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US Discouraging Aristide Return to Haiti

A Jan. 15, 2010 file photo shows former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa (file)

A Jan. 15, 2010 file photo shows former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa (file)

The United States Thursday expresses opposition to the possible return to Haiti of deposed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. U.S. officials say in the wake of this week’s arrival in Haiti of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, the return of another controversial figure is the "last thing" Haiti needs.

U.S. officials are making clear their concern that the arrival of Jean-Claude Duvalier, and the contemplated return of Mr. Aristide, threaten to upset Haiti’s efforts at earthquake recovery and to sort out its troubled election process.

Mr. Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, has been living in exile in South Africa since fleeing the country in 2004 amid a popular uprising.

In the wake of the surprise return last Sunday of Mr. Duvalier, Mr. Aristide has declared that he also wants to return home to help his country, and said he hopes his South African hosts will make that possible.

U.S. officials are declining comment about whether they are pressing South Africa to prevent Mr. Aristide’s return.

But at a briefing for foreign reporters in Washington, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that given the problems the country faces, the "last thing that Haiti needs" is the return of former rulers and the revival of past controversies.

"Haiti has its hands full dealing with the current ongoing election process," he said. "And we do not think that any actions by any individual at this point that can only bring divisiveness to Haitian society is helpful in helping Haiti move forward - expressly because the Haitian people need the emergence of a new government that they believe, and have confidence, can lead Haiti to a more prosperous future."

The country’s presidential election in late November was widely seen as fraudulent and triggered public protests.

A planned run-off vote that had been set for last Sunday was postponed while the Organization of American States reviews alleged irregularities.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday on Haitian earthquake recovery, a year after the January 12, 2010 disaster, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said sustained international support for Haiti requires a credible election process.

She also noted what she termed the "notorious" record of human rights abuses and corruption by former President Duvalier, and voiced concern about the "unpredictable" effect his return may have on the political situation.

Acting Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner, meanwhile said the focus should be on Haiti’s future, and getting it through the election process, and that exiled leader Aristide "is not really part of that equation."