South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 29, 2004

Emotions run high in Miami's Little Haiti

By Doug Phillips and the Associated Press

Emotions are running high in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood as supporters of Haitian president Jean-Betrand Aristide clashed with opponents of the president, who fled the chaos-filled country Sunday morning.

Haitian residents gathered around a neighborhood restaurant and laundromat along NE 54th St between North Miami Ave. and NE 2nd Ave. In Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, a passing driver honked the horn as a passenger clapped and yelled: "Aristide is gone. Aristide is gone.''

According to witnesses, dozens of Aristide supporters shattered the back window of a car belonging to a woman who was identified as a supporter of Aristide's ouster.

About a dozen Miami police cars arrived on the scene shortly after 11 a.m. and blocked off the area to keep the peace. Police have parked their cruisers in the middle of NE 54th St. but are allowing traffic through.

The pro-Aristide crowd blames the US for the turmoil that has errupted in Haiti and say that the US has kidnapped Aristide.

Elsewhere in South Florida, Haitian-Americans and several South Florida congressmen were apprehensive Sunday about what will happen next.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, accused the Bush administration of inaction while violence took hold in recent weeks and culminated with Aristide's leaving the country Sunday. Meek believes U.N. and U.S. troops will be needed to restore security and stave off starvation.

"If we continue to march on in standing by, the person with the biggest gun and the most guns will be in charge of Haiti,'' Meek told WTVJ-TV. "The longer we wait, the more difficult this is going to be for us to restore.''

U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, also called for immediate international help.

"What we do now will be the difference between life and death in Haiti,'' Foley said in a statement.

South Florida is home to one of the largest Haitian communities in the nation, and it has growing political clout. The population is at least 150,000, and some believe it may be three times larger. Many Haitians with relatives in their homeland were frustrated trying to get through by telephone Sunday.

Bayard Thermidor, who lived near the Haitian city of Gonaives before coming to Miami nine years ago, expects to see "good weeks and bad weeks after Aristide's departure because he did not leave voluntarily.'' He is happy Aristide left and hopes to see new elections in six months.

Claude Mancuso, a French-Moroccan who has lived on and off in Haiti since 1979, owns the Miami-based Haitian Television Network. He considered Aristide to be a tyrant and his Lavalas party oppressive.

"So many people are happy today because we've been living in such fear of being free to speak,'' he said. "We're only hoping the retaliation against those who profited from the Lavalas regime does not occur as bloody as it did on (Jean-Claude) Duvalier's departure.''

Little Haiti shop owner and longtime Miami resident Marie-Louise Simeon hoped to hear from her husband in Haiti soon.

"I'm just watching the news and I'm keeping an eye on the U.S. government,'' she said. "I hope the U.S. government will help us out of this, and I hope for the killings to stop in Haiti.''

Junior Jean-Baptiste, of North Miami, moved to Florida as a preschooler 20 years ago. He said he hasn't been in touch with his mother in Haiti for more than a week. "I don't know whether Aristide's departure is good or not, but I just want change and peace,'' he said.

Copyright © 2004