Haitian exiles returning home although many have already made the trip


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Loaded down with items that can't be found in Haiti, such as industrial jacks and motorcycle tires, Haitian-Americans are flooding back to Haiti, taking a cautious look at the place and trying to re-establish their connections to the homeland.

Musicians and other artists who stayed away for years are returning to welcome-back concerts and parties. Manno Charlemagne, a folk singer who became well-known in Miami during the past three years, returned last month.

Many others return more quietly.

Marc Deruisseaux, 37, a software engineer from Coral Springs, Fla., returned two weeks ago for the first time in 17 years. He planned to fly to Port-au-Prince on a Monday and fly out on Tuesday morning, just "touch down and go."

In the end, he stayed two extra days. And he plans to go back.

"When you have a sheltered life, you don't want to lose it for anything," he said. "But sooner or later, you're going to say, 'This is my country. What can I do to help?' "

Expatriates who have come back on packed jetliners in the wake of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to power see foreign soldiers and coils of barbed wire at the airport. Driving into town, they shake their heads when they see how potholed, poor and disorderly the capital has become in their long absence.

They speak eagerly of helping to rebuild the devastated country. They float ideas like building vocational schools, issuing bonds and starting up airlines.

But none have made major commitments so far, and few have moved back. Like other investors, they are waiting to see what will happen as the Aristide government takes form.

"We are kind of in a shell right now, ready to come out," said H. Claude Douze, a chiropractor from Coral Springs who visited Haiti last month.

So many are visiting Haiti, along with foreign technicians, bankers, and politicians, that American Airlines will soon add an extra daily flight from Miami, and two other airlines have recently resumed flying to Haiti.

Some Haitian-Americans emigrated as long ago as the 1960s, as President Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier was forming his dictatorship.

Many have already tried returning to Haiti at encouraging moments that soured quickly -- in 1986, when the Duvalier dictatorship fell, and then in 1991, when Father Aristide was inaugurated. Those earlier disappointments have made them cautious.

But Father Aristide's government is counting on the diaspora -- as Haitians call their expatriate colonies in Miami, Montreal, New York, Paris and elsewhere -- to supply money and thousands of doctors, engineers and teachers whose skills are needed to rebuild the country.

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