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Jean-Robert Lafortune - MS - A Slice of the Haitian-American Experience - His world, passion and struggle!
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Welcome, BIENVENU, BIENVENIDO!

Biography
Jean-Robert Lafortune

Born in the mid-fifties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean-Robert Lafortune has dedicated his youth and most of his adult life to advocate work for the economically disadvantaged and the underdogs.  The excess and the atmosphere of terror that reigned under the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s contributed early on to his political consciousness and help formalize its vision for a democratic Haiti.

When he was 13 years old, he served as a volunteer for seven years in Haiti's Red Cross to assist victims of national disaster such as hurricane, drought, famine and car accident sometimes.

In his teenage years, Lafortune had to live with the sad experience to see some of his friends and classmates killed by the Duvalier Regime due to their political convictions. In 1976, he won first place for a play-write in a drama contest conducted by Gerard Resil, Director of the National Institute for Artistic Formation (INFA) where he depicted the scene of interrogation of political prisoners in Fort Dimanche before their execution.

In 1977, after completing his high-school education in College Bird where he was elected as the student body, Lafortune attended the Faculte des Scienes Humaines to study Journalism. Fearing for his safety, he emigrated to Costa-Rica in 1979 to complete his study then in 1980 to America where he requested political asylum to the United States Government. Once in Miami, he completely embraced the Haitian Refugee struggle and served for a short period as a translator for lawyers at the Haitian Refugee Center. In the 1980's, he was part of the movement in Radio Club Culturel - 88.9 F.M- on WDNA- which was advocating the overthrow of the Jean-Claude Duvalier Regime by any means.

In 1989, as a Florida International Student Fellow, he conducted an important research in Haiti regarding the assessment of two major literacy campaigns in Haiti from 1964 to 1988. As part of a class research, he also conducted an attitudinal survey to determine whether Haitians in the Diaspora and in Haiti would support or reject the idea for a military intervention in Haiti to establish the rules of law and democratic institutions.

The survey shows that Haitians in the Diaspora overwhelmingly supported such idea and those in Haiti categorically opposed such idea. In October 1994, United Nations enacted a resolution authorizing the United States Armed Forces to invade Haiti to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

In October 1991, as the Spokesman for the Ligue Humanitaire pour Haiti, Lafortune was key in coordinating two airlifts of medical supply, medicine and food to assist wounded civilians at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince on the aftermath of the coup d'etat against President Aristide. He helped raise an estimated $1,000,000.00 in in-kind donations for the victims. This mission of mercy was coordinated with the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights in Boston, the American Embassy, and several Haitian businesses and organizations.

From 1995 to 1997, he was the Vice-Chairman of the Haitian-American Broadcasting Corporation which was an association of Haitian Radio Programmers. During the same period, he was a Fellow of the Kellog Foundation's Common Ground Project implemented by the University of Miami.

In 1997, Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek appointed him as Chair of the Grassroots Committee's Haitian Immigration Task-Force. The Committee evolved into an independent organization in 1998 known as the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. This coalition had become the catalyst providing direction at the local and national levels for the passage of a landmark legislation the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act of 1998. This law allowed 50,000 Haitian Refugees the right to adjust permanently their immigration status.

In the year 2000, under his leadership, the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition was able to forge better and stronger alliances with the African-American and the Hispanic communities in the quest for equal treatment for Haitian Nationals.

In April 2001, he testified before the U.S Civil Rights Commission regarding the scandal of voting irregularities in the Florida election and the treatment of Haitian-Americans voters at the polls and recommended that the Commission to include Haitian Creole as one of the protected languages under the Voting Rights Act. Last year, after consulting with several community leaders on the issue of self-governance, Lafortune has initiated a bold move by engaging the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County Commission in a discussion for fair representation of minorities in state and local governments. He encourages several community leaders from the Haitian, Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities to testify before several committees on the issue of fair representation. For him the current County Government does not reflect the ethnic diversity of Dade County's population, and the redistricting plan approved by the Commission on November 15, 2001 is a move designed to weaken the Haitian-American voting strength, therefore the plan is in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He has been able to gain the support and commitment of local and national organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Miami-Dade Executive Committee, the Southern Regional Council, the Independent Project in Washington DC, the American Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, Velazquez Institute, and the South Voter Registration and Education Project.

Jean-Robert Lafortune, beside being a staunch advocate for his own community, has a vision for that centers on South Florida will reach its full potentials only when all the disparate ethnic groups in the area can be or become equal partners and active participants in shaping the collective future.

Now in his mid-forties, Jean-Robert Lafortune is now divorced with one daughter. Father of Nadine Lafortune who is now 18,he is both a complex and simple individual that many characterize as someone who cares for others and serve his Haitian constituents with a relentless passion. He has dedicated his life in serving the disadavantaged.

In his teenage years, Lafortune was a fervent practitioner of drama and theater under the direction of Professor Gerard Resil who was the Director of the National Institute for Artistic Creation. In 1977, he won first place for a play depicting the horrible conditions that political prisoners were living under at Fort Dimanche under the Duvalier dictatorship.

After completing his highschool education, Lafortune enrolled at the Haiti State University - School of Human Sciences where he started to study journalism. He quickly became at odds with the dean of the school who was then the President of Haitian Council Ministers in POrt-au-Prince. His advocacy for the need for the country to become a democratic society did not fit well with the School Management and eventually had to leave the country. In January 1980, he travelled to MIami where he requested the U.S government for political asylum. Once in Miami, he has embraced the Haitian Refugee MOvement where he continues to advocate for equal treatment.

In Miami, he earned a bachellor degree in Public Administration and minor in Economics in 1983 at Florida International University. In 1991, he earned a Masters of Sciences Degree at Florida International University in the School of Educational Policy and he majored in International Development Education.

18 years later after he settles in MIami,in December 1997, Lafortune found himself at the head of a socio-political movement centered on empowerment and equal treatment for Haitian Nationals residing in the U.S. Indeed he had become the catalyser of a new immigrant movement that will open many doors to engage the larger community in discussion like empowerment and power sharing, language identity and cultural heritage.

His first test has been the coordination of several national rallies in Washington DC to advocate for immigrants' rights. Through his ability to do cross-ethnic coalition building at the local and national levels, in October 1998, the U.S Congress enacted a landmark legislation to grant immigration status adjustment to 50,000 Haitian refugees fleeing political turmoil in their homeland.

Today more than ever, Jean-Robert Lafortune is at the frontline to get Miami-Dade County to change its charter so that the number of commission districts can be increased from 13 to 15. For Mr. Lafortune, the current commission does not reflect the ethnic diversity of its population. He is asking for fair representation so that a district can br created where haitian nationals can be a majority or near majority in MIami-DAde County. He has been able to gain the support of the Florida ACLU, the Advancement Project in Washington DC, the Southwest Voter Registration and Information, and the MIami-Dade County NAACP.

Last year, Lafortune was very aggressive in initiating a campaign to get Haitian Nationals counted in the United Census 2000. In one night alone, he was able to help about 100 families to fill out their census form. Despite his effort in 1998 to get Haitian to be a category in the last census, the powers that be have prevented the Haitian classification in the short form, nevertheless he and other Haitian leaders alerted the community to write Haitian in the census forms. Today a large sector of the Haitian community is classified as multi-racial by the Bureau because of that effort. 20% to 30% of those residents in LIttle Haiti and North Miami classified themselves as haitian but data come out as multi-racial based on the software used by the Census.

Jean-Robert Lafortune has been the recipient of many awards and nominations for community building. Although many of his friends and constituents have encouraged him to run for an elective office in the State of Florida or local government, he has not made up his mind on those suggestions.

If you enter this home page, you are probably interested on some information and background on Jean-Robert Lafortune.

Please sign my guestbook with any comments or reactions you have to my site. You can also contact me privately by sending a snail mail at P.O Box 381416, Miami, Fl. 33238 or a quick mail at jrlafortune@lycos.com. I love to get mail and hear from you! You will get a reply from me whether your comments are critical or encouraging. Keep in mind the work I do to uplift the conditions of Haitian Nationals living in the United States is never about me or my personal gain. It is always designed to benefit the collectivity rather than self-promotion.


On November 14, 2002, Jean-Robert Lafortune was invited by the University of Miami North South Center to speak on "Caribbean Politics: Changing Realities, ethnic tensions, and globalism influences" Lafortune puts emphasis on how class struggle in colonial Haiti continues to influence current political events in Haiti and attributes the stalemate between the Lavalas government and the political parties of the convergence to intolerance and mistrust from both sides. Other factors that contributing to Haiti's poverty include the U.S Occupation of Haiti in 1915 where U.S authorities displaced 50,00 Haitian peasants who were forced to migrate to Cuba or Dominican Republic to cut sugar canes for the count of the McDonald Corporation. The U.S invasion in 1994 preceding by 3 years of a United Nations led economic embargo contribute greatly to destroy the rudimentary infrastructure in Haiti at the time. When the U.S left in 1998, no effort was done to repair the economic damages as the result of the embargo. He stressed that the next best chance for Haiti to save itself is for the Haitian Diaspora to better organize itself to become a force to reckon by U.S polimakers and those im power in Haiti. In the traditional relationship between Washington - Port-au-Prince and Port-au-Prince Washington, it is now time to introduce a new element in the equation, the presence of the Haitian Diaspora as a viable partner on matters related to Haiti. The Haitian diaspora in North America can come with 3 elements at the table, urged Lafortune. It has experience to evolve and operate within democratic institutions, it has the expertise and knowledge in many areas and it can bring money to the table.
What's New?
 
On Friday, June 21, 2002, Jean-Robert Lafortune briefed the U.S Civil Rights Commission in Miami-Dade County in referrence to Haitian Refugees indefinitely detained in several facilities in Miami by the Bush Administration.  Since December 3rd, 185 Refugees were intercepted by the U.S Coast Guard at the Biscayne National Park.  Although all of them have cleared their credible fear interview conducted by INS Officials, the Bush Administration has issued a directive to INS and the Justice Department to keep kep the Haitian Refugees behind bars under the recent patriot act enacted by Congress to combat terrorrism. Among those refugees, are 12 minors, including 9 month old baby who have spent already 9 months in incarceration.
 
In his testimony, Lafortune explained that the current Haitian Containment Policy being implemented by the Administration is not new.  Indeed this policy started since 1791 on the eve of the general insurection of Haitian slaves which trigered the Haitian Revolution.   Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had taken punitive action to either isolate Haiti or ban all African slaves who had made a stop-over in Haiti.  In addition to the U.S Congress, States like Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina had enacted legislations to ban free former haitian slaves from travelling to the U.S mainland.  Denmark Vesey who conducted a violent slave revolt in 1832 Charleston in South Carolina had lived in Haiti and had witnessed the Haitian Revolution in the early 1800's. 
May 19, 2002 Jean-Robert Lafortune was guest speaker of the AMNESTY International (Broward Chapter)at Nova University's Connection Café to speak on "200 years of Forced Haitian Migration in North America" and how the Haitian Revolution compelled Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to sell Louisiana to the United States when his dream to reconquer Haiti vanished. Louisiana was sold to the U.S because Napoleon gave up on his dream to have a military base in North America which would be used eventually by the French Army to conquer the North American Continent.

In May 2001 The The Student Guild of the University of the West Indies and Florida Atlantic University invited Jean-Robert Lafortune to be part of a panel of Caribbean Experts to speak on how to create better linkage between and among the disparate groups from the Caribbean who are now living in South Florida. Lecture focus on the need for Afro-Caribbean to start a common agenda designed to on a consensus building for both the short and long terms. The Afro-Caribbean Community in South Florida is part of a new social transformation that is taking shape in Miami-Dade. Unless a conscious effort is made to chanel a common vision among people with similar historical and cultural background, a lot of opportunities for political and economic empowerment will be lost.

Hey folks, stay tune for my foto gallery in August 2002.


6/13/02 - Will be adding my new photos of most recent advocacy efforts for immigrants rights in the United States and specific actions undetaken to pressure the Bush Administration to release Haitian Asylum Seekers.  Both Florida Senators, Bob Grahm and Bill Nelson will tour the Krome Detention Center, TGK Jail and Boystwon to visit those refugees in indefinite detention.  Earlier this year, on March 9, 2002, we had conducted a tour of these facilities
with the United States Congressman John Conyers, Ranking Member of the U.S House Judiciairy Committee.

A door; Actual size=180 pixels wide

I hope to update this page often with new photos.

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