Haitian refugees hail Aristide as fighter, savior


MIAMI -- Jubilant Haitians danced in the streets of Miami's Little Haiti Monday, celebrating the apparent victory of presidential candidate Jean-Bertrand Aristide and praying for deliverance from election fraud.

The streets filled with celebrants as word spread that Aristide, a Catholic priest, appeared to be leading by a wide margin in Sunday's election in Haiti.


Police closed four blocks to traffic in the heart of Little Haiti, allowing the euphoric procession to continue unimpeded.

'This is it, we've won,' said Mona Michel, president of the board of the Haitian Refugee Center. 'They've been at it since 9:15 this morning and we're going to be here till midnight.'

The crowd waved tree branches, blue and red banners and tiny blue and red Haitian flags. A Junkanoo band led the merrymakers, with one marcher playing a saxophone, others blowing whistles and keeping time with bongos and rattles. One man drummed vigorously on a hubcap.

Some carried live roosters or posters with the rooster drawing that has come to symbolize Aristide's campaign.

He is considered a 'cok kalite,' or quality fighting cock -- a tribute both to Aristide's tenaciousness and to the Haitian penchant for cockfighting, Michel explained.


There were no absentee ballots, so Miami's Haitian refugees could not vote. There also was lingering doubt whether Haiti's secret police, many of whom are loyal to former President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier, would allow Aristide to take office.

'We hope our friends and neighbors will help us to that end,' Michel said.

But the prevailing mood was pure joy.

'What has started will not stop. We chose him. We know he's a clean man. He did not pull his candidacy. The people put him there,' Michel said.

Outside the refugee center, crowds swayed in the 82-degree heat and sang in Creole, 'This is the president we are looking for, this is the man we are looking for.'

As a woman with a microphone led the crowd in a prayerful song, Joel Nelson, who came to Miami from Haiti eight years ago, translated the words.

'They are asking God to give Aristide the power. They keep on praying so there is no fraud,' Nelson explained.

Aristide is tremendously popular because of his work among Haiti's poor and its orphans.

'Their mothers die, their fathers die. He takes them to school and raises them up, hundreds of children,' said Patricia Michel.


'He is a good man,' said Bruce Elie.

'Being a priest has a lot to do with it,' said Nelson. 'He presented himself as a savior for his people. Even when times were hard in Haiti he did not flee the country. He fought underground for freedom and justice. He's done something for the people, the young, the needy. He helped them find a place to live, opened canteens where they can go to get food.

'The rich people have had their time. He's not a man who is going to fill up his pockets,' Nelson said. 'The people that like him so much are the needy, the homeless, the poor.'

And in Haiti, he observed, most are poor.

Mona Michel predicted Aristide's election would stem the flow of Haitian refugees to Miami, and prompt others to return to their homeland.

'He will call them one by one, section by section and they will go,' Michel said.

But most do not plan to return to Haiti any time soon, Nelson said.

'It is going to be rough for the next six, 10 months. The people in Haiti right now need help from us. The only way we can help is if we're here, working. If we all go back, we'll all suffer together.'


But Haitians in Miami will continue to celebrate, he said, because they believe the tide of democracy -- 'L'avalanche' that rolled through Eastern Europe and Nicaragua last year -- is finally rolling toward Haiti.

'Now,' said Nelson, 'It'sflowing in the Caribbean waters.'

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