TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Roudy Stanley Penn presented his credentials to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Tuesday (July 6), formally ushering in his tenure as the Republic of Haiti's ambassador to Taiwan.
During their meeting, Tsai noted that Taipei and Port-au-Prince had celebrated 65 years of diplomatic ties in April, and she emphasized the countries' fruitful cooperation spanning the areas of public health, agriculture, education, and infrastructure. She also commended Penn's considerable experience in the public and private spheres of political life.
For his first interview in the post, Ambassador Penn agreed to discuss with Taiwan News his entry into politics, his hopes for future collaborative projects, the state of the Taiwan-Haiti relationship, and more.
TN: Could you tell us a little about your early life? How did you get involved in politics?
Amb. Penn: I am the eldest of a family of three. The other two are girls and considerably younger than me. Since 2015, I have been married to Daniella Jacques, a businesswoman who heads the Chamber of Commerce of Women Entrepreneurs of Haiti. We have two adorable little children, Jacqee Stanley Penn and Danilee Grace Penn.
To come to your question, I have to say that when I'm asked to talk about my youth, it's always a bit difficult — because I still think of myself as young. Unless maybe I'm wrong — which I wouldn't have liked anyway.
Talking about the beginning of my involvement in politics goes back to the 2005-2006 general election. At this time, I was still a student, and a candidate for the municipality of the commune of Delmas requested my support for his candidacy. Unfortunately, he was someone I haven't really kept in touch with. This experience was very limited.
My real integration into the political arena coincides with my meeting in 2009 with Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, minister for Women's Rights at the time, who invited me to join her cabinet. It's a strange story, in that Ms. Lassegue, who didn't know me before, was in her words "just captivated" by my intervention, following a short public speech I had delivered. She invited me to join her team, and I said yes. That’s pretty much how it all started. It was there, for example, that I began to meet the elite of the Haitian political scene.
TN: What was your impression of Taiwan before taking up this post? Has anything about the country struck you as surprising since you moved here?
Amb. Penn: Taiwan is a country well known in Haiti for its useful development support for several decades. My impression has always been positive, especially since in a comparative approach, Taiwan's economic, social, and political progress can serve as an inspiration to Haitian elites who are aware of the development needs of Haiti.
As to the second part of your question, I wouldn't say that I was in any way surprised. I would rather say what got me excited is the level of involvement of young people in Taiwanese economic development, as well as in political life.
In general, when I arrive somewhere, it is always a segment of the population that attracts my attention because in Haiti I have for a long time contributed to the establishment of training programs and studies on the participation of young people in the political sphere, through several institutions, such as Jeunesse Montante (which I co-founded), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International IDEA. Not to mention the fact that I have done numerous publications on young people, including two books — one on the alignment of the age of eligibility to the age of majority (2013) and the other on youth participation in political struggles in Haiti (2014).
TN: There has been some speculation about Haiti-Taiwan relations since last year as well as continued anxiety over China's poaching of its allies. How would you characterize the state of bilateral relations today?
Amb. Penn: Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Haiti has always been an unwavering and committed ally of Taiwan. President Moise often emphasizes his interest in Taiwanese cooperation. All this is to say that cooperation is going well, and for my part, I will spare no effort to make it even more reassuring by working to strengthen economic and cultural ties that can help bring the two peoples closer together.
TN: What would you like to see Taiwan and Haiti accomplish over the next few years? Are there any projects or potential deals in particular that you'd like to see progress in the near future?
Amb. Penn: The Republic of Haiti and the Republic of China (Taiwan) are two old diplomatic friends. It is a 65-year story of shared values and mutual support for development and democracy. Taiwan has supported many projects in Haiti, and this is a good enough opportunity, on behalf of my country, to thank the quality of Taiwanese cooperation that President Jovenel Moise never misses the opportunity to mention. As he always says, it is often not the quantity that matters, but the quality. Taiwanese cooperation is “quality cooperation,” available, always ready to respond.
Currently, one of the important projects which is funded by Taiwan and which is of great importance to President Moise is the construction of the High School of Excellence in Quartier Morin, in the Northern Department. My wish is to see this project erected in the near future so that the most brilliant and gifted daughters and sons of Haiti can pursue their studies through quality education within the best suitable environment.
In addition to this, I will work to strengthen the existing programs, without forgetting instructions from the President to initiate new ones that strategically participate in a national development framework. Since President Moise came to power, Haitian-Taiwanese cooperation has undergone a certain transformation. In 2017, a substantial loan agreement was signed, making it possible to carry out major infrastructure projects that fit in with the vision of President Moise's administration, such as the Electricity National Grid Reinforcement Project and the Project for a water-pumping system by the solar photovoltaic.
Much more than all this, we are contemplating other programs aimed at placing Haiti over the next 20 years as a leader in the Caribbean in certain areas.
In this regard, through solid technological cooperation, Haiti can benefit from Taiwan's experience and leadership in this area. Technology is a cross-cutting field and many of Haiti’s current challenges can be addressed using technology. This is one of the areas in which Taiwan has great renown.
Another point which is very important concerns Taiwanese investments in Haiti. While Haiti offers many opportunities and advantages for entrepreneurs to access the Haitian and Caribbean markets, and especially the American consumers, Taiwanese investments are still low.
What investors everywhere need to know is that Haiti is pristine. The opportunities are enormous, and all the government wants is to allow the people to work, to use our resources for the socio-economic development of the country. What Haiti sorely needs today is for its friends to help it create jobs for its people, deliver quality education adapted to global competitiveness for the youth.
TN: What are some of your inspirations for your public service?
Amb. Penn: I have to say that there are many personalities who have inspired me to embrace public service. In the first place and inevitably, it is Toussaint Louverture, a fascinating figure whose political know-how is recognized and admired by several historians and political scientists the world over. Furthermore, to stay strictly within the diplomatic framework, my inspirations are mainly Anténor Firmin, Horace Pauléus Sanon, and Emile Saint-Lot, who represent important moments in the diplomatic history of Haiti. These are characters that are generally referred to with great pride.
TN: What advice do you have for young people looking to get involved in politics, whether domestic or international?
Amb. Penn: Engage yourself. Make sure you don't just endure the society you live in five, 10, 15, or 20 years from now. Build it. Be actors alongside the elders, to be inspired by their experience but also to show them the benefits of your ardor as well as your creativity.