Only days before a presidential runoff is scheduled to take place, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest and Haiti’s first democratically elected president, returned home, landing in Port-Au-Prince at about 9:05 am local time.
Awaiting his arrival this morning was a small crowd of journalists and supporters, some carrying posters and waving Haitian flags. Far fewer than the thousands originally expected, within hours several hundred supporters were gathered in the Haitian capital to celebrate the return of the former leader.
Speculation began to grow in Haiti as Aristide, still revered by many of the poor, but loathed by the wealthy elite, was issued a government passport in February. But supporters began to promise the return of the exiled president by Sunday’s election of a new president, and parliament and workers began preparing his once abandoned home.
Forced out in 2004, under strong pressure from the United States, Aristide has spent most of the past seven years living in South Africa until late Thursday evening when he, his wife, two daughters, his Miami-based attorney and American actor Danny Glover, boarded a plane in Johannesburg.
President Obama and other U.S. officials tried to stop Aristide’s return, fearing it could undermine the presidential runoff between Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, but South African officials reported they were powerless to stop the former leader from going anywhere he chose.
Upon landing, Aristide waved and clasped his hands as he made his way to the tarmac.
In his first message to the people of Haiti and the world, Aristide stated, “Today may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coup d’état, while peacefully we must move from social exclusion to social inclusions.” His only comment in regards to the current election was to criticize his party’s exclusion.
With his return, many predict it won’t be long until he once again jumps into the political limelight, however Aristide has said his wish is to return to work in the education field.