US Haitians put hope in prayer, not the ballot box

MIAMI (AFP) – A preacher urged people in Miami’s “Little Haiti” to pray for their homeland, claiming only divine intervention, not voting in Sunday’s elections, could solve their country’s myriad problems.

He found fertile ground as he issued loud proclamations in creole, the lingua franca in an enclave in northern Miami which, with 75,000, is home to the largest concentration of Haitian emigrants anywhere in the world.

“We don’t need elections, we need God in Haiti,” said a woman named Giselle, who runs a shop selling herbs, religious images, skulls and a variety of voodoo artifacts.

Haiti’s diaspora held out little hope for change in a country that has defied numerous international attempts to end a cruel cycle of political instability, economic stagnation, and natural disaster.

“I don’t think the elections can change anything in Haiti,” said 25-year-old Joseph Millford as he dropped off his son at the Notre Dame d’Haiti daycare center. “We need a real leader, someone with good heart.”

The next-door church of the same name played a pivotal role in the local community in the days after January’s calamitous earthquake: locals flocked there searching for news of events or loved-ones back home.

The estimated 300,000-strong Haitian community in Florida is concerned with rebuilding after the quake — which killed 250,000 people — and how to cope with a deadly cholera epidemic, but not so much the politicking.

“People have to pray for the end of misfortunes in our country,” said Giselle, as smoke spewed from a pot where worshipers burned incense, stones and herbs.

Voodoo remains an official state religion in Haiti. It is estimated that more than half the population practices elements of it, although it is often followed alongside Catholicism in a rare mixing of the faiths.

More than four million Haitians are eligible to vote in Sunday’s vote to find a successor to President Rene Preval and elect 11 of the country’s 30 senators and all 99 parliamentary deputies.

“They should have postponed the election and put all the forces to control cholera,” said George Mphines, who works at a store that sells phone cards for Miami locals to call Haiti.

Haitian officials have ignored pleas to delay the vote and health experts say holding the polls will have little effect on the spread of cholera, which has claimed more than 1,600 lives in little over a month.

Michel Leonor, who was selling palm tree hats made in Haiti, was more interested in finding customers than in Haitian politics.

“They are hand made, natural, they don’t transmit cholera,” he said, smiling.

Millford was disappointed that ex-Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean — an international pop star who was born in Haiti but now lives in Miami — was ruled ineligible to run.

Wyclef would have been good for the country,” he said.

Millford returned in January after the quake to help relatives. “To me, it’s like a dream thinking that one day I’ll go and see that everything has changed and the country is getting better,” he said.

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