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Aristide builds case for return to Haiti

Exiled Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide defended on Wednesday his decision to return home in the face of US reluctance, saying it was his right as a citizen of the Caribbean nation.

”I have the right to be back,” Aristide said in an interview with international news agencies in Pretoria.

The former president announced this week that he wanted to return to Haiti following elections on February 7 that handed victory to his one-time protégé René Préval.

Aristide said he hoped to promote education in his homeland, include Haiti in ”the African renaissance” as the first black republic founded in 1804, and suggested that he would not openly engage in politics.

”My determination is to be back in education, serving the people, not as a member of the public service but as a citizen,” said Aristide, who has been living in Pretoria with his wife Mildred and two daughters since May 2004.

The former president said he was in consultation with Caribbean countries, the United Nations and the South African leadership on a date for his return.

”I know a date will emerge,” he said.

Aristide (52) was offered refuge in South Africa after fleeing a popular revolt in Haiti in 2004.

He has long maintained that he had been forced to step down under pressure from the United States and France and had urged the African Union to take up his claims of a coup.

While Washington has not opposed Aristide’s return to Haiti, it has moved quickly to shore up Préval while dimissing Aristide as a man of the past.

”I think the Haitian people are trying to turn a new page in their history,” said US State Department Sean McCormack recently.

”That’s what we, the United States, as well as other countries working with Haiti, are trying to do and trying to help them do,” he said.

During the interview, Aristide asserted that relations between the United States and Haiti must be based on mutual respect and that Haitians wanted him back home.

”When the people vote, you need to respect their vote,” Aristide said.

”The huge majority of the Haitian people wanted me to be back. They voted for my return because this is part of their dignity,” he said.

Aristide’s Lavalas Family party endorsed Preval, who ran on a separate ticket, in the days leading up to the February 7 vote.

Aristide drew a parallel with former South African president Nelson Mandela who still commands respect as a statesman despite having left office in 1999.

”When I look at Madiba, President Mandela, it’s compelling to see what he can do for his country and for the world without being the president of the country,” Aristide said.

”I am confident I can serve my country without being involved as president of the country.”

But he declined to elaborate on his relationship with Preval, a one-time protegé, saying only pthat he had conveyed his congratulations to him.

”I care about my president and I respect him,” he said.

Aristide swept to power in Haiti in 1990, only to be overthrown in a coup eight months later.

With backing from the United States, he returned to power in 1994 but fell out of favour with Washington amid claims of vote-rigging in the 2000 elections and political violence.

DA: Aristide must depart ‘without delay’

Meanwhile, the onus is on the government to ensure the speedy return home

of Aristide following the outcome of the recent elections, the Democratic Alliance said on Wednesday.

”After Haiti’s recent successful presidential elections, in which Aristide’s former protégé Rene Preval emerged as president-delegate, there remain no justifiable reasons for Mr Aristide’s continued presence in South Africa,” said DA spokesperson Douglas Gibson.

During his almost two-year stay in South Africa, Aristide had been afforded the perks and privileges of a visiting head of state, at a cost to the taxpayer of over R100 000 a month.

The total cost of his stay in South Africa could be reasonably assumed to run into millions of rands — an extraordinary waste of resources given South Africa’s pressing development needs and Aristide’s dubious human rights record, Gibson said.

President Thabo Mbeki had already joined other world leaders in commending the people of Haiti on the ”successful” outcome of the recent presidential poll.

”South Africa is of the view that the outcome of the elections is an expression of the democratic will of the people of Haiti,” Mbeki said.

Now that t was safe for Aristide to return, the onus was on the government to ensure he ”departs without delay”, said Gibson.

He had submitted a series of parliamentary questions to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to ascertain what plans the government had for Aristide’s departure. – Sapa-AFP

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Carole Landry
Carole Landry
Carole Landry covers the United Nations for @AFP. Postings in Moscow, Washington, Johannesburg and Paris.

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