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Haitian Americans Divided Over A US Invasion

IF THE United States Marines land on the beaches of Haiti, Rudy Jen will be cheering them on. ``We all feel ashamed and bad,'' says the Haitian resident of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

But Lola Poisson, who operates a community health center in Crown Heights, thinks the invasion will be a sad day. ``It's not the proper way to deal with the country - they will just be killing poor people to restore so-called democracy,'' she laments.

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This dichotomy is typical of the hopes and fears of the 500,000 Haitians (out of 1.2 million in the US) who live in the New York metropolitan area. Although many Haitians are in favor of an invasion, there are also scores of Haitians who are opposed to any intervention.

``My sense is the community is tired about all that is going [on],'' says Raymond Joseph, publisher of the Haiti Observateur, a weekly newspaper. This is also true for Mr. Jen, who laments that the US embargo prevents him from sending $50 per month to his relatives. ``They are suffering,'' he says.

Fritz Martial, who hosts a Creole-language radio show on WLIB, believes Haitians ``deep inside'' want the invasion and want order restored.'' If the US invades, he expects only a small protest.

But Mr. Joseph also thinks the Haitian community mistrusts the US, which invaded Haiti in 1915 and kept troops there for 19 years. ``The intellectuals and cadres say don't go in there; it is US imperialism,'' says the publisher.

This view is echoed by US Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D) of New York, who declares that she is opposed to any invasion. ``Latin America is very concerned about being invaded by the US,'' says the Puerto Rican American. Instead, she says, ``we should apply diplomatic measures and let that work.'' Ms. Velazquez declares she will vote against any congressional backing for the invasion.

Much like the Haitian community, New York politicians are also split on the issue - often across party lines. US Rep. Major Owens, a Democrat whose district includes about 50,000 Haitians, is urging President Clinton to send in the Marines. ``He meets regularly with the leaders of the Haitian community and such groups as Brooklyn for Aristide,'' says Julia Clark, a spokeswoman, referring to a group that backs the return to power of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Gary Popkin, a Republican running against Congressman Owens this fall, says he senses the Haitian community is opposed to an invasion. ``It's really a matter for the Haitians,'' he contends. ``We have no interest in invading the country.''

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That's not the view of Democrat Una Clarke, a Jamaican-American City Council member whose district includes many Haitians. ``An invasion is the only way to restore democracy and end the suffering of the people,'' she reasons.

If there is an invasion, some Haitians complain they have not been consulted about the rebuilding of the country. ``We talk about this from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on my Sunday radio show and no one knows anything about what the US plans are,'' says Mr. Martial. ``No one from the US government has approached us.''

He maintains that Haitian Americans are eager to be involved in the rebuilding process. ``We have the numbers and we have the means,'' Martial says. He points out many Haitians who came to the US in the 1960s were professionals who left good jobs. ``They settled in expecting to go back once things changed at home.''

Whether they will want to leave Brooklyn once Mr. Aristide is in power is another issue. Lining Utica Avenue in this very Caribbean part of Brooklyn are new cars and thriving businesses. As Ms. Poisson notes, ``A lot of people dream of coming here.''

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