With ousted dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier back in Haiti, several prominent blacks have issued a call for another ousted leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to be allowed to return to the country from which he was forcibly ejected despite having been democratically elected.
In a full-page “urgent call” letter published Sunday, Jan. 23 in The Miami Herald, more than 150 individuals and organizations said there were no legal obstacles to Aristide’s immediate return.
The letter was signed by individuals, actors and activists, including Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Oliver Stone, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Eusi Kwayana, a noted Guyanese Pan-Africanist now living in the United States.
A report in the Jan. 15 Huffington Post said a tearful Aristide spoke to reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he lives in exile, to convey his desire to return.
“As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity,” said Aristide, his wife Mildred next to him, eyes downcast, twisting a handkerchief.
The letter in The Herald said more than 20,000 signatures had been collected on a petition circulated by Haitian women.
“A broad sector of Haitian grassroots organizations, women’s groups, human rights activists and educators have made it clear that now is the time to end president Aristide’s forced exile in South Africa,” said the letter, paid for by Haiti Action Committee.
The letter accuses the Haitian government, the United States, France, Canada and the United Nations forces in Haiti of blocking Aristide’s return. It said the Haitian government had not responded to Aristide’s request for a passport and that U.S and U.N. officials had issued public statements opposing Aristide’s return.
Aristide was elected president in 1990 but was ousted in a military coup the following year. U.S. troops dispatched by then President Bill Clinton, currently a United Nations special envoy to Haiti, restored Aristide to power in 1994. He was re-elected in 2000 but was ousted again in the bloody 2004 rebellion and flown out of the country aboard a U.S. plane against his will.
Meanwhile, an Associated Press report said Aristide’s return has been a principal demand of his Fanmi Lavalas party which has lost influence as electoral officials blocked it from taking part in elections, including the disputed Nov. 28 vote now under challenge. Still, Aristide himself has remained a widely popular figure.
Aristide is two years younger than Duvalier, the now 59-year-old ex-dictator Aristide spoke out against as a Roman Catholic priest in the La Saline slum.
The two men represent the two main forces in Haitian politics over the last half century: stable, often brutal authoritarianism in favor of elites against charismatic populism that opponents said bordered on demagoguery.
According to Duvalier’s confidants, the two men have never met. Their mutual presence in Haiti could cause long-simmering tensions to erupt.
Aristide did not endorse a candidate in the current race and has said he would not seek office if he came back.
Instead, he said in the letter, whose authenticity was confirmed by Lavalas spokeswoman Maryse Narcisse, that his return was necessary to help his countrymen and for his medical needs following six eye surgeries in his six years of exile.
The U.S. State Department reacted to a letter from Aristide asking to be allowed to return. Spokesman P.J. Crowley made a series of posts on Twitter.
“This is an important period for Haiti. What it needs is calm, not divisive actions that distract from the task of forming a new government,” said one tweet.
The other: “We do not doubt President Aristide’s desire to help the people of Haiti. But today Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past.”
Duvalier applied for a new passport Jan. 19 and intends to leave the country when he gets it, a spokesman said, insisting that he can neither be forced to leave his homeland nor compelled to stay and face a potential criminal trial on allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses.
Duvalier had been scheduled to leave Jan. 20 but could not because his passport had expired, said spokesman Yves Germain Joseph. He stunned the country Jan. 16 with his sudden and mysterious return nearly 25 years after he was forced into exile by a popular uprising against a regime widely viewed as brutal and corrupt.
This story was compiled by information from The Associated Press and staff reports.