The assistant to the chairman of
the Haitian League, an organization for Haitians in diaspora, has
never lived in Haiti. He has no relatives there, and he doesnt
speak or understand the local patois. Haiti was, until he visited
the island as a cruise passenger 15 years ago, just another name on
His reaction to
Port-au-Prince 15 years ago? It was a horror show. And he says its
worse today. The unpaved, pothole-ridden streets of the capital are
lined with burnt-out cars and patrolled by U.N. troops trying to
maintain order in a city plagued by kidnappings and
visiting Haiti three months ago, he left thinking of it as the next
How can you talk
tourism when youve got the U.N. keeping your peace? he wonders
aloud. No electricity, no water. Its just destitute. But Ive never
seen so much potential, so much opportunity.
The assistant to
the chairman of the Haitian League has a plan, a fast track, for
rebuilding the country, and he hopes to discuss it with Rene
Preval, the president of Haiti, in two weeks.
Before anything can
happen, they have to fix safety and security, he says. Without the
perception that Haiti is safe, no one will come. But to keep it
secure, the economy needs to be fixed. Its the poorest country in
the Western Hemisphere, with the highest unemployment and high
The challenges of
fixing Haiti have perplexed Haitians and donor nations for decades,
I tell him. What could he do that they couldnt?
President Preval is
whats different, he says. I see a glimmer of hope. Hes honest and
everyone has faith in him -- theres aid available from the
international community. He can do it.
chairman of the Haitian League is Michael Spinelli, former travel
agency owner, former owner of the Action 6 consortium (later
absorbed by Vacation-.com) and former president of ASTA. He is
nominally retired from the travel industry -- he does consulting
occasionally -- but he says, I work a bit on Haiti every
He grew interested
in the island after talking with Patrick OShea, an industry veteran
who was raising funds for a Catholic orphanage there. The two
joined forces, collecting donations and even arranging for a school
bus to be given to the children. (Exploiting industry connections,
they enlisted Royal Caribbean International to deliver the bus to
I saw that
charities were helping with some immediate problems in Haiti, but I
kept thinking, Why doesnt someone go down there and attack the root
of the problem? Spinelli says. When you look at life from my age,
you want to do something.
In his career,
Spinelli was more closely associated with brashness than
sensitivity, but he says he was profoundly touched by his visits to
Anyone who goes
there, you just melt. You think, Ive got to help these people.
Theres something about these Haitians -- theyre very smart. Id love
to run a conference for investment in Haiti.
Spinelli has beaten
long odds in his life, most notably in his successful run for the
ASTA presidency at a time when there was strong resistance to the
idea that the head of a consortium should lead the association. But
turning a country wracked by civil strife into the next Cancun is a
challenge of quite a different magnitude.
As I speak to him
about Haiti, I feel at times that he is naive, yet at other times I
find his optimism inspirational.
I feel this way, he
responds after I suggest that Haiti is, if not a lost cause, an
extremely difficult case. I learned a long time ago that if you
picture anything in your mind, somethings generated in the human
psyche that makes it come to pass. It sounds crazy. But if I can do
something for Haiti, Ill rest in peace. That poor country has been
through so much. In the next decade, I believe, things will really
A Web site
maintained by the Catholic Community Forum lists hundreds of saints
associated with geographic places, from Abbeville, France, to
Zutphen, Netherlands. None are from Haiti. For the time being,
Haitians are likely to turn instead to one of the four patron
saints connected to desperate, forgotten, impossible or lost
Or -- could it be?
Just picture it in
your mind ...