The Miami Herald
Mon, Mar. 01, 2004

South Florida Haitians divided on reaction to Aristide's flight


As chaos enveloped Haiti on Sunday, South Florida's Haitians wondered -- and worried about -- what President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure means for them and relatives back home.

Gathered in churches, restaurants and barbershops, and sometimes on the streets, they were harshly divided over whether Aristide's departure was warranted. Some disputes became heated.

But most local Haitians were united in concern about what comes next. Those worries were echoed Sunday from Little Haiti to Haitian-American strongholds in central Broward and Delray Beach.

''Hopefully, the international forces will come help so that there will be peace, otherwise there will be chaos,'' said Davidson Pierre, a University of Miami graduate student, walking toward the Siloe Pentecostal Church of God in Little Haiti.

As about 100 worshipers gathered at Fort Lauderdale's Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church, the conversation centered on two issues: Where is Aristide and what's going to happen now.

Prayers for Haiti and its citizens filled the church.

''We always pray for Haiti, everytime there is trouble we pray for Haiti,'' said Carole Dolce, of Lauderdale Lakes. ``We are praying for Haiti several times today.''

Some of the questions being discussed in South Florida's Haitian population, which was conservatively listed as 214,893 in the 2000 Census:

Who will rule? Will order be restored? Will Haiti be stronger?

''You don't know whether to celebrate or what to expect, because now there is no commander in chief,'' said Robert Duverny, 30, an accountant.

From the pulpit at Notre Dame d'Haiti in Little Haiti, the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary said in Creole: ``The problem is not solved. We can't call this a victory for one group or another group. It is a defeat for us, the Haitian people.''

''Haitians should not be taking sides right now. They need to come together and help Haiti move forward,'' Jean-Mary said.

Little Haiti's Tony Antoine, 49, was among those happy for change. ``We don't need Aristide in Haiti. There have been too many killings.''

But many expressed anger that Haiti's first democratically elected president was ousted before he could finish his term. As parishioners spilled out of the church, some shouted at journalists that Aristide should not have been forced out.

''There is no better person to replace him. It's only going to be worse for Haiti,'' said Baliston Elidor, 49, of Little Haiti.


Little Haiti is bounded by Northeast 36th and 83rd streets, Biscayne Boulevard and Northwest Fifth Avenue. The heart of Little Haiti is Northeast 54th Street between Biscayne Boulevard and Miami Avenue.

In Broward, some Haitian Americans were hesitant to cheer until more is known. ''Will the new government -- whoever that is -- be able to forget and forgive the past . . . or will there be more fighting?'' minister Lasse Joseph asked outside Bethel Evangelical church.

Daniella Henry, director of the Delray Beach Haitian American Community Council, said many Palm Beach Haitians did not think the president would leave after hearing him speak on a local radio station Friday night.

''He told the people of Haiti that he wouldn't shame them,'' she said.

Now, she and others are flooded with different emotions.

''People are experiencing grief, happiness,'' Henry said. 'The biggest fear they have is `What is next? What now?' For the past 200 years Haiti has been unstable.''

On Creole language Radio Carnivale (1020 AM), commentators discussed the reasons for Aristide's downfall, and ways the new leadership can keep from making the same mistakes.

''Aristide himself was the engineer of his own destruction,'' said Haitian journalist Ady Jean Gardy. ''No one in history ever had this much popularity, this much of a chance to rule to country like Aristide had, and he systematically destroyed his support.'' Tensions flared at times.


At one point Sunday morning, the crowd at a rally of the pro-Aristide Veye Yo group in Little Haiti became agitated when Aristide opponent Louis Menard drove past them twice.

Some tried to chase him, shouting ``Menard macoute!'' -- a reference to the Duvalier-era secret police, the Tonton Macoutes. Menard, a radio commentator and former friend of Aristide, was not a member of the Macoutes.

Menard drove off, and police pushed back the crowd.

Haitian flags fluttered at the rally, where about 200 protesters gathered to denounce President Bush because they believe the United States forced Aristide's ouster.

The chants: ''No more Bush,'' and ``Coup d'état, no! Democracy, yes!''

The numbers were a contrast to the thousands who celebrated when Aristide returned to power in 1994 after three years of exile.

In the past, political shake-ups in the Caribbean have meant everything from mass migrations to tent cities under Interstate 95 in Miami. It was not unusual for local governments to be taken by surprise. This time, things looked a bit different.

For weeks, Miami, Miami-Dade County and federal officials have been preparing plans to deal with potential migrations, protests and celebrations.

The immediate plan: block off Northwest 54th Street in Little Haiti to allow people to protest, divert traffic and if the crowds get big enough, try to funnel people into the Orange Bowl.

Only the first part of the plan was necessary.

''The demonstrations broke out suddenly on 54th Street without any advance notice to us,'' Miami Police Chief John Timoney said Sunday. ``If it's an ideal world, you get them into the Orange Bowl, provide sound systems and the whole bit, but it's not an ideal world, so we deal with it.''


Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who visited the protests in Little Haiti with Timoney, said he is not worried about having another Mariel-style influx.

''I think the U.S. government has learned from the past, and I think they are more prepared to deal with those kinds of issues than they were in the past,'' Diaz said.

Although the federal government would eventually take the lead in the event of an exodus of Haitians, local agencies would first have to stabilize the situation, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas said.

''We are prepared in case that does happen,'' Penelas said.

Herald staff writers Richard Brand, Wanda J. DeMarzo, Daphne Duret, Ashley Fantz, Sara Olkon and David Ovalle contributed to this report.