State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry returned to Haiti for the first time since she was a child last week. Forry and her husband, Reporter publisher and editor Bill Forry, traveled on JetBlue’s inaugural direct flight to Haiti from Boston last Wednesday after the senator participated in a ribbon cutting to mark the new service.
Following the four-hour and 15-minute flight, Haitian-American Dorcena Forry made a whirlwind series of appearances that included meetings with Haitian Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin, whom Forry hosted in Boston two weeks ago, to discuss boosting tourism trade between the two countries.
“Haiti is a beautiful country. I’m not just saying that because I am Haitian-American,” Forry said on Monday after returning to her home in Dorchester. “The tourism opportunity is quite incredible.”
She spoke to an audience of 150 people at a reception at the Marriott Port-au-Prince, the very first Marriott hotel in Haiti which just opened. The $48 million hotel had its grand opening the next night, at which Forry was a featured guest. She also met briefly with Haitian President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Evans Paul at an opening reception for a new restaurant that has just been open to service Haiti’s National Museum (MAPUNAH), which is a major tourist attraction in Port-au-Prince.
“He’s finishing off his term in the fall,” Dorcena Forry said of Martelly. “I talked to him briefly in terms of the Haitian diaspora, the need for investment, and how the diaspora community wants to invest in Haiti.”
While in Haiti, the senator from South Boston and Dorchester also ran into an old friend— Pierre Imbert, the former director of Catholic Charities’ Haitian Multi-Service Center and others from Massachusetts, and was reminded of the strong connections between the commonwealth and Haiti.
“The connection between Massachuetts and Haiti is really deep and goes back to the 1800s with US Sen. Charles Sumner,” Dorcena Forry said. “There’s even a road named after him in Haiti. He sought to have the US recognize the newly independent country.”
Dorcena Forry also met with US Embassy officials to discuss current US-Haiti relations, including the ongoing controversy regarding the expulsion of Haitians and people of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic; along with the upcoming national and local elections in Haiti this fall. She also appeared on Haitian radio and television including an hour long appearance on “Le Point,” Haiti’s most popular morning show, which is televised live nationally (similar to America’s Today Show). She discussed her career in politics and the tourism trade between the US and Haiti.
While many unfamiliar with the country may think only of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, Forry said there is much more to the country. Foreign travel to Haiti increased by 11 percent last year, according to figures released by the Haitian Ministry for Tourism and Creative Arts. The ministry projects that the figure will climb again next year, with new hotels and beach resorts coming online.
The JetBlue direct flights are seasonal for now— June-September— but Forry and others are pushing for a year-round link from Boston to Port-au-Prince.
“I want people to recognize that Haiti is a place to vacation. I want people to think of Haiti. Think of it as a place to take friends and family and enjoy yourself.”
That is not to say there is not much more work to be done, she admits.
“It’s also about helping communities. You can vacation, but you can also volunteer,” Dorcena Forry said. “There is still work left to be done— for oral health with dentists from the states, building housing or helping with schools and education.”