Haitians Mobilize for Aristide’s Return

Seven years after he was kidnapped and exiled to Africa after the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d ‘etat, former president Jean Bertrand Aristide finally has a passport that will allow him to return to his country from South Africa.

On Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, the South African Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane confirmed that Aristide has requested to leave South Africa. “We are consulting with all interested parties to facilitate his return back home at the appropriate time,” she said.

The U.S. government, however, has made clear its opposition to Aristide’s return before March 20, when two neo-Duvalierist presidential candidates illegally “selected” by Washington via the Organization of American States (OAS) are scheduled to go to a second round. If Aristide returns before then, “it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. “The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the runoff, and I think that should be their focus…If he [Aristide] returns sooner, it might disturb…the calm that is needed for an effective election process to conclude.”

Meanwhile, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jean Max Bellerive, says that his government has done its part for Aristide to return. “President Aristide is currently in possession of his diplomatic passport, he can go home whenever he wants,” Bellerive said at a meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) at the Hotel Karibe Convention Center on Feb. 15.

On Friday, Feb. 18, Haiti’s Foreign Minister, Marie Michelle Rey said that she has had “no contact” with her South African counterpart regarding Aristide’s return.

In response, on Saturday, Feb. 19, Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban wrote Rey asking her to “initiate the appropriate dialogue with the government of the Republic of South Africa to insure President Aristide’s immediate return to Haiti.”

“I am inquiring as to what steps you have taken with your counterparts in South Africa to resolve President Aristide’s return to Haiti,” Kurzban wrote in his letter. “As you are well aware, President Aristide is not simply another citizen returning to his country. You are well aware of the circumstances in which he was forced to leave Haiti notwithstanding his position as the democratically elected President at the time. His forced trip to the Central African Republic and his current stay in South Africa are well documented.”

Kurzban added: “I know that certain countries have voiced concern about the President’s immediate return,” referring diplomatically to the U.S. “We know, however, those concerns are without foundation and that the President’s return would be a joyous occasion for the vast majority of Haitians,” he concluded. “Many Haitian citizens have already gone to the airport in anticipation of his return.”

In the meantime, all sorts of rumors are circulating in Haiti and its diaspora. Some say they expect Aristide’s return before Mar. 20. Others say the US wants Aristide back to settle a score with him. To date, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, has made no statement. Likewise, former U.S. president Bill Clinton would not comment on Aristide’s return, saying simply: “These are issues whose solutions must come from the Haitian government and it is for the political parties to give their impressions.”

Another rumor says that Aristide would be indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for corruption involving a Haitian telephone company and that Jean René Duperval, a former Teleco executive, is ready to testify against Aristide to save his own skin.

But in a Feb. 19 letter, Duperval denied this rumor. “On Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, in an outrageous statement broadcast on Radio Métropole, and then picked up and commented on by other media, Ms. Lucy Komisar, an investigative journalist, falsely claimed that I was cooperating with the government of the United States against the former president Jean Bertrand Aristide,” he wrote. “I formally deny these accusations as false and say to the Haitian nation that I am not cooperating and did not make any deal with anyone. I take this opportunity to reiterate my fi rm determination to defend myself against the charges brought against me.”

Lucy Komisar has been an employee of the Boulos family-supported Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP), a right-wing pro-coup political action committee. She has been caught fabricating stories about Aristide before (see Haïti Liberté, “IDT, Aristide, and the Haiti Democracy Project” by Kim Ives, Vol. 2, No. 1, 07/23/2008).

On Friday, Feb. 18, the Lavalas Family’s Permanent Mobilization Commission called for a demonstration in Port-au-Prince. Thousands of people massed in front of the ruins of the St. Jean Bosco church, where Father Jean Bertrand Aristide used to preach the theology of liberation. Demonstrators, accompanied by several street bands, carried placards, banners, and pictures of Aristide as they marched several blocks to rally on the Champ de Mars, in front of the ruins of the National Palace. Along the route, they called for Aristide’s return with slogans like “Titid, we’re waiting for you” or “Titid = peace” or “Titid = life.”

Demonstrators also denounced the discredited elections from which the Lavalas Family (FL) was excluded, saying “there was no fi rst round, so there can be no second round.” At the end of the demonstration, the coordinator of the FL’s executive committee, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, called for the annulment of the “mascarade” and fl awed Nov. 28, 2010 elections and the FL’s inclusion in the electoral process. Narcisse also denounced the arrogance and interference of the U.S. and OAS in the internal political affairs of Haiti, especially in the electoral process. Clearly, the mobilization will continue until Aristide’s return and the annulment of the mascarade Nov. 28 elections. The demonstration ended without incident, despite the limited presence of the Haitian National Police.