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Posted Tuesday, July 15, 2008
After long being scorned, deprived of a lasting role model, Haitians see pride, hope and hero in Obama
By Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Scorned for decades after independence, invaded by U.S. Marines and subject frequently to the whims of Washington politicians, Haiti has endured a difficult history with the United States.
haitian 1 police protesters
Haitian Police fired tear in an effort to disperse a reduced number of protesters who were marching in front of Haiti national palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and demanding the immediate return of exiled totalitarian dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who today turned 55. (AP Photo)
Now many Haitians believe Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, if he becomes the first black U.S. president, could open a new chapter and help their unstable and impoverished Caribbean homeland.

Obama's candidacy has awakened a greater interest than any previous U.S. presidential race in Haiti, where rebel slaves defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's French army to claim independence in 1804 as the world's first black-ruled independent republic.

Many Haitians say they view Obama as an inspiration and a source of pride for black people around the world, and many view him as a kindred spirit.

"At least I know that Obama and we Haitians have one thing in common," said economist Amos Dorcelus, 34. "We have no hang-ups when dealing with white people because we see them as people just like us and we don't feel any sort of inferiority.

"We are poor, but we are proud and we can stand up and look at them in the eye knowing we can do or can be whatever they can," he said.

Haiti is low on the list of foreign policy priorities for Obama, an Illinois senator, and his Republican rival for the White House, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

But Armel Mozart, 28, believes Obama is interested in Haiti because of his relationship with Haitian-Americans like Patrick Gaspard, a campaign director, and Kwame Raoul, who replaced him in the Illinois state senate.

"I believe Obama has an eye on Haiti even though he has not really been talking about Haiti," said Mozart, a political science student.

"As a black leader, he must have read a lot about Haitian history and his decision to appoint Gaspard to such a key position in his campaign is very telling," he said. Haitians have long looked with hope and also some trepidation to their superpower neighbor.


It took Washington 58 years to grant Haiti diplomatic recognition after it threw off the yoke of slavery. Historians attribute the delay to misgivings among U.S. leaders about the impact a free Haiti might have on their own slaves.

After decades of political turbulence, the United States sent troops to occupy Haiti in 1915. They stayed 19 years.

More recently, powerful U.S. politicians have been blamed for destabilizing Haiti and blocking international aid because of their opposition to Haiti's first democratically elected president, former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, regarded by many in Washington as an authoritarian socialist.

Former President Bill Clinton helped restore Aristide to the presidency after he was ousted by the military shortly after taking power in 1991. But under President George W. Bush, Washington did little to help Aristide stay in office when his second term was cut short in 2004 by an armed revolt.

Many Haitians believe Obama's candidacy has already contributed to the advancement of minorities and black people around the world and its positive consequences will go beyond the outcome of the U.S. election in November.

"I'm very proud of Obama. It is a dream and it is history in the making," said Marjorie Laporte, a 36-year-old teacher.

Obama also enjoys star status in parts of Africa, especially in his late father's native Kenya, where newborn babies are named after him and people sip "Senator" beer in his honor.

They literally sing his praise in some Caribbean islands. In Trinidad, the legendary Calypsonian known as the Mighty Sparrow hails Obama as a "man of splendid vision" in a song titled "Barack the Magnificent."

Jamaican reggae singers Cocoa Tea and Damian Marley -- son of Bob Marley -- have separately recorded songs lauding Obama.

Part of the allure in Haiti is self-interest. Democrats are viewed as more likely to treat kindly Haitian boat people trying to make it into the United States than Republicans.

"If I were to vote, I would vote for Obama not for (John) McCain, because Haitians and other minorities are usually better off with Democrats in the White House," said Marcel Pierre-Louis, 47, who lived in the United States for 15 years.

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Michael Christie)
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