Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Roman Catholic priest, social activist, Haitian president, now considered a dictator by many. He's in. He's out. He's back in thanks to the U.S. military and an eventual election. He's good. He's bad. His people support him. His people struggle against him. In present-day Haiti, a climate of violence exists. Large numbers of demonstrators protest, calling for the ouster of their president who thirteen years ago was the country's first democratically elected leader and who is supposed to finish out a five-year term in 2006. His regime has become corrupt, opponents say, violating human rights and dismissing the people who are threatened, jailed, or shot as a result of their dissent. In Miami many Haitians and others gather too, raising their voices for change in the streets and in the media.
Two hundred years ago this week, Haitians were fighting another battle: for their own freedom from slavery and the release of their country from the grip of France. That time they won. Haiti became the first black republic to rid itself of slavery and the second nation in the Western Hemisphere after the United States to gain its independence. But with freedom came turmoil: Once one of the richest countries in the Caribbean, Haiti is now the poorest, enduring stagnation, despair, and chaos.
Whatever Haiti's present disordered condition, the glorious past is something to be remembered both here and there. Several celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence will be held Thursday, January 1. Two weeks ago the county mayor and commissioners declared January 1, 2004 as Haiti Day in Miami-Dade County. The ceremony was dubbed Haiti Vivra or "Haiti Will Live." One can only wish for another 200 years.
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Haitian Independence Day, Thursday, January 1, will be observed at 11:00 a.m. at Soup Joumou Unity Day (North Miami Avenue and 62nd Street; 305-795-2337); from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Festival of Freedom in Griffing Park (NE 123rd Street and West Dixie Highway, North Miami; 305-893-6511, ext 2105); and at 6:30 p.m. at the Methodist Church of Homestead (605 SW 6th Ave; 305-725-2853). Admission to all events is free.