Deposed former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he is ready to return to his homeland from exile in South Africa, days after former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier made an unexpected appearance after 25 years.
Aristide said in a statement that he is ready to come back “today, tomorrow, at any time.” The former president said he hopes the governments of Haiti and South Africa will make that possible. Aristide, who fled Haiti in February 2004 during a popular revolt, says his goal is to contribute to “serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.”
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to the remarks by saying the U.S. does not doubt the former president’s desire to help his nation. But Crowley said Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past.
In 1990, Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected president, but he was soon ousted in a military coup. He returned to power in 1994 through U.S. military intervention and served until 1996. He was re-elected in 2000. His political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was not allowed to participate in the presidential elections Nov. 28.
Meanwhile, Duvalier has denied a remark by his lawyer, Reynold Georges, that he hopes to run for president. Duvalier said in a statement Wednesday that he formally denies all political statements, “vague or otherwise,” that are attributed to him.
Authorities have confiscated Duvalier’s expired passport. Since arriving in Haiti late Sunday, he has been charged with corruption, embezzlement and other abuses of power from his brutal 15-year rule that ended in 1986. Duvalier returned to Haiti from France, where he has been living in exile.
In addition, a former United Nations spokesman and three other prominent Haitians have filed criminal complaints accusing Duvalier of crimes against humanity. It is not clear whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Duvalier for atrocities during his rule.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says Haiti must carry out the recommendations of an international report on Haiti’s disputed November election. At a security council briefing Thursday on Haiti, Ms. Rice said sustained support from the international community, including the United States, requires a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes.
The Organization of American States has called for the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, to be eliminated from the runoff vote. A report cited irregularities and fraud in the election. A runoff had been scheduled for Jan. 16, but was postponed.
The Caribbean nation, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is still struggling to recover a year after an earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million others homeless. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tent cities, and many parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, remain in ruins. The country also is battling a deadly cholera epidemic.
An updated travel warning issued by the United States makes note of the cholera outbreak, along with crime, violent disturbances in Haiti, lack of adequate medical facilities, and limited police protection.