The Fire This Time

As the insurgents who have seized power in northern Haiti vow to storm the capital, Haitian Americans in Miami voice passionate, disparate opinions

The Bush administration may be playing with fire, but some Haitian Americans here speak as though they would like to fan the flames advancing toward Aristide. "The man is a crazy nut person," fumes Lucie Orlando, the 59-year-old president of the Haitian American Republican Caucus. She could be found last week not in Little Haiti but Little Havana, at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association's one-story clubhouse, to help announce a new alliance of anti-Aristide Haitian Americans, anti-Castro Cubans, and anti-Chavez Venezuelans. She was against Aristide in 1990 and still is. "I always opposed [his restoration to office]. And when I was saying it, people thought I was funny. I said, 'When I look at that man's eyes, I see something wrong behind his eyes.' I always say he look like evil to me."

"Aristide has gone from head of state to head of mob," adds Samir Mourra, president of a North Miami mortgage company and an organizer of the newfangled Haitian-Venezuelan-Cuban alliance. About 100 people turned out for an anti-Aristide rally the coalition staged last Saturday at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. Their most creative contribution to the looming Haitian bloodbath was to christen a new Axis of Evil: Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Aristide. Demonstrators carried signs with photos of the four, featuring an X drawn through Hussein's visage.

"I believe that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is not a democrat -- he's a dictator hiding behind a shield of democracy," Mourra declares. "And if he does not want to resign, he must be forced out, because he is arming thugs to kill people." Paradoxically Mourra says he is opposed to armed struggle but thinks the anti-Aristide rebels are on the right path: "I'm against violence. I believe that once you promote violence it will come back to you like a boomerang. But what's happening right now I think has to follow its course. It is sad that it has to go this way, but I think that this way there will be less casualties." Mourra favors sending in U.S. peacekeeping troops but only after Aristide resigns. He believes the anti-Aristide gunmen will follow through on a promise to lay down their arms as soon as the elected president steps down.

A Haitian man watches news of his homeland, and it is 
Jonathan Postal
A Haitian man watches news of his homeland, and it is depressing
Aristide supporters at Veye Yo are suddenly 
contemplating the ghosts of dictatorships past
Jonathan Postal
Aristide supporters at Veye Yo are suddenly contemplating the ghosts of dictatorships past

But it is fairly clear that a vast majority of Haitian Americans do not find the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front so trustworthy. A recent opinion poll, conducted by Miami-based Bendixen & Associates, found only six percent of Haitian Americans back the Front. Thirty-five percent, however, think Aristide should resign.

In contrast, the survey found 57 percent of Haitian Americans agree with this statement: Aristide should stay in office because he was elected by an overwhelming majority of Haitians in the 2000 presidential election. (Thirteen percent said they didn't know whether he should stay or go.)

Even Haitian Americans who avoided the horrors of the 1991 coup and its brutal aftermath sense a catastrophe in the making if the anti-Aristide rebels are left unchecked. "I was not paying that much attention to the Haiti thing, to tell you the truth," admits North Miami Commissioner Jacques Despinosse, a 59-year-old immigration consultant who moved to the U.S. from Haiti in 1968. "But when I'm reading in the paper that a former chief of police and FRAPH people were coming from Santo Domingo to [Haiti], I said no, this is no longer something local and we have to be serious about it [and send a] peacekeeping force. Otherwise it's going to be chaos! I'm not going to say Aristide is a lamb. He's not a lamb. And I'm not going to say the opposition is a lamb either. But all I'm saying is there's room for [the government and opposition] to sit down together like civilized people, like is happening here and in other countries.

"I think the United States is playing with fire by not sending a peacekeeping force right now," Despinosse adds. "You've got 5000 police, not even well trained. Of the eight million [people in Haiti], let's say two million revolt. I'm just giving [the opposition] the benefit of the doubt. That's a lot of bodies to cover."

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