Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted as Haiti's president in a coup five months ago, urged religious and community leaders in Los Angeles on Friday to lobby U.S. politicians to pressure the Haitian military to return democratic rule.
"The more you talk about that, the more you can help us," Aristide told about 75 people at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in the West Adams district. "A lot of people really don't know what is going on."
In attendance were members of Southern California's Haitian immigrant community, which is scattered throughout San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. There are no exact figures, but it is estimated that 10,000 Haitian immigrants live in Southern California.
"You are our TiTi and you shall be returned to power," one Haitian woman told Aristide, whose government in exile is operating out of Caracas, Venezuela.
TiTi is the affectionate nickname Aristide's supporters--many of them Haiti's poorest citizens--use to address the ousted president.
Aristide, the only democratically elected leader in Haiti's 200-year history, accepted the Archbishop Oscar A. Romero Social Justice Award from the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law on Thursday night and engaged in a whirlwind of meetings Friday.
He told the church audience that the military has killed more than 2,000 people since it seized power five months ago. Many elected officials have been forced into hiding.
He also asked them to urge the United States government to rethink its decision to repatriate most of the 15,000 Haitians who have left their homeland after the coup.
Nearly 70 Haitians who left the island after the coup are living in Inglewood while they press their cases for asylum. Most are illiterate and made subsistence livings as fishermen or farmers in their native country. Aristide said he met with some refugees Thursday.
"They asked me when I was going back to Haiti so they could go back home," he said.
At Friday's meeting, the Rev. Cecil (Chip) Murray, pastor of the church, said community leaders will form a committee after Aristide departs Los Angeles today to determine what can be done to aid his return to the presidency.
After the meeting Friday morning, Aristide had a 20-minute, closed-door meeting with Mayor Tom Bradley at City Hall, then gave a brief speech to the City Council. Friday night, he took part in a two-hour solidarity rally at the church.
More than 400 people attended the rally and listened to Aristide address the crowd in French and English. A number of politicians and community leaders spoke, including Joe Duff, president of the local chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, who said: "If we as African-Americans don't stand up for Haitians in their hour of need, I don't know who will."
Times staff writer Eric Malnic contributed to this story.