PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — SINCE Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide moved back into the National Palace here on Oct. 15, more than 100 people line up daily, clutching envelopes or cassette tapes.
Young homeless boys and educated older women jostle to the front of the small, tightly guarded metal gate at the palace's west entrance, simply in hopes of delivering a message to their president.
They place their correspondence in a box that is shuttled upstairs to a crowded second-floor office. One woman works eight hours a day registering them and letters coming from Aristide supporters around the world.
One letter, from China, came written in Chinese with an autographed photo enclosed. Many include small presents, such as a $1 bill sent from Thomas Clark of Detroit, Mich., ``to help the starving in Haiti.''
But mostly they come from Port-au-Prince, handwritten on everything from tattered paper to lined stationery. They come from those hungry for work and eager to participate in the rebuilding of their country, from the uneducated who want schooling, from the old who just want to feel part of their country.
``I believe I have acquired enough experience to permit me to contribute to the progress of my country and not betray the confidence you would place in me,'' writes Gerard Congo Noel of Haiti.
THE majority are asking for something, some just a signed photograph. Others want their get-rich entrepreneurial projects to be endorsed by the new government. Many write just to welcome their president home.
``On Oct. 19, 1993, I was arrested because of my political opinions, for your name, for your return,'' writes the president of a grass-roots organization in the capital.
``I spent seven days in jail, mistreated. Three days later my brother was kidnapped and killed. After that I deserted to the Dominican Republic. I came back Oct. 12, 1994, just to celebrate your return.''
The letters are filled with requests for money so the letter writers can buy land to farm, obtain visas to visit their family in the United States, reopen factories, or rebuild their lives.
``My husband died after the coup and it's been difficult for me ever since,'' writes Yva Borgella, in choppy Creole. ``I have four children whom I can't send to school. I can't feed them and I can't pay my rent. I'm writing to see what you can do for me.''
Some letters simply come from admirers. ``I think you are a leader because you never gave up,'' writes sixth-grader Andrew Smith of Lillie C. Evans Elementary School in Miami.