Aristide's return to Haiti 'imminent'

March 13, 2011 - 0:0

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is poised to end seven years of exile in South Africa and return to Haiti in the coming days, his aides said Friday.

The United States has warned that Aristide's return would be an unwelcome distraction as the Caribbean nation goes to the polls on March 20 to choose a successor to President Rene Preval.
November's first-round election was marred by violence and fraud and the shattered country is still struggling to rebuild after a devastating earthquake 14 months ago that killed a quarter of a million people.
Haitian authorities issued Aristide with a new passport at the beginning of February and the path now appears clear for the three-time former president to return.
“I spoke to him this morning, his return is imminent,” Aristide spokeswoman Maryse Narcisse told AFP in the capital Port-au-Prince.
“I speak to him every day. Now, it is a matter of days. It's imminent,” she added.
The charismatic shantytown priest burst onto the scene in 1985 to oppose the Duvalier clan's dictatorial rule, riding his reputation as a champion of the poor Catholic majority to become the first democratically-elected president.
Aristide served as president on three occasions and was ousted from office twice, eventually fleeing a 2004 popular uprising aboard a U.S. plane, in turn accused of massive corruption and violence.
He remains a popular figure in certain quarters in Haiti, especially in the capital's teeming slums, and in the tent cities that have sprung up since the January 2010 quake where many decry the slow pace of progress.
His most ardent supporters massed on Friday at the headquarters of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy in Port-au-Prince, joyously preparing for their hero's return.
Shortly after former strongman Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier made a surprise return in January, Aristide said he too was “ready” to move back to contribute to the recovery of his homeland, particularly through education.
A popular revolt, led in part by Aristide, forced Duvalier to flee the country in 1986, after a 15-year rule which he had inherited on the death of his brutally repressive father Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.
Duvalier is accused by rights groups and opponents of siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and of presiding over widespread human rights abuses during his 1971-1986 rule.
One group of plaintiffs, including Michele Montas, the former spokeswoman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, was granted a hearing Friday for later this month by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
Montas was forced into exile for several years during Duvalier's rule, and her husband, Jean Dominique, was assassinated in 2000 after repeated criticism of Aristide.
Aristide has spent his exile as a visiting fellow at a university in Pretoria, where he has lectured and presented research papers, biding his time for a possible comeback.
Like Duvalier, Aristide insists he will stay out of politics -- a statement viewed with suspicion both by political opponents in Haiti and observers abroad.
Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party has been excluded from most recent elections, but diehard supporters have been dusting off their portraits in recent weeks hoping for an unlikely political comeback.
Haiti, long the poorest country in the Americas, is in dire circumstances following last year's earthquake, which killed more than 225,000 people, rendered 1.3 million homeless, and left much of the capital in ruins.
Some 4.7 million of the estimated 10 million Haitians will vote on March 20 for a successor to Preval, who is barred from seeking a third term.