U.S. Worried about Aristide’s Return

AP reports that eagerness for Aristide’s return shows that “the former slum priest remains a powerful symbol of hope for millions, even if others dread the return of instability that Haiti suffered under his rule.” U.S. officials are among those who are worried. See excerpts with a link to the full article below:

“President Aristide didn’t hurt anybody; he only helped out the poor,” said [Lucien] Tham, a 45-year-old unemployed laborer in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil. “His presence is necessary here.”

Many believe he could arrive any day, heightening anxiety as well as anticipation as Haiti emerges from a political crisis a year after a devastating earthquake. The slightly built Aristide emerged as a leading voice for Haiti’s poor and became the troubled country’s first democratically elected president, despite opposition from the army, Haiti’s elite and the United States following the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship. But Aristide was toppled twice from power, his second term ending in 2004 amid a violent rebellion. He left the country aboard a U.S. plane. Aristide and his supporters insist he was kidnapped. U.S. officials said Aristide departed at his own request.

[. . .] U.S. officials are among those worried that Aristide’s return could further destabilize a country preparing for a March 20 presidential runoff that was delayed by a political crisis and street disturbances over allegations of vote fraud. “We would be concerned if former President Aristide returns to Haiti before the election,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “It would prove to be an unfortunate distraction to the people of Haiti.”

Speculation that he might come back soared after notorious ex-dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier made a surprise return in January after nearly 25 years of exile in France. The focus quickly turned to Aristide, who said last month he was ready to return “today, tomorrow, at any time.” Aristide’s U.S. lawyer, Ira Kurzban, traveled to Port-au-Prince this week and picked up a diplomatic passport for Aristide that was suddenly issued by the government of outgoing President Rene Preval. [. . .] Preval has repeatedly said Haitian law allows Aristide to return, but always stopped short of saying whether he’d welcome back his former political mentor.

But Patrick Elie, a defense official under both Aristide and Preval, said the passport issue was a sideshow manufactured by Aristide supporters to mask the real reason he did not come back: pressure from the country’s powerful foreign benefactors. “The idea that it was a passport that has kept Mr. Aristide from Haiti is a fairy tale, for heaven’s sake. It has never been a matter of a passport. It has always been an issue of whether the key political players want him back. “And these political players are the global powers of the U.S., France, Canada,” Elie said in Port-au-Prince. [. . .] If he does return before March 20, some Haiti analysts believe Aristide’s reemergence could trigger more than the usual pre-election violence.

“For his most devoted followers, the scars left by his departure are still fresh. For his enemies, there remains a fear and loathing of him and, for the most part, of the poor urban masses who he counted as his most dedicated followers,” said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert and professor at Trinity College in Washington.

[. . .] Some hope that Aristide’s return will be peaceful and could open the way for a public debate about how the political conflicts of recent decades have created the huge problems of Haiti’s present. Most poor Haitians are convinced that Aristide will help to improve the country’s dismal education system.

[. . .] Barthelemy Roody, said it’s irrelevant to worry about violence in Aristide slum strongholds if the ousted leader returns, because violence in Haiti is tragically constant. “Maybe some people will choose to do violence under Aristide’s name when he comes back. Who knows? But I can tell you there will be violence whether Aristide is here or not,” he said with a shrug of resignation, standing at the side of a rutted street as heavily armed U.N. peacekeepers who came to help impose order after Aristide’s fall entered a crowded tent camp on one of their daily patrols.

For full article, see http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/latinamerica/7421928.html

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