Aristide: I'm ready to return to Haiti
Johannesburg - Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide repeated on Thursday that he is ready to end his years of exile in Africa and return to Haiti "today, tomorrow, at any time".
His statement comes four days after the astonishing return to Haiti of ousted dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier after 25 years in exile and amid political insecurity following the contested results of November presidential elections and failed efforts to rebuild the country devastated by a January 2010 earthquake.
Aristide was ousted in 2004, leaving his country aboard a US plane as a small group of rebels neared the capital.
His return has been a principal demand of his Fanmi Lavalas party, which has lost influence as electoral officials blocked it from participating in elections including the disputed November 28 vote now under challenge - though Aristide himself has remained a widely popular figure.
Aristide's brief announcement, issued by South Africa's Foreign Ministry, came in one of the rare statements that he has been allowed to issue during his nearly seven-year exile in South Africa.
His asylum conditions prohibit him from participating in Haitian politics, a US diplomatic cable posted on Wikileaks website shows.
Each time he has reiterated his desire to return home, most recently at a news conference after Haiti's devastating January 2010 earthquake, where he refused or was not permitted to respond to questions.
Haitian authorities have prevented his return for years by failing to respond to Aristide's requests to have his passport renewed, according to Brian Concannon, director of the Boston-based pro-Aristide Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and South African political analyst and economics lecturer Lyal White.
Concannon said that Haitian authorities did however issue a diplomatic passport in 2005 to Duvalier, who has been living in exile in France since he was forced out of the country in a popular uprising that Aristide helped lead.
‘People want me back’
At the time, Duvalier drove himself to Port-au-Prince airport and drove his BMW onto a US military aircraft carrier.
Aristide says he was forced to sign a dubious letter of resignation and board a US aircraft as rebels approached the entrance to Port-au-Prince, in what he has denounced as a coup by the United States and France, the former military occupier and former coloniser of the once-rich Caribbean nation.
"Since my forced arrival in the ‘Mother Continent’ six and a half years ago, the people of Haiti have never stopped calling for my return to Haiti," Aristide's statement said.
"As far as I am concerned, I am ready. Once again I express my readiness to leave today, tomorrow, at any time."