The Miami Herald
Sat, Feb. 21, 2004

U.S. urged to help out Haiti

South Florida Haitian activists say the United States should help restore security in Haiti and halt deportations to the country.


  As a team of high-ranking international diplomats arrived in Haiti on Friday in yet another attempt to pressure Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the opposition to come to an agreement, South Florida Haitian-American community leaders said they were fed up with the talks and want action -- now.

  The leaders -- some of whom support Aristide and others who do not -- say restoring security in Haiti should be a top priority. In recent weeks, armed rebels have seized more than a dozen towns in the latest rebellion against Aristide.

  ''We have a war in progress,'' said Farah Juste, a well-known Haitian singer and longtime Aristide supporter. ``People are dying.''

  Juste was among more than 30 Haitian community leaders and advocates who attended a meeting Friday at U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek's North Dade office. Meek, a Miami Democrat, wanted to hear the community's concerns and to send a clear message to Washington that his constituents want more U.S. involvement in the crisis, which has taken at least 60 lives in the past two weeks.

  ''We want an offensive strategy rather than a defensive strategy,'' said Meek. He said he does not want a repeat of the 1990s when countless Haitians lost their lives at sea, attempting to reach U.S. shores. Meek and the group renewed calls for a U.S. moratorium on all deportations back to Haiti, and to provide all Haitians living here illegally with temporary protected status. Both Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, and immigration attorney Cheryl Little said they have taken statements from 45 Haitian female detainees in Broward who say they are afraid of going back to Haiti, where some have lost family members in the recent uprisings.

  Immigration officials say they are monitoring the situation, but there are no plans to halt deportations or provide special status to illegal Haitians. ''These people here, who's going to receive them? Who's going to house them? . . . Who's going to protect their rights?'' state Rep. Phillip Brutus, D-North Miami, asked during the meeting.

  Brutus posed the question to Ladd Connell, a Haiti Desk Officer for the U.S. State Department in Washington. Connell, at the request of Meek, called the meeting to update the community on the United States' position and to give information about Friday's diplomatic mission.

  Only after a political agreement is reached will Haiti be offered an international police or military force, Connell said, echoing statements made by Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday.

  That is unacceptable, said many Haitian-American leaders and their supporters.