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#3459: Economic, political slide driving Haitians to flee (fwd)


Published Thursday, May 4, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Economic, political slide driving Haitians to flee


 A recent wave of Haitians arriving in South Florida and the Bahamas
might represent only the beginning of a rising tide of refugees fleeing
 devastating economic conditions and an unstable political climate.
 At least the third Florida-Bahamas landing of Haitian migrants in a
week came ashore just before dawn Wednesday in Broward County. The U.S.
Border Patrol detained five of the migrants; witnesses say 15 others
eluded capture. Those detainees bring the total number of Haitians
apprehended in South Florida since October to 236. The numbers making it
to shore tell only part of the story. More than 600 Haitians
 trying to make their way to the United States have been left stranded
at sea in shipwrecks since Jan. 1. Still others may have been lost at
sea. In Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Wednesday, Haitian-American
families anxiously awaited word of 30 loved ones who set sail from
Nassau more than a month ago. They are beginning to fear the
 worst. ``We fear an upsurge of boat people departures this year,'' said
Carol Joseph, director of Haiti's National Migration Office, on
Wednesday. ``First, there is drought in the north; second if elections
aren't held as anticipated, international aid will be held up and the
economic situation will worsen.'' Exacerbating the situation is an
increasingly sophisticated smuggling network giving more Haitians than
ever a way out of the country. ``We have organized groups who are making
their living off of this type of activity,'' said Joseph Etienne,
Haiti's ambassador to the Bahamas, which serves as a staging ground for
the last leg of the trip to South Florida for many refugees. ``These
people are out there selling this trip. They are recruiting people to

 $2,000 JOURNEY

 The speed boat that brought as many as 20 Haitians to Hallandale Beach
on Wednesday was abandoned in the surf. Witnesses said the migrants who
eluded capture fled after calling taxi cabs and family members for rides
using phone cards they purchased at a nearby 7-Eleven store. Those
detained told Border Patrol agents they paid $2,000 each for the trip.
 Earlier this week, 46 Haitians were detained. Thirty-one were
apprehended by Border Patrol agents after they came ashore in Hillsboro
Beach in northern Broward County on Friday. On April 26, 15 Haitians
were dropped off near Key Biscayne. South Floridians who aid refugees
said Wednesday that a deepening economic and political crisis is
prompting Haitians to flee. The migration comes amid growing violence in
Haiti as the nation gears up for long-postponed legislative elections
scheduled for May 21, the fourth date set and one that remains
uncertain. Since March 29, a dozen people have been killed in
 politically motivated slayings. ``Haiti is in a state of political
chaos; it's an absolute mess there,'' said Cheryl Little, director of
the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami. ``The cost of
 living there is up. There is more unemployment. There is no


 Haitians who land in South Florida tell of hopeless conditions in their
country, said Marvin Dejean, a spokesman for the Haitian Community
Center of Broward County, which provides housing, job and other
assistance to immigrants. ``This is the lowest point for Haitians in the
last 10 years,'' said Dejean. ``We are discouraged. Haitians are looking
to survive, and they will risk everything they have, including their own
lives'' to come to America. Etienne, the Haitian ambassador to the
Bahamas, said his country is trying to head off an exodus. ``So far, the
government of Haiti has committed to beef up security to prevent
 such an occurrence,'' he said. ``I believe some of what is happening
has to do with the economy that has not improved as we had hoped.''
 With each passing news account of another boatload of Haitians, Rodlet
St. Louis, a North Miami Beach security guard, hopes to get word of his
missing uncle, Fred Morency. But none comes.

 Morency, an English teacher who spent a year in the Bahamas before
attempting the dangerous sea journey, had hoped to join his wife and
young son now living in Oakland Park. The day before setting sail, he
called to let them know he was on his way. ``He said `I am leaving
tonight. Cook me some food. I'm coming,' '' St. Louis recalled.


 As days stretched into weeks and Morency failed to appear, the nervous
family members contacted relatives in the Bahamas who delivered some
devastating information. ``The last thing that we heard is that the boat
went down and nobody survived,'' St. Louis said. But nobody is sure of
what happened. Relatives were initially reluctant to contact
 authorities, because a smuggler who charged as much as $3,000 per
passenger had organized the clandestine voyage. By the time they stepped
forward, it might have been too late. Calls to the smuggler's home
telephone number to find out what happened have gone unanswered, St.
Louis said. But he doubts the smuggler was a passenger on the missing
boat. ``He collected the money, he arranged the voyage and he paid
someone to bring the boat,'' he said. ``He can travel by airplane, so
why should he travel in a small boat?'' Joseph Mellia, a Border Patrol
spokesman, said immigrant smuggling from the Caribbean is becoming a
lucrative business. ``It's anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 per person for a
Haitian national to be smuggled,'' Mellia said. ``The message is this:
Alien smugglers are out for gain. They are out there to make the dollar.
They are not anybody's friend.''  The Border Patrol accepts anonymous
tips about immigrant smuggling. Call 1-877-772-8146 or e-mail

 Herald staff writers Wanda DeMarzo and Brad Bennett and Herald wire
services contributed to this report.