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Haiti Issues Passport for Aristide

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa (file photo)

The Haitian government has issued a diplomatic passport for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who went into exile seven years ago this month following his ouster by armed rebels.

Haitian officials Tuesday said the passport has been handed over to Mr. Aristide's Miami-based attorney, Ira Kurzban. The government recently said that if Mr. Aristide wanted a passport to return home from exile in South Africa, his request for one would be honored.

Mr. Aristide, who is a former priest, has said he is ready to return to his homeland, and that he hopes the governments of Haiti and South Africa will make that possible. It is not clear when Mr. Aristide might make the trip home from South Africa. A U.S. State Department spokesman recently said the last thing Haiti needs is the return of former rulers and the revival of past controversies.

In 1990, Mr. Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected president, but he was soon ousted in a military coup. He returned to power in 1994 through U.S. military intervention and served until 1996. He was re-elected in 2000. His political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was not allowed to participate in the disputed presidential elections on November 28 of last year.

In January, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier made an unexpected appearance in Haiti after 25 years in exile.

Authorities have since confiscated Mr. Duvalier's expired passport. Since his return to Haiti, he has been charged with corruption, embezzlement and other abuses of power from his brutal, 15-year rule that ended in 1986.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. The Caribbean nation is still struggling to recover from a January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than 1 million others homeless. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tent cities, and many parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, remain in ruins. The country also is struggling with a deadly cholera epidemic.