Aristide returns to celebrity welcome

2011-03-18 22:17

Port-au-Prince - Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned home from seven years in exile to a celebrity welcome Friday, and immediately took a swipe at the decision to bar his political party from the country's presidential election.

Aristide, addressing reporters and a Haitian public that clustered around TVs and radios throughout the country, said the decision not to allow his Lavalas Family party disenfranchised the majority in a sharply divided nation.

"Excluding Lavalas, you cut the branches that link the people," he said. "The solution is inclusion of all Haitians as human beings."

His remarks were otherwise largely devoted to thanking supporters who stayed loyal to him during his exile and helped engineer his return over the objections of the US government.

Haiti's electoral council barred Lavalas from the elections for technical reasons that its supporters say were bogus. Many of its members are boycotting Sunday's runoff election.

Still, several people affiliated in the past with the now-less prominent party ran in the first round of the election.

Twice elected president and twice deposed, Aristide is a popular but also polarising figure.

The former priest is an advocate of the poor, who make up the vast majority of Haiti's 10 million people, and he was a leader of the movement that shook off a hated dictatorship.

But he has many critics, who say he led a corrupt government, orchestrated violent attacks on foes and was as hungry for power as the leaders he denounced. He was last ousted in a violent 2004 rebellion that swept the country.

On Friday, Aristide was mobbed by close allies and journalists outside his private plane before being hustled into an airport VIP lounge as several thousand supporters rallied in the streets outside the terminal.

"It's one of the most beautiful moments for the Haitian people," actor Danny Glover, who accompanied Aristide from South Africa, told The Associated Press as he left the VIP lounge before Aristide. "It's a historic moment for the Haitian people."

In the street outside the airport, people listened joyfully to remarks from Aristide broadcast on car radios.

"This man is our father, without him we haven't lived," said 31-year-old Sainvil Petit-Frere, one of about 3,000 cheering and chanting supporters in a quickly growing crowd in the capital, Port-au-Prince. "This is the doctor who will heal the country."

Aristide compared his return to the Haitian revolution that ended slavery in 1804 in what was then a French colony.

"Today, may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coups d'etat," he said with his wife, Mildred, and daughters by his side.

The mulitlingual Aristide spoke in Haitian Creole, English and Spanish in his typically effusive style. "Sisters, brothers, for seven years we communicated at a distance," he said. "Today we are home together to bring peace, every day, together."

Later, thousands of people gathered outside his home in the Tabarre section of the capital, crowding around the SUV that took him from the airport and hoping he would speak. But he made no further remarks as police and security guards hustled him through the hordes of supporters struggling to touch him.

It was unclear whether he would make any public appearances.

Despite his supporters' insistence that Aristide will not get involved in politics, the U.S. and others fear his presence will bring further disarray to a country struggling to emerge from a political crisis, a cholera epidemic and the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake.

It's not clear how he might affect Sunday's runoff between two candidates who in the past have opposed Aristide.

"We're going to stay wherever he is until he tells us what to do," said Tony Forest, 44, a minibus driver. "We will vote for the candidate he picks."

Aristide's aides have said he feared that if he waited, the winner of Sunday's vote might block his return. But both candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, are now stressing their support for his right to return as a Haitian citizen under the constitution.

Both candidates would like to attract votes from Lavalas party followers.

During a refueling stopover early Friday in Dakar, Senegal, Aristide reiterated that he wants to work in education. His comments also reflected his awareness of his huge popularity and influence among Haiti's majority poor.

"I think that the Haitian people are very happy," Aristide told Democracy Now!, a US-based news programme. "Happy to know that we are on our way heading to Haiti.

"Happy to know that finally their dream will be fulfilled by things on the ground because they fought hard for democracy. They always wanted the return to happen and now it is happening."

Victory procession

Energy spread through Aristide's followers on Thursday as word spread across Haiti that he was heading home. Some joined in a raucous, horn-blaring victory procession.

Others decorated the courtyard of his foundation headquarters with Haitian flags and photos of the former president. One woman waited with a bouquet of flowers.

Aristide, a former slum priest who became Haiti's first democratically elected president, did not fully serve either of his terms. He was ousted the first time in a coup, then restored to power in a US military intervention in 1994.

After completing that term in 1996, he was elected again in 2001, only to flee a rebellion in 2004 aboard a US plane. Aristide claimed he was kidnapped. US officials denied that.

In exile, he has been reclusive, doing university research and polishing his academic credentials with a doctorate awarded by the University of South Africa for a comparative study of Zulu and Haitian Creole.

President Barack Obama was concerned enough about Aristide's possibly destabilizing influence to call South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday and discuss the matter, US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Associated Press.

In front of Haiti's crumbled National Palace, a man who is supporting Martelly in the runoff election told Associated Press Television News that he had mixed feelings about Aristide's arrival.

"Yes, I support Aristide. I love Aristide," said the man who gave only his first name, Carlos. "But I don't want him to come back right now because it can be trouble for the election."

The initial November 28 vote was so troubled by fraud, disorganisation, instances of violence and voter intimidation that 12 of the 19 candidates, including the front-runners, initially called for it to be tossed out.

  • Yoni - 2011-03-18 22:55

    The reason why they always call each other brotha and sista is because no one is really sure who's da daddy. You know what I'm sayin'? Let's hope this scumbag Aristide will not return to S.A. ever again, he's sponged enough of our taxpayers. The doctorate Unisa "awarded" him was shrouded in controversy, as he could not have known enough Zulu to write such a thesis. It really showed where Unisa was heading to. Is it not interesting to see how the victims in Christchurch and Japan acted after their earthquakes? Now look at what the Haitians has achieved TWO years after their disaster. Nothing, except whinging and waiting for aid. Just like their cousins in the Dark Continent, go figure!

      Beam me up - 2011-03-19 07:19

      Couldn't agree more, he sucked enough on South Africas tit. Lived here in luxury while his fellow countrymen suffered. Great example of a president?

  • Tereblanche - 2011-03-19 10:08

    We need to speak truth sometimes, Thesis means developing a subject and advancing it to benefit the user, ie Aristide was awarded thesis because he managed to link the languages in terms of pronouncements and language specifics and by the way thesis is awarded by the Senate not by individual. Thus typical of South africans, who like to argue based on personalities rather than facts. please do bit of research and would realise that South Africa kepf Aristide here for sake of peace and money was not a matter all together. How about we stop to pay for apartheid presidents bills as their spouces and childern still enjoys fruits of democracy even though there were against...............

      Mabhulwana - 2011-03-19 20:40

      Thank for this useful imput.

      Yoni - 2011-03-20 15:46

      How about you go for some basic spelling lessons? If your spelling and writing skills are anything to go by, it perfectly illustrates my argument about Unisa's sliding standards. Since you're trying to enlighten us mere mortals about a "thesis" you probably did not obtain a complementary matric certificate last year, but are probably one of Aristide's clasmates? Or perhaps his moderator?

  • Tereblanche - 2011-03-19 10:31

    There is a myth from cetrian minorities in this country of spreading negative news aboutr our country assisted by the media in trying to potray black man as a failure in everything he does. Like Indian foreign minister said in 2008 that S.A media reports this country as if they are reporting a foreign country, no wonder media/ journalists are regarded as a mediocre by their counter parts internationally, I mean even Zimabwean journo's are better positioned than ours in terms of ocontent and research conducted before making pronouncements. The big question is why S.A journalists never get international recognition or awards for that matter, is it because masters pay them to destroy rather than help in naturing democracy?

  • pages:
  • 1