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a200: Haitians call for unity at historic celebration (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Haitians call for unity at historic celebration

For everyone else, it was just another New Year's Day.

But for thousands of Haitians across South Florida, Tuesday also marked the 
198th anniversary of their homeland's independence from France.

They celebrated with pumpkin soup, prayer and patriotic songs. But the 
revelry was tinged with reservations that linger from a bloody coup attempt 
in Haiti on Dec. 17 that left at least 10 dead and many Haitians nervous 
about the country's future.

The day began for many with a 9 a.m. traditional Mass at Notre Dame d'Haiti 
Catholic Church in the heart of Little Haiti. About 1,000 Haitian Americans 
from all walks of life filled the pews in what most consider the community's 
spiritual center.

Bible readings, particularly one about Moses leading God's children to the 
Promised Land, reminded many in attendance of how Haiti gained its 
independence by abolishing slavery and becoming the first black republic in 
the Western Hemisphere.

Guy Victor, Haiti's consul general in Miami, delivered a greeting on behalf 
of the Haitian government and President Jean Bertrand Aristide. He also 
congratulated local elected officials and pointed to them as symbols of how 
far the community has come outside Haiti.

But it was how far Haitians at home had not gone that was on most minds.

``After 198 years, we have to give a hand to one another. We have a country 
for us to save,'' Victor said.

Leonie Hermantin, president of Sant La, or The Center, a one-stop community 
center in Little Haiti to help recent immigrants with social services, 
educational needs and immigration problems, said the message at Mass was a 
call for unity.

``We as Haitians have to learn to deal with each other, because in the final 
analysis the country suffers if we don't,'' said Hermantin, former executive 
director of the Haitian American Foundation.

Said her husband, Florida International University professor Sylvan 
Jolibois: ``The message was quite clear that it is time for the parties in 
Haiti to come together and get to some kind of agreement so that the country 
and people in Haiti can move forward.''


The couple said Haitians are accustomed to celebrating in the midst of 

``We've gone through many, many tribulations,'' Hermantin said. ``It's a 
very sad celebration, but I don't know that we're losing hope that Haiti 
will survive. We know that it will survive.''

Jolibois said the buzz on the street Tuesday was the idea that negotiations 
between the ruling Lavalas party and the opposition must be done in a public 
forum, not a closed environment, where both sides come out pointing fingers 
at each other.

``How do we get out of this mess? The general consensus is that if the 
democratic process can be a positive thing, it has to be with the people 
involved. And the way they can get involved is by making everything 

He would likely have an ally in adyjeangardy, a prominent Haitian journalist 
and president of the Federation of Haitian Press, who was on Miami's WRHB-AM 
(1020) Tuesday afternoon denouncing the current situation, which has led to 
the brutal murder of one respected journalist as more than a dozen others on 
the island request political asylum in the United States.


The program on Radio Carnivale began as a history lesson on the independence 
fight and ended as a call to the community to come together, regardless of 
politics, and to help build the nation in the new millennium.

``It's sad that after 198 years a country can't achieve a model of 
democracy,'' adyjeangardy said. ``The country is in a permanent crisis. We 
must have solidarity.''

Most of those who thronged to the James L. Knight Center Tuesday night for 
the 11th annual Haitian Independence Day Concert, featuring Farah Juste, 
would like to see that.

``Hopefully, things will change,'' said Maggie Gustave, 32, of Fort 

``I'm not a big supporter of the government that's there now, but my hope is 
that the poor get something to eat and the children get to go to school.''

Frantz Charles, 27, said he would especially like to see more jobs in his 


Tuesday night, while he silently hoped for good things in Haiti, he decided 
to give in to the joy of the moment with Juste, a popular performer who 
sings patriotic songs about his homeland's natural beauty.

``It's been a while since she's been on stage,'' Charles said. ``She has a 
lot of courage, strength. She's very patriotic.''

Gustave was also there for the music. Independence Day seems like a misnomer 
to her.

``To me, it really is not that big of a day anymore. There is so much 
negativity. It's losing its meaning,'' Gustave said. ``We're calling 
ourselves independent, but we have to depend on so many other countries.''

Jolibois is more optimistic.

``Regardless of political affiliations, this is a day that all Haitians 
celebrate,'' he said.

``When one looks at the future of Haiti in 2002, one realizes that things 
must get better and that each one of us has to take part in the process.''

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