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Despite high food prices, Haitians reluctant to head to US
Haiti Boat People X 5671622
Gary Boloney, left, who has no job and no money and doesn't dare risk crossing the ocean again after two failed attempts, stands next to other residents in Baie Des Moustiques, Haiti, Tuesday, April 29, 2008. Unlike the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of Haitians sailed for Florida aboard rickety boats, Haitians are refraining from heading to sea in droves, even after riots over rising food prices swept several cities last month. - photo by Associated Press
    BAIE DES MOUSTIQUES, Haiti — When soaring food prices sparked deadly riots across Haiti, many expected that people along the cactus-studded northern coast would do what they traditionally do in times of crisis: take to the seas and head for the United States.
    So far it hasn’t happened.
    In this hamlet overlooking a pristine bay that Christopher Columbus once admired, Gary Boloney has no job and no money. But the rail-thin 38-year-old says that after two failed attempts to flee by boat, the food crisis won’t make him risk it again.
    Elsina Joseph, lovingly cradling her granddaughter, is also staying put. She says she can’t abandon her family.
    And the mayor, Pierre Belizaire, says people should give President Rene Preval a chance.
    In the early 1990s, political violence sent tens of thousands of Haitians toward Florida aboard rickety boats, forcing President Clinton to send in troops to stabilize the country. Now the price of rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk has gone up 50 percent in the past year, while the cost of pasta has doubled.
    But the U.S. Coast Guard says its cutters have interdicted 972 Haitian migrants over the past seven months, about the same number as a year earlier. That’s a fraction of the 31,000 intercepted in 1992 after a military coup.
    That said, analysts warn that unless Preval tackles the rising food costs, more Haitians will chance the dangerous trip by sea.
    ‘‘It will probably rise markedly, unless the food subsidies can stabilize prices in Haiti,’’ said Henry Carey, a professor at Georgia State University.
    There are no signs of increased boat-building on Tortue Island, a traditional migrant-smuggling center 10 miles across cobalt waters from Baie des Moustiques. An alleged leader of a migrant-smuggling ring, conspicuous with gold chains around his neck and wrist, declined to discuss whether rising food prices have brought him more customers. Thuggish young men followed journalists visiting the island, intimidating villagers into silence.
    In Baie des Moustiques, a village of thatched-roof huts of sticks and dirt, people were more willing to talk but no more eager to set out for America.
    In December 1492, Columbus wrote in his logbook that the bay was free of shoals, meaning ‘‘any ship whatsoever can anchor in it without fear.’’
    Arriving overland in Baie des Moustiques, whose poverty stands out even in a country as poor as Haiti, is much more challenging. The unpaved road to the village of 5,000 is so rough it can rupture tires and axles. A U.S. missionary group provides some aid, but not nearly enough.
    Many residents considering leaving are deterred by stories of migrants drowning, suffocating or being eaten by sharks. Two weeks ago, 24 Haitians died when their boat capsized off the Bahamas.
    Boloney tried to sail to Florida in 1994 in a stolen boat, but landed in Cuba instead. While Cuban officials processed deportation papers, his family gave him up for dead.
    ‘‘I came back to my own wake,’’ he said. ‘‘They were drinking rum, so I joined them.’’
    His second trip ended when the boat, with about 40 people on board, ran aground on an uninhabited island.
    ‘‘We lived on what we caught in the sea and on food we had on board,’’ Boloney said. They built fires at night to summon help, and after a week a passing Haitian boat took them home.
    Boloney said his five children need a father.
    ‘‘I’ve had it with boats,’’ he declared.
    Joseph, 49, said food prices need to come down.
    ‘‘We cannot buy enough to feed ourselves,’’ she said.
    But Joseph is staying put for the sake of her seven children and her granddaughter.
    Belizaire, the mayor, voted for Preval in the 2006 election. He says the president hasn’t sent any help, and that is bringing restlessness to the village.
    ‘‘There’s no jobs, no food. That’s why people want to leave,’’ he said.
    But he’s clutching to the hope that life will improve. He says it’s a sign of progress that two years into his second presidency of this coup-plagued country, Preval hasn’t been overthrown.
    ‘‘I am not discouraged because he is still around,’’ the mayor said. ‘‘His mandate is not over. Maybe he can still bring factories here to create jobs, build roads and bring down the high cost of living.’’

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