CubaNews / September 2005
By Larry Luxner
When it comes to Haitian-Cuban relations, Raymond Joseph has to watch what he says.
As Haiti’s new ambassador to the United States, Joseph walks a tight line between offending Fidel Castro, who has sent over 700 doctors to his country, and offending the U.S. government, Haiti’s most important source of international aid.
“That’s how we feel,” Joseph told CubaNews earlier this month. “We cannot afford to anger our big neighbor and benefactor who helps us quite a bit, but at the same time, we wonder whether the Cuban people should still be suffering for the sins of Mr. Castro.”
Joseph, 74, is Haiti’s first ambassador in Washington since 1998, when the post was abandoned by the former government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He represents the interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, who took over following Aristide’s chaotic ouster on Feb. 29, 2004.
National elections to replace the transitional government in Port-au-Prince will be held Dec. 11, with a runoff set for Jan. 3, 2006.
Despite the violence and political chaos that continues to this day, Cuba’s doctors have remained in Haiti, performing a valuable service in this nation of 8.5 million, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere (see CubaNews, December 2003, page 14).
“Our relationship [with Cuba] has remained the same as it was when Aristide left,” said Joseph. “The Cuban doctors in Haiti have been very helpful. When some of our people, especially police officers, have health problems, they’re flown to Cuban hospitals. So we leave it like that. The interim government does not want to come in and disrupt anything. They’re not the warmest of relations, but they’re correct.”
Even so, Joseph hints that he doesn’t support the U.S. embargo against Cuba — which is a poor country but not as poor as Haiti, where per-capita income is only around $250 a year, about the same as Bangladesh.
“As the second independent country in the Western Hemisphere after the United States, we know the problems of an embargo,” he said. “For the first 60 years of our independence, an embargo was imposed against us [by France]. So we feel Cuba’s pain.”
He says Washington should change its economic policy toward both Caribbean nations.
“Allow the Cuban economy to flourish, so that the Cubans can stay home, and allow Haiti to be on par with countries like the Dominican Republic,” he told CubaNews.
“The Dominican Republic will get advantages through the CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement], but Haiti is left out. If nothing is done to keep Haitian workers in Haiti, they will keep crossing the border to the D.R. It’s an explosive situation — just as explosive as in the 1930s, when [dictator Rafael] Trujillo massacred about 30,000 Haitians.”
Joseph added that he’s also not happy with U.S. immigration policy, particularly the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that automatically lets Cuban refugees who make it to U.S. shores stay and eventually apply for citizenship.
“The wet-foot, dry-foot policy is a relic of the Cold War,” he complained. “It means that all Cubans who left are running away from a communist dictatorship, so they’re welcome as soon as they set foot in America.
“But the Haitians were running away from dictators who were friendly to the U.S., so they’re not accepted as refugees. I believe it’s unfair. Also, the Haitians are considered black, so we feel there’s a little racism here.”