Haitian Diaspora Deeply Affected By Earthquake

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A new poll of Haitians living in America reveals a community profoundly affected by the earthquake that devastated their home country. Fernand Amandi, who's research firm Bendixen & Amandi conducted to poll, explains the findings.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Throughout this crisis, many news organizations have called upon Haitian-Americans to offer their perspective on the crisis in Haiti. Now a new public opinion poll captures just how much the Haitian Diaspora has been affected by the earthquake and just how far Haitians in America say they are willing to go to help their homeland rebuild.

The poll was sponsored by New American Media. Thats a consortium of ethnic media organizations. It was conducted by the polling firm of Bendixen & Amandi. With us now to tell us more is Fernand Amandi. He's executive vice president of Bendixen & Amandi, and he's with us now.

Welcome. I should say welcome back.

Mr. FERNAND AMANDI (Executive Vice President, Bendixen & Amandi): Thank you, Michel. Its a pleasure to be here to be with you today.

MARTIN: Fernand, I should mention your poll specializes in multicultural and multilingual polls. And to that end, you conducted this survey of Haitians in the U.S. You conducted some 400 interviews for the poll. The interviews were conducted in both English or Haitian Creole, depending on the preference of interviewee. So, that being said, you found that three-fifths of those polled said that they had lost some loved one. That is a very high number. Are you surprised by that?

Mr. AMANDI: Its quite a staggering figure. It just shows you the impact and the depth of how this tragedy has factored into what the Haitian Diaspora is thinking. Its important to note that New American Media thought it was very critical to make sure the Diaspora had a voice in this conversation. So this is the first scientific study that has been done at the Diaspora here in the United States. And that number that you eluded to, where 59 percent mentioned directly losing a loved one, shows you a how much it has been felt here on our shores in the United States.

MARTIN: And by - did you - can you pin down that who is a loved one? Are you specifically speaking of relatives? Are you specifically speaking a very close friends? Who is a loved one?

Mr. AMANDI: Very much so relatives, direct family members, whether it would be extended family or direct family is considered a loved one, based on the way we asked the questions in the poll.

MARTIN: In this poll, you asked Haitians in the U.S. about their confidence in the Haitian government and its handling of the aftermath. A majority felt that officials from the U.S. and the international community should govern Haiti, at the very least, until it recovers from this catastrophe. Thats a quote from the poll. This is - seems remarkable to me, given that there's been a sensitivity in the past about the presence of foreign troops in Haiti despite the fact that there have been repeated interventions, you know, over the decades. How does the figure strike you?

Mr. AMANDI: It was rather stark, and especially if you have any familiarity with the Haitian Diaspora, the Haitian culture, they tend to be a very proud, nationalistic, independent community. And the fact that this percentage, this significant majority are saying that the country's, in essence, a failed to state right now and the government has disappeared and it is time for the international community to come in and take control of the situation shows you how stark the situation is over there and just the perspective that theyre seeing based on what they're hearing on reports back home from family members and friends directly, and, of course, the images being seen nightly on the newscasts.

MARTIN: In fact, on this question of whether Haiti's a failed state, there was a difference of opinion on that. You said 46 percent agree that Haiti will never be able to govern itself. Forty-one percent disagree that Haiti is a failed state. How do you interpret that figure - those figures?

Mr. AMANDI: Well, again, I mean, it just shows you that the Diaspora is split, but the fact that you have that level, in this case, of polarity saying that is a failed state and a majority, 54 percent of the Diaspora saying that it is time for the international community to come in and really oversee whats going on in the country in the short term, until it recovers from this catastrophe, really underscores just how critical the situation is over there, where the Diaspora is, in essence, saying that the Haitian government is no longer have the ability to do what is its number one mandate, which is to protect the country and its people.

MARTIN: You asked a number of questions about what the Haitians in America want the international community to do, including allow more Haitians to emigrate, for example. But you also ask them what they are willing to do. And you said that two-thirds feel that the situation in their country is so dire, that they are willing to move back to Haiti for a period of time to help with the reconstruction. That number struck me, given that a number of peoples journey to this country was rather hard, one. So, were you struck by, their willingness to go back? Or is that - I dont know if youve any experience with this number - is that kind of a normal sentiment in a time of crisis, that thats kind of the first thing that people think about?

Mr. AMANDI: Well, I mean, its a mixed bag. I think its - more than anything, I think its a testament to the Haitian Diaspora, how optimistic they remain, in spite of this devastating tragedy which has impacted the island in a way that really has no precedent before. I doubt that if there were a major catastrophe in Italy, Germany, you would see this many number of Italian-Americans or German-Americans willing to go back and leave the comfort of the United States to move to the country and help in the rebuilding effort. So thats what I think you see a little bit of a difference.

But the fact that many are suggesting they would leave the United States - and not only leave, but be willing to take in and foster or adopt one of the Haitian orphans, as well - 62 percent of those interviewed suggested they would be willing to take on that responsibility I think shows and speaks to the resilience of the Haitian community and underscores the fact that while they may have given up on their government, they have not yet given up on Haiti.

MARTIN: And finally, you say that 78 percent of Haitian adults say that they've set a financial contribution. Thats, again, quite a high number, and very high marks for President Obama and his handling, or his administrations handling of the earthquake there (unintelligible).

Mr. AMANDI: Yeah, I think the number for the president speaks for itself. Ninety-six percent of the Haitian Diaspora in the United States approve of the job that President Obama and the U.S. government has done. But that being said, they still feel that it may not be enough in terms of the financial contributions. Significant percentages say that the 100 million that was pledged by the United States is not going to be enough, which would be somewhat expected. But also high marks given to the international community, as well, where 88 percent approve of the role that the United Nations has done in the reaction of the earthquake. When you measure that against the balance of how they view the role of President Preval in their government, pretty significant differences.

MARTIN: Thats some really interesting findings. Thank you. Fernand Amandi is executive vice president of Bendixen & Amandi. Thats a public opinion research firm these specializes in multicultural and multilingual polls. They conducted this poll of Haitians in America for New American Media, and it was - these findings were achieved earlier this month. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. AMANDI: Thanks, Michel, for having us on.

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