Originally: At conference, Haitian leaders discuss ways to make change in their native land, and in the U.S.

Haitians are facing a crisis not only in their Caribbean homeland, but also right here in New York.

That was a message conveyed at a conference yesterday by Haitian leaders, who spoke of their frustration with political instability in Haiti and their lack of political power in the United States.

“The legacy of 200 years of turmoil is too much acceptance of the wrong sort of leadership,” said Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, the Manhattan-based organization that sponsored the gathering of dozens of Haitian professionals at New York University Law School.

“There exists a need to change this situation, and that need exists not only in Haiti, but also abroad” in New York City and Miami, where there are large concentrations of Haitian immigrants, McCalla told the gathering in summing up a day of panel discussions.

The Haitian community in the United States has been bitterly divided over recent events in its native land, where more than a month ago the elected left-of-center president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, went into exile after months of violent protests against him. Aristide accused the United States of forcing him to resign.

Speakers at Stepping Forward Together in 2004 told the audience that Haitian immigrants need to organize more effectively in the United States, and they have to register to vote.

One speaker at yesterday’s meeting was a member of the Group of 184 coalition, which rejoiced in the departure of Aristide, saying he was corrupt and divisive.

Yanick Lahens, a fiction writer from Haiti, told the conference participants that she is extremely happy Aristide left and that she is guardedly optimistic the situation will become more stable.

“The hope I carry is that we will be able to organize ourselves,” Lahens said.

Polls show that Haitians are split about Aristide. Many still passionately support him. At a rally at Brooklyn College about two weeks ago, roughly 1,500 Haitians showed up to denounce U.S. policy in Haiti, saying the Bush administration sought to oust Aristide.

Margie McHugh, the executive director of the immigrant group, said Haitians have been hard hit by policies of the Bush administration, which according to some advocates has been repatriating undocumented Haitians more aggressively than other groups, except for Muslim immigrants.

“Haitians are one of the primary communities that we expect to see take this year’s elections very seriously,” McHugh said, referring to the November presidential elections.

McCalla and others yesterday referred to the fact that 2004 was supposed to be a year of proud celebration for Haitians, who won their independence from France 200 years ago after defeating Napoleon’s army.