Haitian Expatriates Eager to Vote on Future

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Haiti's first presidential election since the ouster of Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004 has been re-scheduled for Februrary 7. It's a day many Haitian citizens are anxiously looking forward to — especially Haitians now living in the United States. Leoneda Inge talks with a group of expatriates in North Carolina

ED GORDON, host:

This week, Haitians demonstrated in front of United Nations headquarters. They demanded an end to the killings and called for fair elections in their country. On Tuesday, gunman killed two United Nations peacekeepers and seriously wounded a third in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince. The outbreak of new violence may further delay Haiti's presidential elections, now scheduled for February 7th. Balloting had been slated for early January. Now, for the fourth time, the election has been postponed due to violence and voting disorganization. Correspondent Leoneda Inge has more on those Haitians living in the United States who are anxiously awaiting an end to the violence and a new start for their homeland.

LEONEDA INGE reporting:

Many of the people filling White Rock Baptist Church in Durham on this night have either visited Haiti or were born there.

(Soundbite of music)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the day that the Lord has made...

INGE: The Reverend John Luke Charles is an assistant pastor at White Rock and director of missions. He traveled back home to Haiti last March, but Charles says he has few friends and family who've been back since. He says some areas of the country just aren't safe, and he's concerned about the mounting violence and a rash of kidnappings.

Rev. JOHN LUKE CHARLES (Assistant Pastor, White Rock Baptist Church): The lack of security means that persons who normally travel to Haiti back and forth from the diaspora, missionaries and other groups, are not able to do that. And that affects the everyday person because so much of the Haitian economy depends on tourism, depends on foreign dollars.

(Soundbite of music)

INGE: Charles says all his people want is a stable economy and a stable government. That would mean getting a democratically elected president in place as soon as possible. But the ouster of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, coupled with the current campaign for a new leader, has resulted in a spike in criminal gang violence. There have even been kidnappings of school children, a missionary and a journalist. Charles says all he can do is pray. And on this night, he asked others to pray with him.

Dr. NICOLE LARIER(ph) (Physician, Durham, North Carolina): Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing us together. Lord, I know that there are groups in Haiti that are praying like this at this very time this evening, in City of Solei...

INGE: Dr. Nicole Larier lives in Durham. She was born in Barbados. Larier is a physician who has traveled with Family Health Ministries on week-long visits to Haiti to provide the needy with healthcare. She wasn't able to return this year.

Dr. LARIER: There are people I see in clinic there every year, and it's almost as if I have my own clinic there. And so, not being able to go just tears at my heart. It's hard to be away.

(Soundbite of music)

INGE: Larier and others tell stories of hearing heavy gunfire and fighting outside their compound during their last visits to Haiti, but Colleen Jewels wants to remember a much different country. She spent half her life in Haiti and the other half in the United States. She's among an estimated 750,000 Haitians in the US, according to census figures, but many agree that there's probably twice that many. More than one-third are sprinkled across the southeast, with the vast majority living in Florida and in large urban cities like New York, Chicago and Boston. It's been almost three years since Jewels visited Haiti. She's from the southeast region where her father and other relatives still live. She says she desperately misses those visits.

Ms. COLLEEN JEWELS (Resident, Durham, North Carolina): The water is as blue as they come, and when I go to Haiti, I like to the beach. I like to go to the mountains. I like to visit friends. I like to have, you know, night barbeques. I like to go to a bar and have a drink, but not being able to do that when I wanted to do it, you know, that's the reason why I choose not to go.

INGE: Jewels can't vote in the upcoming presidential election because she's a US citizen, but like many expatriates, she's following the race down to the candidate. Mark DuChadolier(ph) is a computer science major at North Carolina Central University. He's looking forward to the election, whenever that might be. He's lived in the US for three and a half years.

Mr. MARK DUCHADOLIER (Student, North Carolina Central University): Well, today I just went to website to see the latest news. Right now, I think we have 25 candidates, and from the list, I mean, they say, I really, I'm kind of skeptical about these candidates. Seriously.

INGE: Still, DuChadolier, whose mother lives in Haiti, says he's praying this time will be different.

Mr. DUCHADOLIER: The level of education is really low, so my daily prayer is that one day Haiti can come back on track, and also, we finally have peace because we're always fighting, always fighting, and we don't have peace in our own country.

INGE: When millions of Haitians finally go to the polls, they will be watched closely by expatriates living in the US like DuChadolier, who also have a great stake in the outcome of Haiti's first presidential election since the overthrow of Aristide two years ago.

For NPR News, I'm Leoneda Inge in Durham, North Carolina.

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