When dozens of South Florida Haitian leaders huddled earlier this month around a monument in Savanah meant to immortalize Haitian revolutionaries, they noticed that the faces on a pair of statues looked oddly familiar.
The life-size figures didn't resemble at all the young soldiers who fought in the Siege of Savannah in 1779. They were, well, dead ringers of two middle-age men who made the statues possible: Rudolph Moise, who donated $120,000, and Daniel Fils-Aime, who led the almost decade-long effort to build the monument.
"I was very surprised about the resemblance,'' said Marleine Bastien, a community leader who attended the ceremony. "I expected the faces of the volunteer soldiers.''
That the statues bear a striking resemblance to Moise and Fils-Aime has triggered Internet and radio buzz and a lot of vitriol over what some in South Florida's tight-knit Haitian community label a vanity project. The controversy -- coming as the congressional campaign gets under way -- has also overshadowed the celebration of Haiti's contribution to American independence.
Moise, a Miami physician who recently launched a congressional campaign, is one of four Haitian Americans seeking to replace Kendrick Meek, who is running for the Senate. Also announcing a bid: Bastien, state Rep. Yolly Roberson and her ex-husband, Philip Brutus, a Haitian-American lawyer and former state legislator whose invective-heavy e-mails about the statues' likeness ignited the controversy. Brutus charges that the statues are "tantamount to sacrilege.''