Pool report from Miami Herald Caribbean/Haiti correspondent Jacqueline Charles:
Vice President Joe Biden walked into the meeting room at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and greeted the room full of Haitian American activists and elected officials like old friends. He gave a bear hug to the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, whom he thanked for hosting him and his wife Jill Biden when the two visited Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church, the spiritual home of South Florida's Haitian community, during his last visit to Miami; a kiss on each cheek to Farah Juste, a singer and activist; and strong handshakes for the men, almost all of whom took advantage of Biden's personal greeting as he walked around the U-shaped table, to lobby their issue.
Biden opened the meeting by asking Jean-Mary to lead a prayer. The Catholic priest obliged, asking God to "fill our lips and our minds with your wisdom...bless our conversations." Biden later recalled how he was welcomed at Jean-Mary's Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church, and this Easter Sunday his staff -- who obviously isn't Roman Catholic, he joked -- sent him to a Byzantine Orthodox Church for Easter Service. Jean-Mary sat to Biden's right while Paul Weisenfeld, USAID coordinator for the Haiti Task Force, sat to the vice president's left.
Biden opened his brief remarks by reminding the 26 community leaders in the room of the message he delivered back in January, shortly after their country was devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12. "We're in this for the long haul," he said. "This wasn't about just showing up to deal with the emergency that existed at the time. We realize just because the earthquake may have receded from the front pages, and I say to you that, we'll be here even when the crawler under the CNN news headline does not continue to mention Haiti, We are going to stay." He added: "We have no reduced commitment. The president continues to remain committed to rebuilding Haiti, and rebuilding it better. We made a promise and it is a promise just not to pick up the rubble but also to try and get Haiti on its feet, and quite frankly on their feet in a way they haven't been for some time."
Biden went on to mention the contribution the Haitian Diaspora has made, calling it "a gigantic'' contribution at $2 billion a year before the quake to what is needed. Biden said the U.S. government has provided more than $1 billion in earthquake response. The amount includes: more than $352 million for shelters, sanitation; $68 million for food; $35 million in cash for workers and other transition initiatives; $422 million for logistics, provisions of health and medical. "This money had made a real difference in the lives of Haitians," he said. "1.2 million people have access to treated water, actually a 50 percent increase in pre-earthquake levels," he said.
Biden pointed out US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement at last week's international donors conference on Haiti that the U.S. was pledging $1.15 billion for reconstruction. Altogether the nations of the world have pledged $5.3 billion for the next two years, and all together just under $10 billion, he said. "We seek to help Haiti not just to restore its past but to actually build a better future," he said. "Success will be to get it beyond where it was and on a path where it hasn't been for awhile. To build upon sorrow and loss, a new Haiti sustained by a much brighter commitment and a much brighter hope for the days ahead." He said there is a great deal to be done, and the devastation is unimaginable but "the administration is going to stay the course. We are going to work with the people of Haiti,we are going to work with the Diaspora, we are going to work with all of you. We know that we have to act and we have to continue to act now to keep it in the forefront of our policy."