Aristide Ready for Return to Haiti

By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press
PRETORIA, South Africa - Ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide is ready to end what he calls an unconstitutional exile, but said Wednesday the timing of his return is up to "my president" and other leaders.

Aristide congratulated the Haitian people and his one-time protege, President-elect Rene Preval, on the Feb. 7 election, only the fourth in Haiti's 202 years of independence.

Preval was belatedly declared victor Feb. 16 as ongoing protests over alleged election irregularities threatened to turn violent.

"What happened indicates the road toward freedom and democracy and not toward coups d'etat," he said Wednesday in an interview with international news agencies.

Aristide has been a guest of the South African government, living in a villa in the presidential compound, since soon after his ouster in February 2004. Wednesday, he said that his exile violates Haiti's constitution.

He said he expected to hear soon when he could return home.

"The date of my return will emerge from consultations" among Preval, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community and his host, the South African government, he said. South African officials have said there must be a safe environment for a return of Aristide, who has survived three assassination attempts in Haiti.

In Haiti, Preval said the constitution permits the return of Aristide, and any other citizen. He quoted the same constitutional article that Aristide did in South Africa. And the two men spoke publicly for the first time since the elections on Wednesday.

But asked if he had spoken to Preval, Aristide said "It's a private issue."

Once so close they called each other twins, the two fell out for reasons never publicized. Preval's voice was noticeably absent among those who demanded his return when Aristide was forced out in 2004, amid growing protests against alleged corruption and dictatorship and a bloody rebellion.

Aristide had nurtured the career of Preval, an agronomist who served as his prime minister and was elected president in 1994, when a constitutional ban barred Aristide from running for consecutive terms. But his lackluster term was largely seen as keeping the presidential seat warm for Aristide's second successful bid.

Asked about their relationship, Aristide said only, "I care about democracy, I care about my president, so when you respect him, you pay attention to what he will be saying."

Aristide's Lavalas Family party, in disarray since his departure and with hundreds of members jailed without charge, had belatedly asked its supporters to vote for Preval.

Asked what he thought those voters wanted, Aristide said, "Based on what I hear and based on what I see, the majority of the Haitian people wanted me to go back, wanted me to return ... Haitian people expect that return."

No other ousted Haitian leader has ever returned home. Jean-Claude Duvalier, whose family ruled Haiti for decades, lives in France. Former Gen. Raoul Cedras, who helped drive the military coup that pushed Aristide out of power for the first time in 1991, lives in Panama.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 soldiers to Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected leader in 200 years as a republic. Aristide accuses the United States of orchestrating his 2004 departure. American officials say they only chartered a plane to aid his exit, at his request.

Asked about relations with the United States, which twice invaded Haiti, Aristide said "I wish that the United States and Haiti will develop that mutual respect ... When people vote, you need to respect that vote ... I wish the U.S. to show that (respect)."

It was unclear if he was talking about his or Preval's election.

Elegant in gray suit and silk socks, he insisted he would be a private citizen when he returned.

"I don't need to be a politician ... to enjoy what I'm doing right now. Being involved in research, in education, this is a joy for me," he said.

Aristide has been doing research and other work with a South African correspondence college.

He would continue to work in education, he said, an issue crucial to development in Haiti, where some 80 percent are illiterate. The Caribbean nation of 8 million people is one of the most impoverished in the world because of decades of rapacious leadership and the dominance of a small, lighter-skinned elite that subjugates a black majority descended from African slaves.

Aristide said that 1 percent of the population controls 95 percent of the wealth under a system he likened to South Africa's now-toppled apartheid system.

Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network

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