The Miami Herald wrote:
Posted on Sun, Sep. 03, 2006
CAMPAIGN 2006Polarized Haitians to impact electionsPolitical and class infighting among factions of South Florida's Haitian-American community could affect the outcome of several races Tuesday.
BY TERE FIGUERAS NEGRETE AND JACQUELINE CHARLEStfigueras@MiamiHerald.com
This election season, the Haitian community could pull off a political trifecta: Haitian-born candidates are on the ballot for the Florida Legislature, Dade School Board and the County Commission.
But infighting among factions of the community could thwart that achievement. A vestige of the class and political tensions plaguing the island, the bickering is frustrating some who say it only squanders political capital that transplanted Haitians have amassed in their adopted homeland.
The drama is being played out over the airwaves, with Creole-language radio hosts accusing some candidates of supporting the 2004 ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- still a contentious issue in Haitian circles. Election day is Tuesday.
''It's really gotten out of hand,'' Haitian-American community activist Marleine Bastien said. ``You have this small group causing a lot of division.''
Miami-Dade commission candidate Phillip Brutus, a state representative, has been subjected to outlandish accusations that he conspired with the Bush administration to kidnap Aristide, who lives in exile in South Africa with his wife and children.
School Board candidate Gepsie Metellus also has been accused of being anti-Aristide, and therefore lacking compassion for the poor and illiterate, Aristide's base of support. State Rep. Yolly Roberson is being taken to task not for her record in Tallahassee, but for her perceived support of Haiti's former U.S.-backed prime minister, Gérard Latortue. Latortue, a South Florida resident, was tapped to fill the political vacuum left by Aristide.
''You cannot win with them,'' Roberson said of the pro-Aristide radio hosts.
She's fought back by running ads on WLQY-AM (1320) at the top of the hour during one of her harshest critics' morning shows.
The most outspoken critics of the trio are on-air radio personalities Nelson ''Piman Bouk'' Voltaire of WLQY-AM (1320) and Lavarice Gaudin, whose pro-Aristide grass-roots organization Veye Yo controls several hours of airtime on WLQY and WSRF-AM (1580). They have portrayed the U.S.-educated candidates as out of touch with their mostly poor listeners -- tapping into class divisions that polarize Haitian society.
At least one nonHaitian candidate is trying to take advantage of the infighting.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, who narrowly avoided a runoff in 2002 against a Haitian-American candidate, has spent thousands of dollars on Creole-language ads during pro-Aristide programs in his battle against Brutus.
The prodigious amount of money Rolle has spent buying time on Haitian radio programs such as Radio Alternative Veye Yo, Radio Pep La (The People's Radio) and Yeye Variete & Vibration has also bought him influence, Bastien said. In addition to the ads, hosts devote considerable airtime demonizing Brutus.
Rolle, who did not return calls for comment, has said in the past that he has tried to reach out to the emerging Haitian community in his district.
In the past year, he has been visible at a number of Haitian events in Little Haiti and North Miami and supported various Haitian causes.
The growing influence of Haitian voters is reflected in his campaign expenditures: Since June, Rolle has spent nearly $30,000 buying time on local radio.
Radio host Voltaire received $5,000 from Rolle's campaign to air radio ads. Voltaire leases almost 30 hours of prime-time airtime a week on WLQY-AM (1320).
Voltaire personally has taken to championing Rolle during his Radio Pep La morning program -- cheering on callers who phone in to disparage Brutus.
''This is freedom of speech,'' said Voltaire, claiming that Brutus has ``never come to tell us what he is doing in Tallahassee.'
''I am not supporting anybody for the money,'' Voltaire said. ``I am supporting [Rolle] because he's been there for a long time. He's done a lot of work.''
With the exceptions of Brutus, Metellus and Roberson, Voltaire said he's supporting all other Haitian-born candidates who are seeking office this election season, including state House candidates Alain Jean from Broward and Ronald Brise, who is vying for Brutus' House seat.
Voltaire's support, or lack thereof, can help tilt a race. Last year, the radio host campaigned against Haitian-born North Miami mayoral candidate Jean Monestime -- a factor many observers say cost Monestime the election, and the Haitian majority on the City Council.
Brutus, who has raised $58,000 compared to Rolle's $378,160, called the attacks ``counterproductive.''
''They should be talking about the importance of representation, about the issues,'' Brutus said.
Brutus said he has been accused not only of plotting to kidnap Aristide, ``but also that I have called Haitians dog vomit. I did neither.''
Wooing politically powerful radio hosts is nothing new in Miami, where Spanish-language stations have always crackled with the intrigues of election season. Cuban-born candidates for local office are often lauded or lambasted for their stances on foreign policy.
Bastien says it's unfair to draw too close a comparison, noting there has never been a Haitian American in countywide office or on the School Board.
''Cuban Americans have representation. They know their voices are being heard,'' Bastien said. ``We are a voice that is falling on deaf ears.''
Bastien has taken to Creole-language radio to support the three Haitian-born candidates but has been blasted by callers questioning her views on Haitian politics.