One Man, One Vote

Haitian immigrants like Gerlyn Cadet know in their marrow that a ballot is a precious thing. But this election leaves them feeling robbed.

Cadet's family, along with most Haitians, then relied mainly on pigs for extra money. In the depressed economy, pigs were almost all that was left with value. When Cadet's parents couldn't pay his school fees, for instance, they sold a few pigs to make up the difference.

Then Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who took power in 1971, eradicated all the pigs in 1983. Cadet was 23 years old when the eradication began. Government workers killed some pigs on the spot, he recalls, while others were loaded onto trucks and hauled away. The ostensible reason was something called African swine fever. The U.S. government initiated the order to kill the pigs, and Duvalier, whom Cadet and most of the populace believed was nothing but a U.S. puppet, went along with it. The eradication didn't affect Duvalier or his millionaire friends, but it deeply hurt the 99 percent or so of the population that was dirt-poor.

Cadet and countless other Haitians suspected the pig-killing was nothing but an American ploy to make their country more dependent on imports. The government promised to give the Haitians new pigs, pink ones from America, but Cadet says his family was never reimbursed. The new American pigs didn't go over well in Haiti, he says, mainly because they were more expensive to keep, didn't adapt well to the stark, tough life in Haiti, and didn't taste as good as Haitian pigs, either.

Cadet, postelection, mans the phones for the Democratic effort
Cadet, postelection, mans the phones for the Democratic effort
In West Palm Beach, the crowd marches to the amphitheater after Jesse Jackson is rousted from a downtown stage by rowdy Republicans
In West Palm Beach, the crowd marches to the amphitheater after Jesse Jackson is rousted from a downtown stage by rowdy Republicans

When Cadet, as a student, wanted to speak out against Duvalier, he didn't. Duvalier knew the people were talking about revolution, and the dictator set out to muzzle them. Every time students came together in those years, police broke up the gatherings. Cadet's parents warned him against participating, told him to keep quiet. They worried he might be taken away and never come back. Indeed there was a place of no return in Haiti, a prison called Fort Dimanche. "You go there, you not coming back," Cadet explains. Tens of thousands of political prisoners were tortured and killed there by Duvalier's men.

Despite the horrifying political landscape in Haiti, Cadet still speaks wistfully of his home country. He has fond memories of his village, where he grew up in a three-room, cement-block house with his parents and ten siblings. There was no plumbing or electricity and often little to eat. But Cadet says there was a sense of community there that helped the Haitian people overcome their troubles. "In my town we are all family," he says.

The son of a cargo boat captain, Cadet went to sea as a young man and split his time among Haiti, the United States, and the Bahamas. Though he was a wanderer, he managed to make some lasting friendships during those years. His most enduring friendship has been with an older man named Jean Hyppolite, a cab driver in Freeport who taught Cadet about cars. Hyppolite became like a father to him.

Duvalier was finally overthrown in 1986, paving the way for the eventual rule of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest who gained strong popular support. Aristide promised democracy and social reforms, giving Cadet hope that things would change in his homeland.

In 1988 Cadet decided to try for a better life in the U.S. Armed with a tourist's visa, he got a job working on citrus farms in Central Florida and obtained a green card. In 1990 he became a cab driver in Broward County, a decision that ultimately allowed him to do what he was afraid to do in Haiti: speak out against the powers that be. In America he knew he could speak freely. His political convictions, meanwhile, had been hardened by the nightmares of Haiti, by the killing of trees and pigs and the stories of torture at Fort Dimanche. Cadet, like most Haitian immigrants, didn't come here ignorant of U.S. politics. Because America had long pulled strings in Haiti, he knew about the two-party system, and he had opinions of Presidents past. Like Ronald Reagan.

"Duvalier was Reagan's puppet," Cadet explains, pronouncing puppet as "poopet." He also knows Reagan was a Republican ("Republicans always support dictators," Cadet says) and that his vice president was a man named Bush.

When Cadet became a U.S. citizen in the early 1990s, he immediately registered as a Democrat.

On the Thursday following the 2000 presidential election, Cadet and his friend, Leconte Francois, motor up to West Palm Beach for a rally led by Jesse Jackson. The two men want to join in the fight for a new vote -- or at least a recount -- in Palm Beach County. Cadet, in a way, is still on the front lines for the Democrats, while generals like Warren Christopher and William Daley fight for Gore in the media and in court.

Francois, age 36, is no stranger to politics. He was a member of a revolutionary group of students in Haiti that precipitated Baby Doc's ouster. Today he's running a nonprofit company called Minority Development and Empowerment, Inc., which offers services to Haitian immigrants in Fort Lauderdale. The topsy-turvy experience of the previous morning is still fresh in their minds as they head north from Broward Boulevard on Interstate 95. Neither can forget the feeling he had when, at about 3 a.m. Wednesday, George W. Bush was declared President. Francois, who spent Election Day on the streets of Fort Lauderdale encouraging Haitians to vote, says the news stunned him, quite literally. "It was like I died," he says. "My whole nerves -- I couldn't feel anything. It was like I passed out. I was like asleep for a good 45 minutes, but I wasn't asleep. I just didn't move."

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