As the warm morning sun spilled across the dusty, palm-shaded lanes of Little Haiti, with its ramshackle apartments and storefronts, its neat stucco houses painted in the soft, chipped pastels of the tropics, more than 1,000 people gathered under the trees on the vast lawn of the Mission Notre Dame d'Haiti church to celebrate mass and thank God for what they hope is the deliverance of their tiny Caribbean nation from decades of terror, poverty and repression.
They wore their Sunday best and brought their children and their folding chairs with them. And when the ceremony began, they sang out heartily in Creole to the high, sweet melody of a guitar:
"My country is free now, I have to go back!"
But despite the dizzying joy that followed Friday's flight of Haitian dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, these members of southern Florida's 70,000-person Haitian refugee community seem filled with doubts and fears about the future. Whatever gratitude they feel toward the United States is mixed with rage and frustration at their treatment by authorities, at racism here, at their poor image and frequent identification as carriers of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), boat people and welfare recipients.
And now, as if to cap their problems, there are fears that some of the Ton-Tons Macoutes, Duvalier's dreaded secret police, are fleeing Haiti and heading for Miami in an effort to escape retribution from the people they abused for so long.
"We are proud to be Haitians!" exclaimed an accountant, who waited with his wife and four children for the church service to begin. "We were the first black Caribbean nation to become independent -- in 1804."
"And we did it by ourselves," put in a woman who stood nearby with her husband. "Nobody helped us!"
The man, dressed in a business suit, declined to identify himself. "No, I'm not going to give my name. Just say it's a Haitian family, a healthy Haitian family . . . when we talk they identify us, they kill our family in Haiti . The same people are in power there now. You still have the same fears."
A nearby woman, who wore a red dress and said her husband is a plant manager for a manufacturing firm here, said, "Now the Haitian people here have some place to go. We don't have to stay in the U.S. anymore."
"Well," agreed the accountant, "we will all go eventually . This is like being a guest in someone's house."
"Soon! Soon!" said the woman.
And then the singing began.
Over the weekend, it was party time here.
There are perhaps 30,000 people crammed into Little Haiti -- the largest concentration in America of the great Haitian diaspora -- a few miles north of downtown Miami. And everybody here, it seemed, suddenly was wild with joy.
There were street parties Friday and Saturday nights and all weekend long people sang and danced, discussed how soon they might safely return to their homeland. They drove through the streets honking horns and waving Haitian flags.
The mayor of Miami came out to congratulate them. And although there were a few scuffles and even some gunfire -- attributed to a personal dispute -- the weekend of celebrating passed without major incident.
A week earlier, however, there had been some violence and a death when crowds gathered after premature rumors of Duvalier's departure. But this time the reports were accurate and the police were on hand early and in force, blocking off streets for the revelers and standing guard on the rooftops. The Parks Department provided a mobile stage in front of the Haitian refugee center on 54th Street NE and from there electric guitars and drums pounded away into the night. Community leaders successfully urged people to return home shortly after midnight each night.
The newspapers here were full of the events in Little Haiti, and today The Miami Herald published an essay by Prof. Alex Stepick of Florida International University, who has studied the Haitians here for six years. He wrote, "While most Haitians are indeed encountering tremendous difficulties, their plight is not one of unremitting sorrow, pain and desperation . . . Despite the widely publicized image of these immigrants as human 'riffraff' rejected by their own societies, results of my investigations indicate a diverse population with numerous positive characteristics."
Little Haiti, in its moment of glory, seemed to be a vigorous argument against its negative images. It was filled with crowds of fascinating people who, like people everywhere, didn't appear to agree on much -- except that their country should be free and independent. They spoke of fleeing from political horrors -- arrest, torture, repression and rape -- and deep poverty. The Voodoo Priest
Destin Jean, 45, stands behind the counter of his Immacule & St. Jean Botanica, or religious articles, shop lighting a black coal of incense in a steel pot. The rich smell of it permeates the small, dark shop, where you can buy statues of the Catholic saints, "Tel Aviv Standard Sabbath Candles," hair rollers, machetes in leather scabbards for $22.50, musical toys, earthen pots and a book of prayers that advises, among other things, "Carry with you a dragon with the words St. Martha 14K gold plated and use St. Martha Spray in your house."
Jean is a Catholic, like an estimated 90 percent of his countrymen, and he attends church regularly. At the same time, he says, he is a voodoo priest.
As Jean points out, and as Haitian Catholic authorities confirmed here this weekend, there need be no necessary contradiction in this since voodoo may be regarded as an African cultural phenomenon. And, as Jean said, "There are good and bad priests."
He says he is a good one, who mixes herbal medicines for his customers and who, when in Haiti but not here, may even perform a voodoo ceremony in which people wear white sheets and sacrifice animals.
He doesn't do it here, he says, because an official permit is required.
Jean doesn't like being called bokor, Creole for a voodoo priest or a sorcerer.
"I call it bush doctor," he says, "We don't do bad things like kill people. Voodoo is something to help your family. Sometimes they do it as a sacrifice, choose a different animal -- beef, pork, chicken. Sometimes they put you to sleep, they just put you to sleep for a couple of days. You sleep for one or two days and you feel much better."
He said that in this process, when practiced by good voodoo priests, "nobody gets killed" and "no drugs" are used. Asked about people being put to sleep and buried alive, as described in the book "The Serpent and the Rainbow" by Wade Davis and as caricatured in Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" comic strip, Jean responded:
"That's no good. I've heard about that but no, it's too much for me. It's not necessary. That's how Franc,ois (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his son "Baby Doc" kept power for 29 years because they bury people . . . alive. That's evil, big evil."
Jean left Haiti in 1965 and went to work for Phelps Dodge Corp. in New York. His wife, Immacula, joined him in New York and a few years ago the couple came here and opened their shop. "I decided to come because my mother and father, they were poor," Jean said as he poured a curative syrup into a bottle for a woman customer whose baby was sick. "I came to help myself and my family." Jean said he is a resident and that his wife is a U.S. citizen.
Now he said he is not sure when or even if he can return to Haiti, although he has made brief business trips there to buy stock for his store.
"They killed so many people and put them in jail, dropped them in the bush. This is why people are afraid to go back -- they take people and beat them. The Ton-Tons Macoutes, they're still there. We don't know what we're going to do."
Immacula Jean came out from the rear of the store and displayed a bump on the back of her head that she said she received from the Ton-Tons Macoutes when she was 15.
"They grabbed me, they kept bothering me," she said. "With a dictator, you couldn't talk. People suffer. You cannot send your children to school. You can't get money because the government keeps it all for itself."
"Sometimes they take your wife," said her husband.
"If they like you, they take the woman behind the car," said Immacula Jean, "they take the man behind the car and they kill him. That's the way they do, the Ton-Tons Macoutes."
Jean wants the United States "to help us." He even wants the U.S. "to choose a good Haitian" to lead the country.
A man in a red T-shirt and dark glasses came into the shop. Seeing the reporter, the man said enigmatically, "I can say nothing because I am here. I am not in Haiti now." He left.
"A lot of people think he's a communist," said Jean. "I don't want to be a communist." The Young Refugees
Friday night was rainy and muggy, but there were several thousand people celebrating on 54th Street. "Hey, hey, no more Duvalier!" people shouted. There were balloons, conga lines and the heavy beat of drums and twang of electric guitars "Tra la . . ., " everyone sang together, "tra la . . . Viva Haiti Libe're' . . . A group of young people gathered at a filling station across from Chez le Bebe restaurant. As a jet took off from nearby Miami International Airport, Policap Belizaie screamed at it, "Goodbye, Baby Doc! Bon voyage!" He waved his hands wildly at the jet, and everybody laughed.
Richard Mondesir, 23, leaned against the back of a Plymouth Reliant on which the group had parked their cans of Bud, and asked: "Why do the American people not like the Haitians? Immigration treats you bad, and we are good, nice people. We're smart, we're no trouble . . . this is a nice country, but not for all of us."
Mondesir, who flew here two years ago, works in a 7-Eleven store while studying engineering at a community college. He said he hopes the United States will "please keep an eye on our country until we get a president, because we don't want to be communists."
"But we don't need the U.S. to choose a government for us," put in Vemois Musso, a friend who was standing nearby.
Another in the group, Lionel Narcisse, 30, who said he is a professional auto-body repairman, said, "If Haiti doesn't get help with our development, they will go to Castro."
Rita Cadet, 22, who said she came over on a "terrible" boat trip across 600 miles of ocean from Haiti and is now a secretary, said that her brother has already bought an air ticket to return to Haiti.
They all talked of terrible conditions that made them flee their homeland. "I had a friend," said Narcisse. "They take him to the police station -- can you believe that? -- they take all 10 of his fingernails out with pliers."
People walked by drinking bottles of Se'kola, a fruit cola bottled in Port-au-Prince, and wearing T-shirts that said, among other things, "Haitian American Democratic Club." Over the roar of the party going on down the street, a man walking by could be heard saying in English to his small children, "Duvalier bad, bad man."
A car drove by with a Halloween skeleton tied to the hood. Everyone cheered. "That's Duvalier," said Narcisse.
Asked about voodoo, Mondesir said that while he does not believe in it intellectually, he must believe what he has seen with his own eyes. "You could die here," he said, "and they would bring you back to life. A friend of mine died, and we saw him again after one year!"
"I believe it," said Narcisse.
"They can kill you without saying one word," said Mondesir of voodoo practitioners in Haiti who aid the Ton-Tons Macoutes. The Hotel Worker And the Revolutionary
Saturday, in the hot sun outside the Haitian Refugee Center and a shop next door called Miroir a Deux Faces Beauty Salon, a young white man -- one of the very few whites in sight -- stood wearing a Mao Tse-tung T-shirt and holding an armful of Revolutionary Worker newspapers. He was talking rapidly to a young black man who listened thoughtfully.
"What experience has shown," said the white man with evident passion, "is that without a genuine revolutionary communist leadership, the revolution is betrayed!"
The black man, Jean Larousse, 22, said he came here six years ago by boat and is studying cartography at the University of Miami while supporting himself by working as a room boy at the Palm Bay Hotel.
"Not all of us came here for economic reasons," he said in answer to a reporter's question. "Some came because we needed a change in the government." He added that, "We have to go back and help to build up the country."
Larousse mentioned 1915, when U.S. troops began an occupation of Haiti that lasted until 1934. "There's strong feeling the U.S. should not intervene in our problem," he said. "People in Haiti are tired of being influenced by foreign governments."
The white man, who would identify himself only as "Mike, why don't you leave it at that," interjected that the departure of Duvalier is "the beginning of the struggle because the U.S. still has its claws deep in Haiti."
Larousse then said, "The U.S. supplied Duvalier with $52 million . . . I think it's about time for the American people to realize what their tax dollars are doing over there . . . Some of my relatives got beat up, sent to jail for life and who knows what happens to them?"
Larousse said he is not communist but "independent." He thought for a moment and then added, "The egotistic life of America, that's what I can't stand. People are dying, starving, they don't have houses to live in but some people have it all. What is this?"
He shook his head, smiled, and then excused himself, saying he had to get to work at the hotel. The Nun's Tale
Later Saturday afternoon, Sister Pierre Marie Armand of the Daughters of Wisdom, a woman who has been a nun for 32 years, stood waiting for a ride in front of Notre Dame d'Haiti. She wore a neatly pressed blue habit and veil, and also on her head was a floppy white sun hat with a red hibiscus blossom sticking out of a red and blue band.
"You see that I am happy, I am happy!" she said in her strong French accent. "I still have my habit on, but I am wearing my flag, too."
There is a song, she said, composed by the Haitian singer Farrah Juste-Desgranges: "When Haiti will be liberated, the ladies will wear hibiscus in their hair," thus the flower.
Sister Armand said she came to America 11 years ago to study English and then was asked to remain to help teach Haitian refugees who began flooding into Florida in the late 1970s. Her mother and father have lived in the United States for 28 years. Her father had been a general in the Haitian army, she said, but had to leave after he disagreed with those in the military who wanted to back "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
"He was so honest," she said, that the others did not trust him. He went to New York City and worked in a plastic factory for 15 years before moving here. Two sisters are married and live in Montreal and two brothers live here -- one an engineer, the other in construction.
"Yes, they would like to go back to our country," said Sister Armand. "But they cannot go back right away." She said the Haitian people are "very happy, but at the same time disgusted to hear what is going on with the junta. We cannot accept them, because those people with one exception have been working with the government."
Sister Armand said that members of the Ton-Tons Macoutes, "many, many" of them, are leaving Haiti and coming to Florida. She fears that they will drive the crime rate up here, although she added, "Maybe they will live in the rich areas because they already stole everything" in Haiti.
Asked about voodoo, Sister Armand laughed and said, "It's cultural . . . It comes from Africa from our ancestors. I never practiced it but some mix that -- they serve God, go to Holy Communion, but at the same time go to their voodoo practices."
A funeral procession went by, and Sister Armand quickly crossed herself. A Happy Birthday
Theo Victor, who turned 47 on Saturday, can recall with clarity the exact moment when he decided to leave his homeland.
He was driving his taxi in Cap Haitien when authorities stopped him. "They put me in jail for two hours. A man came in and asked me, 'What are you in jail for?' I said, 'I don't know.' "
Now Victor sits in the sun outside his apartment building with the laughter of neighborhood children ringing all around and says somberly, "It made me think later on they might try to make me do something else."
So, devising careful plans with his wife over a period of months, Victor prepared to leave. He got the proper papers and on the appointed day drove his new Peugeot to the airport, parked it and boarded a plane to leave forever.
"I lost $17,000," he says with a shake of his head.
That was in 1974. First he went to the Bahamas and worked but after losing his job there he came to Florida, where two of his children had already been sent to attend school. His wife and other children followed later. Now he works as a security guard.
Like most Haitians interviewed, Victor displayed a hunger for education -- in his case on behalf of his children. "I've got two in college and two in high school," he said proudly. "My daddy was a schoolteacher . . . but he was a cripple and it was hard to put bread on the table."
So Victor left school in the 10th grade and began a life of hard work and difficulty that continues today. Yet he says that with his arrival here, "God blessed me. Haiti won't be good now. Haiti will take a long time to be good. We need American help."
His daughter Ritha, 15, who was listening nearby as she worked on the hairdo of one of her chums, smiled and said, "Happy Birthday, Dad."
"Thanks," said Victor. The Leader
"Do you know what this (Reagan) administration has been building? Hatred!" says the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, the intense, 40-year-old Catholic priest who directs the Haitian Refugee Center and who helped orchestrate the weekend's festivities in a nonviolent direction.
"Imagine these boat people -- the authorities handcuff them, put them at gunpoint and force them back to Duvalier . . . and when they arrive back into Haiti, they will die in jail of torture, malnutrition, disease. It has been creating a militancy against the Reagan administration."
Duvalier's departure came as a "surprise" to Jean-Juste. In fact, he had been planning a trip to Haiti to organize protests there. Now, he says, that will not be necessary unless "the U.S. invades Haiti. I think it would be a big mistake for the U.S. to do that. 1986 is not 1915."
Jean-Juste has been in America for eight years, studying in Boston and then teaching in the public schools there. Now he hopes in a few months to resign his job here. "I want to go back to Haiti for good," he says. "We all agree that we need a democratic system in Haiti -- freedom of speech, people able to do whatever they want, and a government that can respond to the needs of the people."
Jean-Juste confirmed that some Ton-Tons Macoutes are arriving in Florida. "Oh yeah, they have money to travel , all these criminals."
As for voodoo, he says, "It's good and bad. It's like this pencil. You can use it to write or to hurt someone." Now he is afraid that in Haiti the people are "using voodoo tricks to kill the soldiers. They use poison powder. If it gets bad enough, it could go back to the late 1700s. Not having the guns, the Uzis to fight back, people will draw on the old methods -- poison."
As he spoke in an interview, a white priest walked in and Jean-Juste jumped up. The two embraced.
"God bless you! Praise the Lord! It's so good!" exclaimed the newcomer as they hugged. He declined to give his name, saying that his work involves "sneaking in and out of Haiti." The Detective's View
The police were everywhere all weekend, and highly visible.
One Miami PD detective, wearing a black riot suit, black baseball cap, combat boots and with a .38 in a leather shoulder holster, stood with one foot on the fender of a squad car in the hot Saturday afternoon sun.
"Like I told Channel 10 yesterday," he said. "If in fact their liberation is what they're celebrating, I think it's great. Everyone wants to go back to their home country.
"I wish 'em well."