state’s largest Haitian immigrant population and is now on the front line providing aid and resources to the ravaged nation, Bernard said.

Poll: McCollum leads Sink in governor’s race; Floridians open to more drilling, oppose Dem health reform

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by George Bennett

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum has opened up a 10-point lead over Democrat Alex Sink in Florida’s race for governor, a new Quinnipiac University poll says.

McCollum leads Sink, 41 percent to 31 percent, in a poll that has a 2.4 percent margin of error. McCollum held a 4-point lead in polls last August and October.

The poll also finds 57 percent of Floridians oppose the Democratic health care overhaul legislation moving through Congress and 55 percent favor increased drilling in federal waters off Florida — but not if rigs are as close as five miles from shore.

Poll respondents generally don’t support relaxing immigration laws in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti that is likely to increase the number of refugees leaving the island.


DCF workers helping Haiti refugees getting sick, CDC called in

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

So many state workers helping Haitian earthquake survivors that the Department of Children and Families asked for help from federal health authorities.

DCF has asked staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen Haitians at the Sanford and Orlando airports to try to keep flu-like infections from spreading, DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said today.

Up to 80 DCF employees, who have volunteered to help the agency handle the influx of refugees from earthquake-shattered Haiti, are working around the clock in the Orlando area, Hoeppner said.

Agency officials sent out an e-mail instructing workers to use universal health precautions, such as gloves and masks, to keep from getting sick.

“We don’t know where this is coming from but want to make sure that everybody’s health is being taken care of,” said Hoeppner, who said she had stomach-flu symptoms throughout the weekend.

“You’re comforting people. You’re wiping running noses. And you’re changing diapers. Those are all things that workers are doing every day. There’s a lot of close contact with our own staff and with the passengers coming off of these planes,” she said, adding that there is “hand sanitizer everywhere you look.”

About 25 workers in the Orlando and Sanford area, where Florida’s Haitian aid is centered, have come down with flu-like symptoms.

Hoeppner said that although the situation is stressful for the refugees and the workers, the job is also rewarding.

“Everybody has probably had an emotional moment being here. If you haven’t cried, you don’t care. And if you don’t care you don’t need to be here,” she said.

VP Biden coming to South Florida Saturday to meet Haitian-Americans, relief workers

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 by George Bennett



The White House announced this morning that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will be in South Florida on Saturday — exact location and time not yet announced — to meet with members of the Haitian-American community and responders who are mobilizing relief efforts after Tuesday’s 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti.

More details are expected Friday.

Haitian-American candidate switches fund-raiser to relief event

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 by George Bennett

Wismick St. Jean, who’s running for a Wellington village council seat, had scheduled a campaign fund-raiser for tonight at the Player’s Club. Instead, he’s turning it into an event to collect donations for earthquake-devastated Haiti.

“Haiti is not equipped to handle an earthquake of this magnitude 7.0 on its own. The Haitian people need your prayer and your financial assistance at this time in history,” St. Jean said in a press release.

Read his press release after the jump….


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