Former Adviser Talks About Hatians' Dream

ONE of the few former high-level advisers to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to emerge from hiding, Claudette Werleigh, has reason enough to seem weary. Americans just don't seem to understand the Haitian condition, and that troubles her.

On a speaking tour of the US, she's swamped with questions about the forced repatriations of Haitians and international negotiations to restore Aristide.

The preoccupation with these headline issues, she says, misses the "main issue for the Haitian people." That is the overall dream of freedom for a people living in extremities Americans largely don't understand.

A specialist in rural affairs, she was a key link between the Aristide government and the 80 percent of the Haitian population that lives outside the bustling capital of Port-au-Prince.

The perspective a Haitian struggling to scratch out a living has isn't of a battle to restore Aristide, or a battle to restore democracy, she says.

It is one long struggle to "build a dream" where the Western Hemisphere's poorest of poor can begin to have access to jobs, access to health centers, and education.

"Aristide is part of it, he's a symbol of it for the people, but he is not the dream itself," she says.

The average Haitian used to the constant setbacks of violence, dictatorships, and poverty has to focus on the continuum of democratic progress - which she says has been great since the Duvalier dictatorship was overthrown in 1986 - to get a measure of progress.

It stings to have fellow Haitians being rejected by the US and forced to return to Haiti, she says.

After long weeks in hiding, listening to gunfire night and day, she says that the US government claim that repatriated Haitians are not politically persecuted is hard to take. "Do you think that the military is going to attack a person on the dock [upon return] when CBS and CNN are there with cameras?"

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