The Miami Herald
Feb. 08, 2004

Unrest in Haiti worries immigrants

Haitian Americans worry about growing unrest in their island homeland as pro- and anti-Aristide groups rally in Miami.


  Haitian Americans in South Florida watched the events in their homeland closely Saturday, with the two sides of the highly polarized community drawing very different

  Their concern: Armed opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ousted government forces from the central Haitian city of Gonaives on Thursday, and police were battling to retake control Saturday.

  ''I know that it's the talk of the town,'' said Gepsie Metellus, director of the Sant La Neighborhood Center. ``Every single Haitian household right now is listening to Haitian radio. Everybody is very focused on trying to get the latest information.''

  Aristide opponents here said they expected the unrest to spread to other communities because they are certain Aristide has lost the support of the majority of Haitians.

  ''If Aristide doesn't resign now, the same situation is going to extend throughout the cities of Haiti,'' said Dr. Yves Jodesty, a Plantation physician. ``We are on the brink of civil war.''

  But supporters of the former Catholic priest insisted that the events in Gonaives only prove that the president's opponents are inciting violence.

  ''There are some terrorists that invaded Gonaives,'' said Tony Jean Thenor. ``They received money and weapons from outside, but the people of Gonaives want the
  democratic process to continue.''


  Thenor helped organize a pro-Aristide rally in Little Haiti Saturday afternoon that drew about 200 people. The rally was organized in advance as a celebration of Feb. 7, 1986, the day Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier was ousted. He ruled Haiti for 15 years, and his father ruled for 14 before that.

  Wearing T-shirts and carrying umbrellas with Aristide's picture, the people shouted ''Five years!'' referring to the term Aristide was elected to serve as president.

  ''Gonaives is the way it is right now because we have a few millionaires who supplied guns to those people because they want to be in the same position they were in
  during the Duvalier regime,'' said Joseph Poinddujour. ``Those people have never done anything for the country.''


  A more hastily put-together anti-Aristide rally at the Freedom Torch downtown drew about 200 protesters.

  A coalition of 50 Haitian American groups, ranging from the Haitian-American Republican Caucus to the League of Young Haitian-American Professionals, issued a
  statement Saturday demanding an end to the violence which the coalition blamed on Aristide.

  ''You have people from all walks of life going into the streets to protest Aristide,'' said Michel Paquiot, president of the University of Haiti, during the coalition's press
  convergence. "He succeeded in having everyone against him.''

  He spoke from a wheelchair during the coalition's press conference on Saturday. Paquiot's legs were broken by Aristide supporters on Dec. 5.

  The Rev. Frengel Phillip, pastor of a downtown church and a native of Gonaives, said that he had spent most of the day listening to the radio, worried about the violence in a city where he said he has family.

  ''We, from Gonaives, don't like this, with guns, using violence,'' said Phillip, pastor of the Evangelical Temple in downtown Miami. ``But some of us are happy feeling each part of the country should be doing the same thing.''