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ARISTIDE FLEES HAITI

Southland Haitians Vent Through Radio Program

Weekly broadcast from Riverside County brings music and news from home. Reaction to latest political turmoil on the island is mixed.

March 01, 2004|Regine Labossiere and Faye Fiore | Times Staff Writers

Hours before President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned, Haitians throughout Southern California were getting their Saturday night blend of Caribbean music and news from back home on a radio show broadcast from Riverside County.

Throughout the hourlong program, listeners called in to make their feelings known.

"Democracy can't do anything with him just sitting on his throne while people are dying," one caller said in Creole. "He must accept that he must go."

By noon Sunday, the program's co-host, Claudine Francois, had been on the phone with relatives in Haiti. Everyone, she said, was safe but scared.

"I think it was for the best," Francois, 36, said. "Him staying there would have been a bloodshed."

For almost a year, people from San Rafael to Los Angeles to San Diego and all over the Inland Empire have been tuning in to Francois and Remy LaCroix on Caribbean Magazine, a Saturday evening show that tries to bring together the sprawling Haitian community.

At another station across the country in Miami, program director Harold Staco was preparing to air a Sunday afternoon of news, analysis and debate for a Haitian community deeply conflicted about the sudden fall of Aristide.

"The general reaction is a lot of division among Haitian people in South Florida," said Staco, program director at Radio Carnivale, a radio station in Miami's Little Haiti.

Little Haiti was subdued Sunday night. There were no crowds on 2nd Avenue, its main street, nor cars bearing Haitian flags celebrating his departure.

Those willing to comment appeared supportive of Aristide.

"Aristide had said he was ready to die for his country," said Derik Prince, 28. "What sense does it make for him to leave? If you're president, you're supposed to stay."

Estinvil Edouard, 34, said he wasn't thinking about Aristide. He said he had been in the United States for four years and had no idea where his wife and three children were in Haiti at the moment. He hasn't been able to communicate with them. "Aristide is a political problem. Me, I have too many personal problems to worry about him."

Staco said he was glad to see Aristide go. "He was in power for 11 years, and the country is poorer, there is no infrastructure, no hope for the future. He should have been able to manage it better."

But, like several other Haitians, he said he was disturbed by the chaotic nature of Aristide's departure, which he said seemed more like a coup. "Our history is that every time something happens, they send the president into exile ... with no retribution at the end," Staco said. "Aristide was poor, now he's rich and he leaves behind a country in chaos."

Edouard Duvalle Carrie, a 54-year-old Miami artist who has lived in the U.S. for 11 years, echoed that sentiment: "I think Aristide's gone for his gross incompetence, but it's unfortunate that the democratic process was interrupted in such an unpalatable way. I don't think there's any rejoicing in the neighborhood. Everyone's annoyed and unnerved about how things were done."

In New York, where one of the nation's largest Haitian communities is concentrated, the Rev. Joseph Voltaire said there was "no happiness" among the 45 members of his congregation who attended services Sunday morning at the Haitian Ministry Theophile Church in Christ.

"We feel there's a lot of shame to always have problems in our country. It's not a good thing for our people," he said. "The guy was elected democratically. The fact is not that I support Aristide, but we thought that we could start a democratic system.... Now we are confused about what is democracy."

Francois and LaCroix, who have lived in Southern California for decades, created the Inland Empire program last March. Unlike Miami, New York and other cities on the East Coast and in Canada, the 4,000 or so Haitians living in Southern California have never had a strong community base. "We're here to glue the community together," LaCroix said.

Caribbean Magazine is broadcast in French and Haitian Creole on KHPY-AM (1670) from Moreno Valley from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturdays. The show's format is simple: Play music from Caribbean islands -- mostly kompa, racine and zouk -- have a doctor from San Diego call in to educate people on medical issues, and listen to a correspondent in Haiti deliver the news. The show also lets listeners call in.

"You're so far away from home, and you can hear everything in your own language," LaCroix, 51, said. "It's quite a feeling for you."

The first broadcast was March 30, 2003, and Francois was the only host. She soon asked LaCroix to join her. Because polling the number of listeners is too expensive for the station, Francois said she could only estimate the size of the audience. Judging from e-mails and phone calls, she said, there are probably 1,000 to 2,000 listeners on any given Saturday.

Listeners said that although the show can sometimes sound unpolished, the idea is a good and necessary one.

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