Last night, the Caribbean Organization for Cultural Awareness presented “Voices of Haiti,” a discussion led by a panel of four students and two professors.

“We need to show the true side of a country that many people have tried to misrepresent,” COCA President Christelle Domercant said.

Panelist Joseph Point Du Jour regrets the one-sided coverage of the Haitian situation. “You hear [all the time] on TV, on CNN, ‘Violence in Haiti,'” Du Jour said.

Two years ago, COCA was in the process of setting up an event on Haitian culture on campus. The event was to be held a year after the exile of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected President of Haiti in decades. Aristide sought refuge in Africa when rebels marched into the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Unfortunately for COCA, the event planning suffered complications. Before the event could be held, COCA’s chief organizer graduated. A year later, Domercant took over leadership of the group.

In the past weeks, Haitians have once again taken to the streets to protest the results of their most recent elections. For eight days, mobs have crowded Port-au-Prince as election favorite and current front-runner Rene Preval seeks the 50 percent vote that would prevent a runoff and cement his election.

Though Preval has agreed to a deal in which he will be come President, he and his advisors have alleged that votes are being withheld or discarded, and that the elections are rigged against him.

Preval’s supporters agree with his assertions. “Haitians have a tradition,” freshman Jessica Chery said. “If they don’t agree with something, they revolt against it and sometimes revolts turn to violence.”

Haiti is no stranger to political unrest. For the years following the end of U.S. occupation in 1934 until Aristide’s 1990 election, dictators plagued the country. Few served full terms, and many of them were thrown out of office or lost their lives. These years were an unfortunate turn for the country that was the first nation in the western hemisphere to become an independent republic after the U.S.

It was in the context of political unrest that the panel held their long-awaited discussion on Wednesday. In addition to talking about the elections, the panel also addressed immigration, economics, culture, education, agriculture and health. Tackling each one, the panel worked to show that the land of mountains is impoverished, not poor. The panel focused on addressing how Haiti fits in with the rest of the world and especially with the U. S.

“Haitians are denied asylum by the United States, just for being Haitian,” said sophomore Yvonelle Moreau. “These are not just a few Haitians, either – the tally has gone up to 4,000 in just the last few years.”

Sophomore Jamila Aubain spoke about education. “There are not many universities in Haiti, so admission becomes very competitive,” she said. Even after graduation, however, educated people have difficulties.

“Many of those who graduate cannot find a job,” Frederick Douglass Institute postdoctoral fellow Millery Polyn said. “In Haiti, not finishing school means no future,” Aubain said.

Every member of the panel has lived in Haiti for a great portion of their lives. They were there for the election of Aristide in 1990, and his return to power. They went to the schools where earning a 50 percent in a class is worthy of being called top-notch.

Now they sit as Haitian-Americans who know better than to take Haiti at face value. Indeed, whoever speaks on the panel does so with fiery passion for their heritage.

“When I was looking at what was going on in Haiti, I saw people making choices,” Du Jour said. “The people are making a choice and if they can support it, Haiti will be much better.”

As the United Nations works in concert with the interim government of Haiti to see that the elections are carried out fairly, the panel addressed the subject of international aid. “We don’t need to be dependent, but we do need help,” Moreau said.

Chery looks to a future in which Haiti is much freer from international aid, though denies that it is possible to put an exact date on it. “We are definitely optimistic, because it’s something that can be done,” Chery said.

The meeting was ended on an optimistic note.

“Haitians need to know that Haiti belongs to them,” Domercant said. “They have to unite.”Brenneman can be reached at rbrenneman@campustimes.org.



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