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5517: Immigrants Are Finding Holdup Immigrants Are Finding Holdup (fwd)
From: "BriceWebb, Carline" <CBriceWebb@oas.org>
Immigrants Are Finding Holdup
On Election Especially Puzzling
By MARJORIE VALBRUN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- If the never-ending election spectacle has confused
native-born Americans, it has been mind-boggling for immigrants, especially
refugees from countries where bullets tend to trump ballots.
Foreign-language talk-radio programs here are rife with political debate as
confused listeners call in seeking help to make sense of the perplexing
political drama. Newly minted citizens who voted for the first time are
worried their votes might not have been counted. Political refugees who fled
dictatorships fear that presidential elections in their adopted homeland may
"I know this kind of thing happens in Haiti," said Keynold Verny, a Haitian
immigrant who became a U.S. citizen two years ago, "but I didn't know it
could happen here."
In a state that is a virtual haven for refugees, the presidential-election
controversy resonates deeply. Florida has long been a popular destination
for those fleeing political and civil unrest in the Caribbean and guerrilla
wars in South and Central America. "We keep asking, how can this happen in
America -- in America," says Rev. Idonique Rene, senior pastor of the First
Haitian Church of Christ. "This is a grave situation for the greatest
superpower in the world."
Haitians are among Palm Beach County's largest immigrant groups. Mr. Rene's
Pentecostal congregation has about 200 Haitian immigrant members. Their
native land has experienced five military coups since 1986, each a bloody
affair. In 1987, some 35 people were massacred in Haiti while waiting in
line to vote in what would have been the country's first free election.
Haitians and other immigrants from troubled lands revere the U.S. for its
Constitution, its free and fair elections, and the way its candidates -- no
matter how powerful -- bow to the will of the electorate.
"Something is wrong," says Jean la Rose, a church member, of the current
post-election scramble. "This should not have happened in a country like
Some immigrants even question whether the U.S. can continue to use its moral
authority to press for fair elections in developing countries with fledging
democracies. U.S. officials have already voiced concerns about the fairness
of the presidential election in Haiti scheduled for later this month.
"If this had happened in Haiti," said Remy Baptiste, a restaurant worker who
emigrated from Port au Prince, "the U.S. would be calling for new elections
But many immigrants are taking the current controversy in stride.
"When I went to bed on election night, Al Gore was winning," said first-time
voter Al Baloglu, a 38-year-old hotel bellman who left his native Turkey 12
years ago. "When I woke up the next day, I found out that there is a
controversy about the two leaders. I was surprised and amazed."
But not disappointed. "It just shows that in this country, under the rule of
law, we have democracy working," he said.
Jean la Rose's unease is also tempered by admiration. "You see how they
accept the recount here?" he says. "That could never happen in Haiti. When
someone [there] steals an election, they steal it all the way."