They trickled into the North Miami restaurant, sitting on white-cushioned chairs and standing against the bar and in the aisles, trying to put faces to the voices and strong personalities that have long dominated Haiti’s political talk radio scene.
For more than two hours, the mostly Haitian crowd inside Moca Cafe and Lounge listened, laughed and yelled in passionate disagreement as presidential candidates, campaign managers, activists and journalists engaged in heated debate over the week’s political news in Haiti.
It wasn’t as passionate a political firefight as fans of Ranmase, the Haitian version of CNNs Crossfire, are accustomed to from Radio Television Caraibes’ studios in Port-au-Prince, but it was heated nevertheless.
“There are places where the people are ready to fight, and there is a lot of passion in the exchange,” said host Jean Monard Metellus. “But this crowd was very relaxed.”
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About 300 Haitians from activists to presidential candidates to everyday residents of South Florida’s burgeoning Haitian community came out for the remote, special edition of the popular Saturday morning show. And while the political fights were kept to a minimum — guests allowed each other to talk, and no one unexpectedly dropped in to defend his or her position, a common occurrence in Haiti — attendees said they weren’t disappointed.
Even if we can’t vote, at least we know what to expect from home
Miami-Dade County Judge Fred Seraphin
Most of the talk centered around the role of the Haitian diaspora in upcoming Oct. 25 elections, and the Friday resignation of a member of the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council, attorney Néhémy Joseph.
“There is nothing better than to look at candidates, hear them and challenge them,” said Miami-Dade Judge Fred Seraphin, who is Haitian-American and was briefly introduced to the listening audience. “Even if we can’t vote, at least we know what to expect from home. Haiti has to move forward.”
Pierrot Mervilier, 39, an organizer with the Miami Workers Center and a fan of the show, said he enjoyed being able to see it live and hear the different points of views. Spirited debate wasn’t something he grew up with in Haiti, Mervilier said, recalling life during the Duvalier dictatorship.
“It’s beautiful,” he said.
The live broadcast and a 4 p.m. Sunday Haiti presidential debate with a dozen candidates at North Miami Senior High, 13110 NE Eighth Ave., are all part of Patriotic Weekend of the Diaspora, a series of activities aimed at getting Haitians outside of Haiti involved in the upcoming elections back home. Organizers Friends of Haiti and Radio Television Caraibes also are asking listeners through a telephone poll with Audio Now (641-552-5200), “If elections were held today, who among the 12 presidential candidates scheduled to appear at the debate would win?” A second poll also will be held after the debate on who performed the best.
Peter Bernard, a lawyer in Florida and New York, said he wished the discussions focused more on the presidential candidates’ visions rather than “around old politics.”
In the end, there was no news broken but plenty of concern and uncertainty over the upcoming elections for president, mayors and the restoration of parliament. Both former Senate President Simon Desras and Sen. Steven Benoit said they were torn about whether to move forward in the campaigning or sit out the Oct. 25 vote.
There is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of concern and apprehension
Jean Monard Metellus, journalist, Ranmase
Metellus, among the journalists who will participate in the Sunday debate, said many of the 54 presidential candidates are facing the same dilemma.
“It’s very complicated,” he said, noting that Joseph’s resignation has affected the already-damaged credibility of the Provisional Electoral Council, which has responsibility for staging the elections. “There is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of concern and apprehension.”
As for his live broadcast, Metellus said he was pleased with how it went. This was the second time his show went live from Miami-Dade County, he said.
“Miami was the first place we traveled to outside of the Port-au-Prince studios,” he noted.
That was more than a decade ago.
Jacqueline Charles: @Jacquiecharles