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Aristide returns as Haiti seeks new course

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Apr 3, 2011 - 9:51:53 PM

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Haiti’s former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide waves to supporters as he arrives home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 18. Aristide, who was forced to fl ee Haiti due to a rebellion in 2004 aboard a U.S. plane, returned after seven years of exile in South Africa, days before Haiti’s presidential runoff election. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
The reason why the United States doesn't want Mr. Aristide back, many Haitian observers insist, is because he is strong, and with him in the country, the U.S. won't be able to manipulate the people as easily as it did in his absence.
WASHINGTON ( - In defiance of the U.S. government, Jean-Bertrand Aristide—the fi rst popularly elected president of Haiti in 1991, and the only person deposed from that position twice—went back to Haiti March 18 for the first time since being overthrown in a 2004 U.S.-backed coup.

With the support of the South African government, Mr. Aristide boarded a plane in Johannesburg March 17, joined by his wife, Mildred Aristide, their two daughters, and a delegation which included actor Danny Glover.

In Port Au Prince the next day, thousands of jubilant supporters mobbed the former president when he arrived, chanting his praises and waving his portrait and Haitian flags as if he was a candidate in the presidential runoff election held March 20, just 48 hours later. Final election tallies are due on April 16.

The two candidates on the ballot for the election—which has been tainted by charges of fraud, violence and myriad irregularities—are former first lady Mirlande Manigat and singer Michel Martelly.

In his first remarks after returning to the country, Mr. Aristide condemned violence and advocated “inclusion” to solve Haiti's “hunger, insecurity, violence, racism, exclusion, modern slavery,” according to the Reuters-Canada news service.

Outgoing President René Preval, who is said to be angry at what he sees as excessive U.S. and UN meddling in Haitian affairs, sent officials to the airport to meet Mr. Aristide and an official car.

Another popular singer, hiphop artist Wyclef Jean, was shot in the hand March 19, on the eve of the election. He was treated and released from a local hospital, according to published reports quoting his publicist.

“It was a minor graze to the hand,” said Mr. Jean's spokeswoman Cindy Tanenbaum. No other details were available. The Haitian-born star has been campaigning for Mr. Martelly, one of the presidential contenders.

A message on Mr. Jean's offi cial Twitter page read: “We have spoken to Wyclef, he is ok. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.”

Mr. Jean attempted to run for president himself last year but was barred by Haiti's electoral commission, which said he was ineligible because he has been living in the United States.

Mr. Aristide's homecoming contrasted with the shocking return in mid-January of another figure from Haiti's past, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who now faces legal charges of past theft and rights abuses and cannot leave the country.

The reason why the United States doesn't want Mr. Aristide back, many Haitian observers insist, is because he is strong, and with him in the country, the U.S. won't be able to manipulate the people as easily as it did in his absence.

“This return is historic in that it eases a bit of the insult, the injury, the suffering of the 2004 bi-centennial coup d'etat,” Ezili Danto, president of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network told The Final Call, “which was a slap in the face of the greatest triumph of our ancestors (the Haitian Revolution). It was in 2004 that the Empire struck back and took out the democratically elected president of Haiti.

“This historic return, in the face of (President) Obama and the UN (Secretary General) Ban Ki Moon, calling the president of South Africa, asking them to delay the will of the Haitian people, is a victory of the poorest of the poor, without any voice, who've been disenfranchised for seven years now,” she continued.

“Well, we know that the State Department has issued several statements, of course, asking the South African government not to allow President Aristide to come back before the election,” Mr. Aristide's attorney Ira Kurzban told Pacifi ca Radio's “Democracy Now!” before their departure from South Africa.

“We know that President Obama directly called (South African) President Zuma, asking him again not to allow President Aristide out of the country. And we know that there's been a sustained campaign over seven years to keep President Aristide here.

“Through documents that were leaked through WikiLeaks, we know that the United States government has really, in a very systematic way, tried to keep Jean- Bertrand Aristide, as they originally said, halfway around the world,” said Mr. Kurban.

“It is the overcoming of the elites,” said Ms. Danto, “and even if it is for a moment, because we are the Haitians and we understand that from the womb-to-the-tomb, our life is about struggle, that the Empire will strike back, that they have their Duvalierist election on Sunday, to put a façade of voting on this sham that they've made of democracy.

“For us who have been in this vineyard and have never wavered, we remember those who have fallen, who demonstrated against the total disenfranchisement of the Black masses of Haiti,” in 2004 she continued.

“Now whether or not, at some point in time, they can elevate themselves off of this NGOrepublic, or this new Duvalierist who is about to be given five years off of this sham election, the struggle continues.

“There are some people who have stood with us and who we also remember today. We remember and lift up Minister Louis Farrakhan for standing with the Haitian Lawyers Leadership and the voices of Haiti when no others in the intelligentsia of Black America would do that. This is also a victory of justice of those who stood with us: Hazel and Randall Robinson, Danny Glover, these individuals who did not allow the spin of the mass media,” to convince them that the UN plans and the Congressional Black Caucus-supported HOPE Act, were anything but continued slavery for the people.

“Today for a moment we will smile because this shining and eternal moment must see us through what will come at us next.

We have these sham elections to look forward to. We anti-Duvalier Haitians managed to survive, whole and with dignity, and to witness that against all odds, for this moment, we beat back the elite, rabid rage,” Ms. Danto concluded.

Related news:

Possible Aristide return increases Haiti's political drama (FCN, 02-21-2011)

A Voice For Haiti, A Voice For All Our Rise (FCN, Min. Farrakhan,08-10-2010)

Why Haiti? Why now? (FCN, 03-14-2004)

Aristide's Call for Reparations From France Unlikely to Die (IPS, 03/12/2004)

Haiti makes its case for reparations: The meter is running at $34 per second (FCN, 02-20-2004)

How the U.S. impoverished Haiti FCN, 09-10-2003)