The Miami Herald
Jan. 02, 2004

Haiti's plight felt in Dade

As South Florida's Haitians celebrate the bicentennial of Haiti's independence, many are frustrated that the nation has not fulfilled its promise.


Miami Archbishop John C. Favalora began a two-hour outdoor mass on the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence with a politically charged message to the Haitian people, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's regime and the United States.

Speaking to an overflow crowd of 4,000 at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti, he warned that the Haitian people need assurances from their government that it will provide food and work and safeguard lives.

''It is the role of every government to take care of the basic needs of everyone in their family,'' Favalora said. ``It is also the role of good Samaritans and good neighbors to help. Our government must be involved in making better conditions.''

On a day marked by demonstrations and clashes between Aristide supporters and the opposition in Port-au-Prince, Favalora called for peace and reflection.

Some of those who spoke after him were more pointed in their remarks.

The Rev. Ferry Brutus of Miami's Holy Family Catholic Church, speaking on behalf of the Association of Haitian Priests, cautioned those who seek a quick solution to Haiti's problems in Aristide's ouster: ``One person cannot change the country. We have our own responsibility toward the development of the country.''

Advocates of democracy cannot also advocate the ouster of the country's democratically elected president before his term ends, he told parishioners.

North Miami councilman Jacques Despinosse was even more adamant. ''Aristide has made a lot of mistakes,'' he said. ``We know that. But the opposition has done worse. They should have been preparing for the departure of Aristide. That would have given us hope.''

Despinosse said that in the 20 years since dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was overthrown, Haiti has still not made progress.


''It's time we take responsibility for the full misery of Haiti,'' he said. ``We are not making that much progress. We cannot blame the Americans or the French. Haitians do not want to accept personal responsibility.''

Ambivalence was evident among the thousands who gathered in North Miami's Griffing Park, on the streets of Little Haiti and at a South Miami-Dade church: pride for throwing off France's slave regime 200 years ago to establish the world's first black republic, shame in not having lived up to the nation's promise.

''Two hundred years ago we thought we were going to show the world,'' said Guy Syllien, an artist who brought some of his paintings to sell on North Miami Avenue and 62nd Street, where city workers hung bunting and set up grandstands and a stage for speeches. ``And then 200 years of misery. This is not a time for drinking wine and music. This should be a time for reflection.''

''It's good for us to celebrate our freedom today,'' said Travis Lamour, in North Miami. ``But I feel very unhappy because of what's going on in Haiti. I think about the young Haitians on the island and I wish they could enjoy life and freedom like we do here.''

At a celebration at the South Dade Haitian United Methodist Mission in Homestead, the Rev. Robes Charles said, ``The problem is not that Haiti is not liberated, because Haiti has been free. The problem is that Haitians, the Haitian people, are not free because the mentality of slavery is still there.''


Sometimes emotions surged. ''I can't really celebrate today,'' said Vernet Janvier, who was at a Soup Joumou -- the eating of the traditional pumpkin soup to commemorate Haitian independence -- in Little Haiti. ``After 200 years, we're still fighting with each other. The country is worse than it was before. We have turned upside down.''

''Excuse me! Excuse me!'' said another man. ``Where were you living? Where were you when Duvalier was in power? Assassinations and violence!''

''I'm not blind,'' Janvier shouted back. ``Don't tell me what to see. Two hundred years and what?''

At the South Dade church service, it was the children who stole the show.

The Crusaders, a rap group made up of Haitian American teens from Homestead, got thunderous applause from the nearly 200 red-and-blue clad people in the pews.

''We don't belong to France, so you better call us Haitians. Don't ever call us slaves. Some Haitians took that to the grave,'' Frantz Simon, 14, shouted into the microphone.

Herald staff writer Daphne Duret contributed to this report.