Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Aristide to return `very soon` to Haiti: Lawyer
Miami: Ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide will try to return to Haiti in the coming days, his lawyer said on Wednesday, even though Washington warned the move would only add to the turmoil in the Caribbean nation.
Haitian authorities cleared the way for Aristide to return last week by issuing a new passport to the 57-year-old former priest, who was Haiti`s first democratically elected leader and served two stints as president.
Aristide has lived in exile in South Africa since being ousted by a rebellion in 2004. He now says he wants to return to help his countrymen, who are set to choose a new leader in a crucial presidential run-off in March. "He`s going to try to return as soon as he can. It will happen very soon," Aristide`s lawyer Ira Kurzban said in Miami, confirming that he had the former president`s new passport.
Asked if Aristide could return in the coming days, the lawyer said: "That`s my hope."
Haitian Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said on Tuesday that there was nothing now blocking Aristide`s return from an administrative standpoint.
Haiti, which was struck less than 13 months ago by a massive earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people, has been engulfed by political crisis since November when disputed election results led to deadly riots.
It is not yet clear how Aristide`s return would impact on the political scene, further rattled by the unexpected return of ousted dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier last month following 25 years in exile. A popular revolt, led in part by Aristide, forced Duvalier to flee the country in 1986, after a 15-year rule which he took on after the death of his notoriously repressive father Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
In the days after his return, Duvalier was charged with corruption, misappropriation of public funds and criminal association, and several complaints have been filed accusing the former "president for life" of crimes against humanity.
The United States on Wednesday repeated its concerns about the possible return of Aristide.
If Aristide returns before the March 20 presidential run-off election, "it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction”, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.
Haiti`s fraud-tainted ruling party candidate crashed out of the presidential race last week, as the election commission bowed to weeks of US-led pressure and reversed earlier results. Ending months of deadlock since the disputed first round, the decision was met with calm on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the quake-hit capital that has endured decades of political upheaval, dictatorship and bloodshed.
Announcing definitive results, the commission said popular singer Michel Martelly -- and not the ruling party`s Jude Celestin -- would face off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat in the long-delayed run-off.
"The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the runoff, and I think that should be their focus," Crowley said.
"If he (Aristide) returns sooner, it might disturb... the calm that is needed for an effective election process to conclude."
Aristide`s return would definitely add to the uncertainty in the impoverished nation, which is also still grappling with the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake and an ensuing cholera epidemic.
Earlier this week, about 200 people demonstrated in Port-au-Prince calling for President Rene Preval to step down.
Preval, who was at one time Aristide`s prime minister, had been due to leave office on Monday, but has now said he plans to stay in office until the next president and government is installed.
Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Martelly paid a surprise visit to the neighbouring Dominican Republic on Wednesday for private meetings.
"I am the third political force in Haiti, and I think it is very important to reconcile the people, as society is so divided we cannot achieve anything. It is time for the people to reunite to prosper," he told Dominican radio.