- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. — Leaders of South Florida’s Haitian community met behind closed doors over the weekend and denounced some members of the Congressional Black Caucus for their ties to departed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“We have to wonder if some of the Congressional Black Caucus may have profited from their relationship with Aristide,” said Carlo Jean-Joseph, an immigration lawyer from Lauderhill in neighboring Broward County.

“One of the questions we are asking is whether there should be an investigation into Aristide’s removal at all,” said Mr. Jean-Joseph, one of about 18 people who attended the meeting. “We are not sure that it is merited, given the cozy relationship between some caucus members and Aristide.”

Reps. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, and Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, last week said they had received phone calls from Mr. Aristide in exile in Central African Republic, telling them he was forced out of office as part of a U.S.-led coup. Mr. Aristide has repeated those claims in subsequent interviews.

Mrs. Waters and Mr. Rangel have both called for congressional inquiries into the circumstances of Mr. Aristide’s departure, although Mr. Rangel told The Washington Times last week that he had no fondness for Mr. Aristide.

Mrs. Waters has not returned several calls for comment over the past week.

Saturday’s meeting was held at the North Miami office of state Rep. Yolly Roberson, the third such recent gathering among the area’s Haitian community, estimated at 200,000 people.

Those who attended the meeting said that Miss Roberson, a Democrat, emphasized that Haitians in the United States “must take our case into our own hands.”

“She asked that members of the community call Maxine Waters and tell her what we want,” said one person in attendance who asked not to be named. “If we can do that, she said, we can be a powerhouse. Otherwise, they are free to say what they want, which isn’t fair.”

Another person at the meeting said that some people think the outspoken involvement of several caucus members has diluted the political effectiveness of both Haitian immigrants and American-born Haitians.

“I think they are feeling a lack of empowerment,” said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Those at the meeting said that Miss Roberson, who took to shouting several times, was peeved at the perception that black politicians in Washington appeared to be speaking for Haitians in the United States.

“We need to mobilize every black caucus in every state [legislature] because we really control the black vote,” Miss Roberson was quoted by attendees as saying.

Other Haitians here recently have bemoaned the lack of a cohesive Haitian community in the United States to speak for the country, the world’s oldest black republic.

“I am sick and tired of people blaming Western countries, the U.S., when we have problems in Haiti,” Francois Leconte, founder of a local social-services program, said in an interview.

Mr. Leconte, 39, is president and CEO of Minority Development and Empowerment, a Broward County outreach program with a majority-Haitian clientele. He came to the United States 15 years ago.

“It is time that we come up with national representation that speaks for Haiti instead of going through other elected officials,” he added.

Records show no financial ties between caucus members and the Aristide administration.

Still, the U.S. black establishment has embraced Mr. Aristide, dating back to its lobbying of President Clinton to send in troops to restore Mr. Aristide to office in 1994.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in July invited Mr. Aristide to speak at its convention in Miami, but he sent a tourism official in his place. The Congressional Black Caucus in October invited Mr. Aristide to its annual Washington dinner, but he declined.

In addition, a lobbying firm headed by Hazel Ross-Robinson, wife of Randall Robinson, founder of the black activist TransAfrica Forum and a long-time advocate for Mr. Aristide, received $367,967 from Mr. Aristide from 1997 to 2000.

The Haitian community here is divided on whether to support the deposed Mr. Aristide, a switch from two years ago, when he had substantial backing.

“Our community applauded the words of the Congressional Black Caucus members, but there are people who are against Aristide who say that they [some caucus members] are working for him,” said Herntz Phanord, a local radio and TV personality in the Haitian community.

“When you look at the evidence, it is hard to dispute that some of these advocates have done work with Aristide,” he said. “But no matter what, it is a fact that the U.S. runs Haiti and has for some time.”

On their face, such alliances between Haitians and the caucus are good for foreign relations, Haitian community members said at the weekend meeting. But in the wake of Mr. Aristide’s departure, the cozy arrangement raises questions when members of the country’s Haitian community are left out.

Many Haitians, like other recent immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa, consider themselves an ethnic group separate from black Americans.

Another idea stated at the meeting was to organize a march on Washington that might motivate lawmakers to help Haiti, but others said there was not enough time to mobilize such an event.

Congress has already begun to act with Mr. Aristide gone. Trade breaks and economic aid have been mentioned on Capitol Hill as assistance for the troubled nation.

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