PORT-AU-PRINCE - Following years of exile, Haiti’s former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide recently received a diplomatic passport and may return to the country soon from Pretoria, South Africa where he is currently teaching at Pretoria University.
Aristide’s attorney, Ira Kurzban, told the Associated Press that Feb. 8 he was given a diplomat’s passport for the ousted leader. But he didn’t indicate the exact date of the ex-leader’s return. Kurzban added that he wanted to set up security measures in Haiti tailored for Aristide that follow the same guidelines of existing security plans for former presidents.
“It’s a long time coming,” Kurzban told The New York Times. “[Aristide] wants to come home as soon as he can.”
Aristide was first elected in 1990 and was the country’s first democratically elected president. He was ousted in 2004 during a violent rebellion and fled the country on an American plane. He then relocated to South Africa, but still maintained a strong following in Haiti after his leave.
Rumors of Aristide’s return exploded after former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned in January after living in exile for nearly 25 years.
According to Reuters, Western donors like the United States are wary about Aristide’s return. Some believe his homecoming could upset the country as preparations are being made for a run-off election in March.
“What Haiti needs right now, coming out of a prolonged first round of elections, is a period of calm, not divisive actions that can only distract from the vital task of forming a legitimate and credible government,” Jon Piechowski, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Haiti told the Times.
Aristides’ return has been strongly demanded by his Fanmi Lavalas Party, which has been barred from participating in elections. The former president was banned from becoming a candidate but claims that wasn’t his goal anyway. Instead, he’s voiced ambitions to help improve the country’s severe conditions and become an educator.
“The people want him to return to provide assistance in the field of education,” Maryse Narcisse, the head of Lavala’s executive council told the AP. “He himself said he is ready and is willing to return today, tomorrow, whenever. I can only say that we would like him to be here soon.”