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Haiti awaits Aristide with hope and dread
Impoverished island nation awash with rumors of ousted ex-president’s return
Question of the Day
So he joined scores of other Haitians rushing to the airport with his family, spending precious savings on a collective taxi to ride across town after sundown.
Yet the eagerness for Mr. Aristide’s return shows that the former slum priest remains a powerful symbol of hope for millions, even if others dread the return of instability that Haiti suffered under his rule.
Many think he could arrive any day, heightening anxiety as well as anticipation as Haiti emerges from a political crisis a year after a devastating earthquake.
The slightly built Mr. Aristide emerged as a leading voice for Haiti’s poor and became the troubled country’s first democratically elected president, despite opposition from the army, Haiti’s elite and the United States after the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.
But Mr. Aristide was toppled twice from power, his second term ending in 2004 amid a violent rebellion. He left the country aboard a U.S. plane. Mr. Aristide and his supporters insist he was kidnapped. U.S. officials said Mr. Aristide departed at his own request.
Critics accuse the polarizing ex-president of breaking promises to help the poor, allowing corruption fueled by drug trafficking and masterminding attacks on opponents with armed gangs.
U.S. officials are among those worried that Mr. Aristide’s return could further destabilize a country preparing for a March 20 presidential runoff that was delayed by a political crisis and street disturbances over allegations of vote fraud.
“We would be concerned if former President Aristide returns to Haiti before the election,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington last week. “It would prove to be an unfortunate distraction to the people of Haiti.”
Speculation that he might come back soared after notorious ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier made a surprise return in January after nearly 25 years of exile in France. The focus quickly turned to Mr. Aristide, who said last month he was ready to return “today, tomorrow, at any time.”
Mr. Aristide’s American attorney, Ira Kurzban, traveled to Port-au-Prince last week and picked up a diplomatic passport for Mr. Aristide that was suddenly issued by the government of outgoing President Rene Preval.
Mr. Kurzban said he is confident that his client will be back before the runoff vote.
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