Boro Haitians divided on Aristide

By Michael Morton

As a talk show host for Radio Lakay in Brooklyn, one of several stations that Haitians living in southeast Queens listen to for their news, Jean Renel Poucher said this week that callers remained concerned for loved ones back in their homeland.

“They are very anxious about the situation,” Poucher said in a phone interview while he worked at the station.

But while his audience may have been united by their worries, the host said most listeners were still divided into camps for and against exiled PresidentJean-Bertrand Aristide. He said hearsay swirled about the involvement of the United States and other countries in the leader’s sudden departure as well as his fate.

“There are so many rumors coming,” said Poucher, who said some listeners claimed Aristide was in jail while others questioned the origins of the rebels who began the uprising against the president. “So many people think this is a combination of countries.”

Poucher said a popular theory held that France was trying to punish Haiti for declaring independence 200 years ago to become the world’s first black republic. “Now they try to get us down,” he said about the conspiracy theorists’ beliefs.

Aristide added to the rumors Monday when he claimed from exile in Africa that the United States had kidnapped him and forced him from office. The White House dismissed the allegation and said the Bush administration had merely told the leader it could not guarantee his safety if he remained but could fly him out of the country.

Many listeners of Radio Lakay have criticized the United States, Poucher said, for not immediately providing the stability he said Haiti had been promised.

“That’s not what we got now,” he said of the shaky standoff between Aristide supporters and the opposition in the poor island nation. A force of about 100 U.S. Marines landed in Haiti Monday, the vanguard of a peacekeeping operation authorized by the United Nations, and secured the presidential palace in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Poucher said Haiti’s neighbor to the north already was viewed negatively by some Haitians.

“They got a bad view of the United States,” he said. “The United States did not send Haiti the money they promised to rebuild.”

After restoring Aristide to power in 1994, three years after he was deposed by a military coup, the United States cut off aid to the country in 2000. The move, intended to pressure Aristide to initiate political reforms and to protect human rights, came after elections that international monitors deemed flawed.

Reach reporter Michael Morton at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

More from Around New York