Exiled Aristide seeks return to Haiti as a ‘simple citizen’
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians adjusting to the sudden return of one exiled ex-president could soon have another on their hands.
Former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc’’ Duvalier held court with allies at an upscale hotel yesterday before slipping away to an undisclosed destination.
Meanwhile, ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide sent out a letter saying he is ready to come back from six years of South African exile “today, tomorrow, at any time.’’
“As far as I am concerned, I am ready,’’ he wrote in an e-mail distributed by supporters and posted online. “The purpose is very clear: to contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.’’
Aristide was ousted in 2004, leaving Haiti aboard a US plane as a small group of rebels neared the capital. His return has been a principal demand of his Fanmi Lavalas party, which has lost influence as electoral officials blocked it from participating in elections, including the disputed Nov. 28 vote. But Aristide himself has remained a widely popular figure.
He is two years younger than Duvalier, the dictator he spoke against as a Roman Catholic priest in the La Saline slum. Duvalier is now 59.
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, his return is necessary to help his countrymen and for his medical needs following six eye surgeries in his six years of exile.
“The unbearable pain experienced in the winter must be avoided in order to reduce any risk of further complications and blindness,’’ he said. Winter begins in June in South Africa.
Brian Concannon, a lawyer who has represented Aristide, said the ousted leader has applied but has never heard back from his homeland’s government.
The US State Department reacted to the letter in a series of posts by spokesman P.J. Crowley 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.
Duvalier also applied for a new passport Wednesday and intends to leave the country when he gets it, a spokesman said, insisting that the once-reviled strongman can neither be forced to leave his homeland or compelled to stay and face a possible criminal trial on allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses.