Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to Haiti on March 18 after a seven-year exile. Aristide’s return was greeted favorably by the Haitian people, while the U.S. government remains concerned that he could unduly influence elections set for March 19 and 20.
According to The New York Times, Haitian residents cheered, danced and blocked the streets around the airport as Aristide arrived home. The crowd mobbed Aristide as he attempted to get out of his car and get inside his house.
Aristide said he would not take part in the elections, but complained that his political party, Lavalas Family, was barred from the election.
“Excluding Lavalas, you cut the branches that link the people,” he told reporters. “The solution is inclusion of all Haitians as human beings.”
He spoke in several languages to the crowd, telling them: “The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the Haitian people.”
“In 1804, the Haitian revolution marked the end of slavery,” he continued in English. “Today, may the Haitian people end exiles and coup d’états, while peacefully moving from social exclusion to inclusion.”
Aristide gained widespread popularity as an advocate for the nation’s poor, which represent a large portion of the population. He also led a movement that defeated a hated dictatorship.
Aristide was ousted in 2004 in a violent coup.
Since then, Aristide has been living in South Africa. His return alarmed the U.S. government, so much so that President Obama reportedly called South African President Jacob Zuma and urged him to stop Aristide from returning home before the election. South African authorities did not block his departure, saying they had not reason to hold him there.
Not all U.S. citizens feel the same way as the U.S. government. Actor and activist Danny Glover said Aristide’s return was a great day for Haiti.
“It’s one of the most beautiful moments for the Haitian people,” Glover told the Associated Press. “It’s a historic moment for the Haitian people.”
Aristide’s Haitian supporters agree.
“President Aristide is a strong leader who doesn’t take orders from a superpower such as the United States,” Johnny Mazart, 36, a carpenter, told Reuters. “That’s why they ousted him, because he listened to the Haitian people, not foreigners.”
Former Haitian First Lady Mirlande Manigat and Haitian pop star Michel Martelly will face off in the final round of the election.