On Feb. 7 Haiti’s Immigration and Emigration Service issued a diplomatic passport for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), who has lived in exile in South Africa since he was forced from office in 2004. The passport is good for five years, with an expiration date of Feb. 6, 2016. Aristide’s US lawyer, Ira Kurzban, arrived in Haiti several days earlier to pick up the document for his client. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Feb. 7)
It was not clear whether the US government would take steps to block the former president’s return. At a Feb. 9 news briefing in Washington, DC, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said the US “would hate to see” anything that might cause problems with Haiti’s presidential and legislative elections, now scheduled for March 20. “I think that we would be concerned that if former president Aristide returns to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction,” he said. “The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the runoff, and that I think that should be their focus.” (Voice of America, Feb. 9)
A spokesperson for Aristide’s Lavalas Family (FL) party, Félix Ansyto, denounced the State Department position as “an intimidation maneuver.” “It’s not up to the US to know what’s going to disturb or not disturb the country,” he added. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 11) But Ira Kurzban seemed more optimistic about the US government, which flew Aristide out of the country in 2004, during the presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2009), a conservative Republican. Asked by Haiti’s Radio Métropole about relations with France and the US, Kurzban said that the new governments of these countries had a different view of the situation, presumably referring to current US president Barack Obama, a moderate Democrat. (Radio Métropole, Feb. 11)
In fact, US liberals linked to the Democratic Party have been pushing for Aristide’s return. A number of liberal celebrities, including actor Harry Belafonte, civil rights veteran Rev. Jesse Jackson and film director Oliver Stone, signed a full-page ad, “Return Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti,” that ran in the Miami Herald on Jan. 23. Another signer was Dr. Paul Farmer, who serves as the deputy to United Nations special envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton, a former US president (1993-2001) and the husband of current secretary of state Hillary Clinton. (San Franciso Bay View, Jan. 23)
An opinion piece in the British daily Guardian said that the current US policy on Haiti was also “meeting…resistance” from an important group of Democratic legislators, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The CBC “forced then-President Bill Clinton to restore Aristide to the presidency in 1994,” according to the article. (Guardian, Feb. 2) [The US returned Aristide to office in October 1994 after 20,000 US troops had occupied Haiti and Aristide had agreed to follow a neoliberal economic plan.]
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 13.
See our last post on Haiti.