The Miami Herald
Tue, Mar. 02, 2004
Aristide disappoints expatriates

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, once revered as the leader who would bring true democracy to Haiti, has left many Haitians in South Florida disillusioned.


Two-hundred years of independence. Forty-three heads of state. Thirty-two coup d'etats. And now the forced departure of the country's first democratically elected president -- a polarizing figure once hailed by followers as a modern-day Messiah.

A history punctuated by strife, violence and instability that has imbued the Haitian people with a quiet sense of ambivalence as they watch -- once again -- Haiti implode.

So many Haitians had staked so much hope on Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the man who might finally deliver what the Caribbean nation has never had: a true taste of democracy.

''Aristide was the dream,'' said Bertin Semelfort, 45, a Miami activist and friend of the former president who visited with him Thursday in Port-au-Prince. ``And they don't believe whoever will take office will make a difference.''

The emotions sweeping across South Florida Haitians over the departure of Aristide is far from feelings Haitians expressed 14 years ago when they flooded the streets of Little Haiti -- to celebrate his first presidential victory in 1990 and later to decry the military coup in 1991 that cut short his first term in office.


But with the exception of a small group of Aristide supporters who gathered Sunday and Monday on Northwest 54th Street in front of the Veye Yo headquarters, a local pro-Aristide advocacy group, the Haitian response to their homeland's latest crisis has been relatively reserved.

''People are burned out,'' said Terry Rey, a Florida International University professor who studies the local Haitian community. ``They are tired.''

They are also frustrated, said the Rev. Father Reginald Jean-Mary of Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti.

''Haitians today are more divided than united,'' Jean-Mary said. ``They feel powerless that they cannot do anything. They see it as an act of force.''

The departure of Aristide, which some Haitians here are calling the 33rd coup d'etat, is not the same as it was in 1991.

''They understand Aristide has made a lot of mistakes, they are conscious of that. They were caught by surprise,'' Jean-Mary said.

The disillusionment over Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who many believe failed to make good on promises to deliver Haiti from its misery, has provoked a range of emotions among many of South Florida's 215,000 Haitians.

''I don't know what to think,'' said Luigi Chery, 27 of Miami. ``There has been one president after another in Haiti, and the situation has always been bad. It hasn't gotten any better. People just don't seem to know what direction they want to go.''

''I'm not sure right now how I feel,'' Darlyne Jean-Charles, 24, of Miami said Sunday just hours after learning Aristide had resigned under pressure from the United States and France. ``When Aristide was there, there was a lot of misery. But with him gone, who's to say that the people who will replace him won't be more corrupt?''

Dr. Joseph Fanfan Jr., a Fort Lauderdale pediatrician, echoed Jean-Charles. ''It saddens me, really,'' he said in an interview in his office. ``That is a country with no order, no army. I don't know who to blame. I tend to believe we had problems before Aristide and we will continue to have them.''


Uncertainty about Haiti's future was widely expressed among Haitians here even as their countrymen in Port-au-Prince embraced an armed rebel group as they entered the capital Monday.

As reality began to set in for some, shame and humiliation began to set in for others.

The symbolism, say some Haitians, is just too poignant: In this year of Haiti's bicentennial, it's the French, their country's former colonizers, along with the United States, which occupied Haiti for 19 years, that pressured their first democratically elected president to resign and will now shape their future.

''How do I feel? I am ashamed. I feel humiliated when I see the situation that Haiti is in,'' said Claudy Gassant, a former Haitian investigative judge who fled Haiti two years ago to seek political asylum when his armed bodyguards could no longer guarantee his protection from the Aristide government.

Herald staff writers Carolyn Salazar and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.