By Carlotta Mohamed
To court Haitian-American voters in Miami, Florida, Hillary Clinton opened a campaign office in Little Haiti where voters are welcomed, but some people say there has been little enthusiasm in the air about Clinton and the upcoming U.S. presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Although early voting has begun in Florida – a crucial swing state for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald J. Trump – the primarily Democratic Haitian-American Diaspora is having mixed feelings about Clinton and may decide to stay home on Election Day. Some have not forgotten about the Clinton Foundation’s failed recovery efforts in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, which has led to criticism and distrust about Clinton in the Haitian-American community.
According to the Quinnipiac University Poll, there’s a tight race between the two candidates. Clinton is in the lead with 46 percent compared to Trump’s 45 percent in Florida. For Clinton to defeat Trump statewide, every vote counts, especially in Little Haiti.
“I don’t plan to vote for Hillary or Trump,” said Jean Robert Lafortune, executive director of the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition. “We want to see politicians where their words mean something, and based on our experience with Clinton we Haitians are upset.”
Lafortune said they never knew what happened to the money or how it was spent during the Haiti Reconstruction Program implemented by Bill Clinton, who was the co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, a quasi-government planning body that approved hundreds of millions of dollars in the U.S. government-funded recovery projects.
However, frustration among Haitians over failures of rebuilding homes and promises of construction jobs resulted in backlash and disappointment. In 2015, Haitian activists protested outside the Clinton Foundation in New York, claiming the Clintons mismanaged hundreds of millions in taxpayer money through the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission.
“Yes, there is a level of dissatisfaction of the Clinton Foundation when former President Bill Clinton was involved,” said Leonie Hermantin, a community development consultant of Hermantin Consulting in Miami. “But I don’t think that many people are going to cast their vote against Mrs. Clinton because of that.”
According to Hermantin, there are groups of people who are against Clinton because of their party affiliation, or what happened in Haiti under her tenure as secretary of state and the Clinton foundation, but that group doesn’t represent the majority of Haitians in Florida.
An expert on Haiti, Robert Maguire at George Washington University, said although it is somewhat late for candidates to gain trust if they haven’t already, they can improve their chances on addressing issues that affect the Diaspora and their families in Haiti in an informed way.
“Paying attention to issues as they evolve and having on your campaign staff at least one qualified adviser on key Haiti issues (such as the elections) is helpful,” said Maguire. “President Obama, when a candidate, made sure this happened.”
Numerous invitations were sent to Clinton to visit Little Haiti to speak to the community about their concerns and issues, but she never showed, said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami.
“She came to Florida but didn’t come to the office in Little Haiti,” said Bastien. “That was a really big mistake and I was really upset about it. You came so close to Little Haiti and didn’t even visit to hear them out.”
Bastien said the fact that Trump came to Little Haiti in September is an important symbol in the community. She received phone calls about elderly Haitian Americans, who are voting for Trump just because he came to Little Haiti. Meanwhile, Clinton hasn’t done enough to show that voices of Haitian Americans are important, and shouldn’t be taken for granted because they do matter.
The Clinton campaign debuted a political radio ad in Creole targeting Florida’s Haitian-American voters, but Bastien said having a radio ad is one thing but getting people to come out is a completely different matter.
“It has to be paired with a consistent engagement and show of respect and concern for people and their feelings,” said Bastien.
According to Maguire, there are outspoken Haitian-American Republicans, albeit minority voices from within the Diaspora, who are squarely behind Trump. While there are other Haitian Americans, aligned with the Democratic Party, who are strong Hillary supporters.
Eveline Pierre, executive director of the Haitian Heritage Museum, said she believes that in the previous election many Republican women voted for Obama, and silent Trump supporters will vote for him and it will be a shock for the Clinton team during election.
There are roughly 300,000 Haitian Americans living in Florida. Over the past few days there have been a number of reports on low turnout among black voters in key battleground states, arguing it could sink Clinton’s chances of winning the White House.
The Black community in particular has expressed signs of voter apathy. On one hand, many in the Black community have taken issue with Clinton supporting her husband’s policies that led to the incarceration of thousands of Black men, and in particular with her labeling young black males as “super predators.” On the other hand, Trump has expressed racist and xenophobic views that has left the Black community feeling alienated.
For Bastien, it is one of the most important elections in history and as a women’s rights advocate she is supporting Clinton, but not with a happy heart.
“I pray for the best for her because the alternative is scary,” said Bastien. “You don’t have to be excited about Hillary Clinton or like her, but you do have to consider who is standing in front of her, like Donald Trump.”