Supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded his return near a North Miami event where Haiti's new prime minister helped to raise money for a Haiti exhibit.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Outside, demonstrators sang and waved neon-colored signs demanding the return of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide while denouncing U.S. officials as kidnappers who installed an illegal government.
Inside, an equal number of enthusiastic Haitians sipped white wine and munched on shrimp and cheese as they waited for former South Floridian Gerard Latortue -- the retired economist who was tapped two months ago to lead Haiti's new transitional government after Aristide's forced Feb. 29 resignation.
MISSION TO D.C.
Fresh from Washington, D.C., where he spent this week pleading for money on behalf of his bankrupt country, Haiti's new prime minister made a special appearance Friday night at North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art to help raise money for this summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., that will commemorate the Haitian bicentennial. It is scheduled for June 23-27 and June 30-July 4 on the National Mall.
The live exhibit, two years in the making, is one of the few projects supported by the Aristide administration that the Latortue government has embraced.
That meant little to the crowd of 300 protesters gathered on the museums sidewalks -- far out of earshot of those inside the museum's courtyard -- to demand Latortue's resignation and decry the United States and its ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, as ``kidnappers.''
''We are protesting against President Bush, Latortue and Foley,'' said Nacivre Charles, 46, of Miami. ``Latortue is illegal. He's not supposed to be in that position. He is supporting what happened to the Haitian people. Aristide was elected by the Haitian people and he has to finish his term.''
Others like Patrick Eli said they were there to complain about the killings in Haiti of Aristide supporters whose bodies are allegedly washing up on the shores. Ludner Beauvoir, a local Haitian broadcaster, blasted recent statements by Latortue, including a controversial meeting in Gonaives where he referred to the rebels who forced Aristide's departure as freedom fighters.
''He knows nothing about being a prime minister,'' said Beauvoir, surrounded by members of Veye Yo, a long-standing pro-Aristide group in Miami. ``He must resign if he has any sense of character. He has no respect for the Haitian people, and he is embracing terrorists.''
Inside, Foley, who traveled to Washington with Latortue, was unfazed by the demonstrators. Neither were the group of about 300 invitees who pledged their support -- and gave their minimum $50 donations -- toward meeting the festival's deficit, which is between $75,000 and $300,000.
''They have a right to protest; it's part of the democratic process,'' said J.C. Cantave, whose group, the Haitian-American Center for Economic and Public Affairs, was cosponsoring the fundraiser.
``But what is taking place tonight is what was supposed to happen on Feb. 27, before Aristide's resignation. The good press that Haiti will receive from this is very important. We think there is going to be a positive economic benefit from people visiting the festival and wanting to learn more about the Haitian people and Haitian culture.''
Geri Benoit, who is the ex-wife of former president and Aristide protégé René Preval, couldn't agree more. Benoit has spent the past two years advocating the project and was on hand Friday night to tout its significance as well as the fundraising efforts.
''This has been a very difficult year. But I still think out of a difficult situation, something positive can come,'' she said.
``This symbolizes the rebirth of Haiti in 2004.''