Wednesday, April 6, 2011

People's Revolution in Haiti?


Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns home from exile in South Africa to boisterous throngs despite international pressure to keep him away before Sunday's elections.

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose tortuous life saga is sprinkled with comebacks, returned home Friday to boisterous throngs, defying international pressure to keep him away before Sunday's election.

Aristide arrived on a flight from South Africa, where he had lived in exile since soon after being flown out of Haiti on a U.S.-supplied plane amid turmoil in 2004.

Wearing a navy suit and red and blue striped tie, Aristide clasped his hands as he stepped off the chartered airplane in a VIP area of the airport in Haiti's capital. The former leader struck a philosophical tone — in five languages — as he addressed reporters before exiting to a tumultuous welcome by thousands of his supporters.

"Today may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coup d'etat, while peacefully we must move from social exclusion to social inclusion," Aristide said, drawing parallels with the 1804 revolution ending slavery.

The populist former priest remains a deeply polarizing figure in Haiti, where he is revered by many as the only reliable defender of the downtrodden but detested by wealthy elites and others who say he employed violence against enemies and ran a government ridden with graft.

His return adds a combustible ingredient as voters head to the polls for a presidential runoff between Michel Martelly, a popular singer, and Mirlande Manigat, a university vice rector who was once Haiti's first lady. Speculation over Aristide's return had gripped the country since the Haitian government issued him a passport in February, just weeks after former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier made a surprise return.

On his arrival, Aristide spoke of an enduring love for Haiti and criticized the fact that his once-dominant party, Fanmi Lavalas, had been barred from the ongoing election campaign, saying it represented the "exclusion of the majority."

Ebullient supporters in "Welcome Back" T-shirts flooded the airport road, blowing horns and holding photographs of Aristide as they trekked two miles to his home, whose surrounding walls had been newly painted a soft rose pink...

Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to Haiti, days before presidential election
March 18, 2011
Ken Ellingwood

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