Olivier Nadal, former president of Chamber of Commerce, and organizer of the 1999 Rally for Peace and Security, was interviewed for the Miami Herald article below. Here shown speaking at the opening of the Haiti Democracy Project, at the Brookings Institution, November 19, 2002. Rick Reinhard photo.
Protest, counter-protests worry and confuse Haitians in S. Florida
While pro-government demonstrators largely shut down Haiti’s capital Friday to show their support for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a divided Haitian community in South Florida struggled to figure out what it all meant.
Although Friday’s demonstration was led by Aristide supporters, it came two days after anti-Aristide student protesters forced their way into the courtyard of a police station in Petit-Goave. Three days before that, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Cap-Haitien, the second largest city, called for an alternative to Aristide’s government.
The reaction in South Florida has been mixed, with opinions varying depending on how people feel about Aristide.
”This is not the way to bring down a government,” said Arsene Omega, a Little Haiti businessman and member of the local pro-Aristide group, Veye Yo. “Aristide was elected for five years. He should complete his term.”
Olivier Nadal, former president of the Haiti Chamber of Commerce and Industry before he was forced into exile in March 2000, said the escalating unrest is a sign that change is on the horizon.
”The citizens are getting involved and mostly the young,” said Nadal, who believes that neither Aristide nor the opposition leadership is fit to run the country. “The people are fed up with the economic and political situation. The students are in the streets because they are more courageous than other people.
Charles Dieudonne, 30, interviewed at a Little Haiti strip mall, expressed disappointment in the Aristide government, which he said has not made needed changes.
”If you see the people get on the streets, it says they are tired,” Dieudonne said.
Even Omega admitted Friday that he’s beginning to question accusations by government supporters in Haiti that the anti-government protests are the result of the international community plotting against Haiti’s sovereignty.
”Even though there is outsider infiltration, it’s still Haitians that are doing it,” he said.
Many South Florida Haitians say they don’t believe an overthrow of the government is imminent or that another mass exodus is on the horizon. Still, immigrant advocates said the growing unrest is evidence that the United States should grant temporary protected status to Haitians, allowing them to stay here until the Caribbean nation’s political crisis is over.
”It’s time for the government to step up to the plate and recognize that the political situation in Haiti is tenuous at best, and Haitians [who] are subjected to deportation in the immediate future are genuinely in fear for their lives,” said Miami immigration attorney Cheryl Little, who is working with several other groups from around the country to prepare the request.
“Haiti is our neighbor. We have a very large Haitian community in the U.S. which is able and willing to provide ample support to the Haitians who are here.”
Officials from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service would not comment on the proposed request. As for whether Friday’s disturbance would affect the fate of some 200 Haitians who are detained at detention centers in South Florida, that would be up to immigration judges, said John Shewairy, INS’s Miami district office chief of staff.
”I can’t address that because each case is addressed by an adjudication judge based on its merits,” he said.
Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.