The Miami Herald
Fri, Feb. 20, 2004
Poll: Most Haitians in U.S. back Aristide

A poll of 600 Haitians living in the United States finds most of them support President Jean Bertrand-Aristide finishing his term in office and tend to glorify Haiti's past.


A majority of Haitians living in the United States want Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to finish his term in office, but an even larger group says the country was better off under the Duvalier dictatorships, according to a nationwide poll released Thursday.

The poll of 600 Haitians residing in the United States -- half of them from Florida -- also found that the community is divided on whether the United States should send its military into Haiti.

The poll was conducted in English and Haitian Creole by Miami-based Bendixen & Associates for New California Media, a nationwide coalition of ethnic news organizations, funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. It has a sampling margin error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Believed to be the first in-depth poll of Haitian Americans, it included both U.S. citizens and legal residents, as well as a few illegal immigrants. More than 90 percent of those surveyed were born in Haiti.

The poll found that 52 percent of the respondents believe Aristide should not bow to opposition pressure to leave office before his second term expires in February 2006.

Local Haitian-American supporters of Aristide say the results show that most people want democracy to succeed in their homeland.

''People are tired of coup d'etats in Haiti. We've seen 32 coup d'etats in Haiti's history,'' said Tony Jeanthenor, chairman of South Florida's pro-Aristide watchdog group, Veye Yo (Watch Them).

``It is the minority that is asking for Aristide to go. They have all the money and the power. They've been running the country since 1804, governing behind the scene.''

But he was dumbfounded by this eye-opening revelation: 56 percent of respondents said Haiti was better off politically and economically under dictators Francois ''Papa Doc'' Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' than under Aristide, the Caribbean nation's first democratically-elected president.

''Wow,'' Jeanthenor said.

Pollsters began calling Haitians in five states -- Florida, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut -- on Feb. 12, a week after armed anti-government rebels began a violent rebellion against Aristide by seizing more than a dozen towns, including Haiti's fourth-largest city, Gonaives.

Almost 60 people, including several police officers, have been killed in the attacks, the latest uprising in a 3-year-old political crisis that has crippled the Haitian economy and pitted Aristide against opponents demanding his ouster from office.


Concerned about Haiti's worsening political crisis, some U.S. lawmakers are urging U.S. military intervention. And France is exploring the idea of sending in an international peacekeeping force. Caribbean Community leaders are pressing Aristide and his political opponents to arrive at a political solution.

Despite the support for Aristide to finish his term, only 23 percent of those surveyed in the Bendixen poll believe he has done a good job governing Haiti. There is also skepticism about Haiti's opposition movement, with 55 percent of those surveyed believing that opponents are fighting for political power -- not democracy.

''Obviously the situation is chaotic in Haiti,'' said Sergio Bendixen, whose firm did the polling. ``But what they are saying is he won the presidential election and he should finish his term. If he were to leave, it would hurt democracy.''

So with no real alternative to Aristide, respondents are choosing the status quo.

Still, some would favor military intervention either in support of Aristide (32 percent) or for the opposition (13 percent).

Many of the differences in opinion seem to be generational -- between younger Haitians who arrived here as children and were educated in the United States, and those who are older.


Support for Aristide's resignation -- 35 percent -- was much more prevalent among younger Haitian Americans, who tended to believe the embattled president is acting like a dictator and were more likely to see the armed rebels as liberators.

Jean-Germain Gros, an associate political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has written extensively about Haiti, said overall the findings indicate that Haitians in the diaspora have become politically sophisticated in their thinking.

''Haitians, after living in the United States for a number of years, have become habituated with democratic principles, one of which says if you were elected to serve a specific term, you serve out your term,'' said Gros, who is not associated with the poll.


Attempting to explain the generational difference in the poll results, Gros said younger Haitian Americans are perhaps much less likely to overlook Aristide's flaws.

``I grew up in Haiti and know what it's like to live under a dictatorship. I have some basis of reference. Subconsciously, I may conclude Aristide may be a flawed democrat -- at best -- but he's not a tyrant in the mold of the Duvaliers.''

The nostalgia that some Haitian-Americans -- young or old -- seem to be expressing about the Duvalier regime can best be explained as typical human nature, both Gros and Bendixen said.

''After time goes by, you forget the negative,'' said Bendixen, who has heard similar sentiments shared by Dominicans about the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and Chileans about Gen. Augusto Pinochet. ``The nostalgia comes with time when you tend to think to the past.''