Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Haitians' Hopes Remain Stowed in Rickety Boats Coast Guard Cutters Are Trying to Hold off a New Seaborne Exodus of Haitians, but Their Desire to Flee Their Country Hasn't Been Stemmed

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Haitians' Hopes Remain Stowed in Rickety Boats Coast Guard Cutters Are Trying to Hold off a New Seaborne Exodus of Haitians, but Their Desire to Flee Their Country Hasn't Been Stemmed

Article excerpt

`MY father sold the family's cow to buy me a ticket on a boat going to Miami," Jusnele Frandala said minutes after he was returned by a US Coast Guard cutter to Port-au-Prince. "But we never made it."

Mr. Frandala and 137 of his neighbors had crammed into a flimsy 50-foot wooden boat in an attempt to flee Haiti last month, but they were picked up after two days at sea. "Now I have to go back home to Leogane and tell my father that I failed," the forlorn Haitian says, holding back tears.

That same day in Leogane, a town about 40 miles south of the capital, workmen were hammering out four new boats which could be used by those hoping to succeed in the risky 600-mile journey to the coast of Florida. Since the September 1991 Army coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the beaches of this small coastal town have become a major jumping-off point for fleeing Haitians.

Despite a campaign promise to rescind the order to intercept Haitian boat people, President Clinton has stepped up the Coast Guard's presence while also pursuing negotiations to restore Haitian democracy. Wave of refugees

The overthrow of President Aristide, a fiery Roman Catholic priest who is wildly popular among Haiti's impoverished masses, precipitated the flight in rickety vessels of more than 40,000 Haitians - 10,500 of whom have been allowed to seek asylum in the United States. According to the Coast Guard, in January alone more than 500 people left Leogane in at least six vessels. Like Frandala, they have all been repatriated.

Leogane is in many ways a typical Haitian town. For decades people here have made their living by fishing or growing sugar, potatoes, or other crops and selling their goods in the capital. Recently, however, many of its most desperate citizens have sold their land to buy $150 tickets on fishing boats that are used to flee the island.

"People are escaping Leogane because they are desperate," says Marie Elta St. Juste, the town's mayor. "There are no jobs here. Parents cannot send their kids to school. Many just cannot feed their children."

Walking through the garbage-filled streets of Leogane, one can see youngsters with swollen bellies and reddish hair, two signs of malnutrition. The independent Center for Development and Health estimates that in certain areas of the country 60 percent of the children under the age of five do not receive an adequate diet. Disheartened residents

Many older residents complain they have not had enough to eat regularly for weeks. Others point out they are too weak or disheartened to go out in the streets and try to find a job.

"If a man does not provide for his family, he is useless," says Jean Marc Exume, a father of four who recently failed in his third attempt to reach the US. "I cannot provide for my kids, so I will keep on trying until I get to America and can send some money back to my wife. …

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