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Fund help for Caribbean
The year 1982 was a critical one for Florida. The economy had sagged as part of a national recession. As Florida continued to absorb the tens of thousands of Cuban refugees who had arrived from Mariel in 1980, new waves of refugees arrived on our shores to escape the political instability of a communist regime in Nicaragua and the poverty of Haiti. Many Floridians with skills, experience and, sometimes, roots in the Caribbean were eager to help.
In 1982, the not-for-profit Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the America (FAVACA) was created to establish sustainable partnerships among private, public, business and educational institutions.
More than 2,000 FAVACA volunteers have trained 50,000 volunteers in Florida and 30 countries in the region to help those in need. Volunteers have responded to several hurricanes and natural disasters in the Caribbean, bringing to devastated communities trained personnel and equipment lacking in most of the island countries.
Through FAVACA, Florida law-enforcement officers, health officials and agricultural experts collaborate with federal and host country colleagues in targeting gang violence, mitigating disease vectors and various agricultural concerns that, if left unchecked, could adversely impact Florida.
Haiti has been a continuing focus. Volunteers have trained air and seaport supervisors and custom officials; assisted in the promotion of illness-prevention programs, especially HIV/ AIDS; worked with small farmers to eliminate the Medfly threat; and protected fish stocks, coral reefs and mangroves. Govs. Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush called on FAVACA to manage the Florida/Haiti Initiative of state and federal projects to improve the lives of Haitians.
FAVACA has provided significant returns on a relatively small investment of taxpayer dollars. But it now is struggling for survival. In 2007 the Legislature funded, but Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed, FAVACA's core funding and its Haiti supplement. The veto was later acknowledged as a mistake. In 2008, the Legislature funded and the governor approved $350,000 to support FAVACA activities, better than the previous year but less than what is required to support FAVACA's mission.
It is critical that the Legislature and the governor reestablish at least FAVACA's core funding to allow it to keep channeling Floridians' talent and compassion to our benefit and that of the Caribbean and the Americas.
BOB GRAHAM, former governor and U.S. senator, Miami Lakes
Letters to the Editor