As has been widely reported, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is now back in Haiti, ending his seven year exile in South Africa. We'll be updating this space throughout the evening and over the weekend with the latest updates from twitter, news reports and sources on the ground. Please check back often, as the situation continues to change rapidly.
Sunday, Update 9:53 AM: Haitians head to the polls today to vote for president and we'll be updating throughout the day here, with the latest observations from the ground as well as news reports and analysis.
Update 4:14 PM: Worth noting is that despite the pressure from the US, France and others, and contrary to what prior media reports had suggested, the Haitian government seemed to provide at least some sort of security and state presence yesterday. The General Secretary for the presidency, Fritz Longchamp was at the airport to greet Aristide, and Reuters reported yesterday that "Haiti's government said it had drawn up a security plan in the expectation Aristide's return would generate crowds." Today, Retuers reports that, "Outgoing President Rene Preval, who is angry at what he sees as excessive U.S. and U.N. meddling in his country, sent officials to meet Aristide and an official car."
Update 1:41 PM: This video report from Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker, provides some great footage from yesterday's arrival in Haiti of former president Aristide. Walker reports from the street:
You can see the scene here right outside Aristide's house. This is where several thousand of his supporters have been gathering for the last few hours. There is music blaring and a carnival atmosphere, but one of the big questions now is what is Arsitide going to say to those supporters in terms of whether or not they should participate in Sunday's presidential vote.
It's unclear what Aristides plans are or exactly how much support he can muster after 7 years, but judging from the first few hours of of his arrival home, there is a significant political force back on the scene.
It should also be added that although many are waiting some sort of a political endorsement, he has continually said he plans to focus on issues relating to education and health care as a resident of Haiti, as Democracy NOW!'s Amy Goodman said, "Of that he is really clear about right now."
Update 12:11 AM: Amy Goodman of Democracy NOW! filed another report last night covering the plane ride, the reception and the trip to Aristide's house. Goodman reports on a conversation she had with Frantz Gabriel in Aristide's home:
In Tabarre, in the Aristide’s home, I had a chance to talk to Frantz Gabriel. He actually is a U.S. war veteran and a Haitian. He was with the Aristides in 2004 when the U.S. embassy when the U.S. embassy rep came to the house to kick them out and put them on that plane with the American flag that ultimately landed them in the Central African Republic.
To read the full transcript or listen to the entire report, click here. Be sure to check the Democracy NOW! blog often as they continue to report from Haiti.
Why it’s relevant today is the statements of the State Department over and over—first P.J. Crowley, then repeated by the State Department spokesman [Mark] Toner. When P.J. Crowley was there he tweeted out, ‘Aristide is the past. Haitians must look to the future.’ And then Toner talked about how the Aristides had willingly gone to the Central African Republic. I asked Frantz Gabriel about that, who was on that plane with them, and he said there was nothing voluntary about it.
Well after seven years, seven years of exile, the Aristides have once again returned two days before the election will take place for the next president of Haiti. Jean-Bertrand Aristide will not participate in that election; he’s already been president twice, though he did not serve his full terms in either case. What is clear is the massive amount of support he has among the Haitian people, which is probably why the U.S. government is so concerned about Aristide returning. He says now he will focus on education and healthcare.
Satuday, Update 11:35 AM: Time to finally give the New York Times some credit. After downplaying the crowds yesterday, at first describing them as a "few dozen", and later "several hundred", in the most recent update from last night, the Times reports:
Thousands of people cheered, danced and blocked streets around the airport upon his arrival. Then they swarmed the grounds of his spacious home, climbing over walls to get on the property, scaling trees to get a look at him and massing on his porch to peer into windows — once the thick crowd parted enough for him to get out of his car and make it inside. Several people swiped coconuts from his trees and cracked them open during an impromptu celebration under the fierce sun.
The video that is linked to below (here) provides a good sense of the atmosphere as Aristide arrives home.
Update 9:46 PM: The video availabe here, from Etant Dupaine, is probably the best shot of the crowds surrounding Aristide's vehicle as he arrives home this afternoon.
Update 7:24 PM: More pictures from today, from Ansel Herz. This one in particular gives the viewer some sense of the crowd. Also, see all of his tweets on the wikileaks revelations in one place: here.
Update 6:48 PM: MINUSTAH has posted a pretty nice slide show of Aristide's return today.
Update 6:23 PM: Wikileaks cables, released today, expose the extent to which the United States and France have sought to neutralize Aristide and and how far they went in pressuring South Africa not to let him return to Haiti. Although the US was calling on Aristide to delay his return until after the election, what these cables show, is that it has long been US policy to try and keep Aristide from returning. From the wikileaks cable entitled "FRENCH SHARE CONCERNS ON POSSIBLE ARISTIDE RETURN TO HAITI" from 2005:
1. (C) Poloff and Embassy Africa Watcher delivered reftel demarche July 1 to both MFA DAS-equivalent for Central America and the Caribbean Gilles Bienvenu and MFA AF PDAS-equivalent Elisabeth Barbier. Bienvenu stated that the GOF shared our analysis of the implications of an Aristide return to Haiti, terming the likely repercussions "catastrophic." Bienvenu actively sought our thoughts on next steps to prevent Aristide from returning. Initially expressing caution when asked about France demarching the SARG, Bienvenu noted that Aristide was not a prisoner in South Africa and that such an action could "create difficulties." However, Bienvenu later offered to express our shared concerns in Pretoria, perhaps under the pretext that as a country desiring to secure a seat on the UN Security Council, South Africa could not afford to be involved in any way with the destabilization of another country. Barbier, speaking on behalf of the AF bureau, however, did not foresee any problems at all in delivering a demarche in Pretoria.
Be sure to keep up with Ansel Herz as he continues to tweet quotes from the cables.
2. (S) Bienvenu speculated on exactly how Aristide might return, seeing a possible opportunity to hinder him in the logistics of reaching Haiti. If Aristide traveled commercially, Bienvenu reasoned, he would likely need to transit certain countries in order to reach Haiti. Bienvenu suggested a demarche to CARICOM countries by the U.S. and EU to warn them against facilitating any travel or other plans Aristide might have.
Update 6:07 PM: In this interview with Telesur (in Spanish), Colombia peace activist Piedad Cordoba, who was in Haiti today, speaks about Aristide's return, calling his presence important for Haiti.
Update 6:01 PM: Democracy NOW!'s Sharif Kouddous has posted this video showing the chanting crowds of thousands outside Aristide's residence in Tabarre this afternoon.
Update 5:57 PM: The Norwegien paper Aftenposten has posted 14 wikileaks cables on Aristide available at their website. Follow Ansel Herz (@mediahacker) for revelations as they come. His latest tweets are below:
"Bahamas Prime Min. Christie complained USG owed him a call when it decided to "remove him from power." #Aristide #Haiti http://j.mp/gONGkc"
"US upset when Dominican Pres. said, post-coup, Aristide has "great popular support," advocated for his inclusion. http://j.mp/gKoCeW #Haiti"
Update 5:32 PM: In case you missed Aristide's press conference from this morning, you can watch the entire thing, here.
Update 5:07 PM: With Aristide now back in Haiti, some will surely be trying to equate Aristide and "Baby Doc", at which point it would be good to remember the following, from AP earlier this week:
Reed Brody, a counsel for Human Rights Watch, said it would be difficult to link the former president directly to alleged crimes by his followers.
FAIR also had a piece recently on the false equivalence.
It would also be wrong to equate Aristide to the Duvalier years, when repression was much more widespread, Brody said. Next to recent years under outgoing President Rene Preval, "the Aristide periods were probably the periods of least violence in Haiti's history," he said.
Update 4:32 PM: Amy Goodman will appearing on CBC's As It Happens program this evening at 5:30. Goodman, who accompanied Aristide on the return trip from South Africa has been providing exclusive coverage of the former president. You can listen to the program online, here.
Update 3:22 PM: The New York Times has once again updated their story on Aristide's return, and once again it seems to be a bit fuzzy on the math. While the Miami Herald reports that "Outside Aristide’s home in Tabarre, thousands of supporters gathered to welcome him back," and other sources on the ground put the number close to ten thousand, the New York Times continues to report that just "several hundred" were present.
Update 2:57 PM: We had heard earlier this morning that Haitian radio had reported that Aristide's plane was delayed and would not be arriving until the afternoon, however shortly there after, just after 9 AM local time, the plane landed. Many journalists were surprised by the lack of crowds at first, although since then they have swelled to thousands. A report from TIME seems to confirm that rumors had spread in Haiti that his flight would be delayed:
Aristide actually surprised his followers, who were expecting him to arrive in the early afternoon. Only a couple of hundred supporters were at the airport when his plane landed Friday morning. But as soon as the news was broadcast on the radio, many people seemed to drop everything, suddenly walking toward the airport, carrying branches to welcome him. They wore t-shirts with his portraits and honked the horns of their motorcyles.
Haitian and international press had reported last night that the plane was set to arrive around 10 AM local time.
Update 2:41 PM: Democracy NOW! updates live-blog with new photos from inside Aristide's house.
Update 2:26 PM: Although there were some reports earlier of tear gas being used, Melinda Miles (@melindayiti) provides an update via Twitter: "Just confirmed w/several journalists at #Aristide's house a smoke bomb was used by police to discourage climbing walls no tear gas #Haiti."
Update 1:47 PM: Actor and activist Danny Glover, who flew to South Africa earlier this week to accompany Aristide back to Haiti tweets, "It's been an honor to help return #Aristide home to #Haiti. Special thanks to @transafrica & Amy Goodman for all your hard work. Viv Ayiti!".
Update 1:45 PM: Following up on the New York Times coverage (Update from 12:03), the story has now been updated, it reads: "Throughout the capital, Port-au-Prince, the streets were quiet early Friday, but by late morning a throng of several hundred supporters had gathered outside the airport as word spread that he had come back after seven years in exile." So the Times has gone from a few dozen to "several hundred", but this still contradicts most reports from the ground. In a phone call, Danny Glover said that there were tens of thousands and that the car he was in could barely move through the crowds. Pictures from the ground also seem to contradict the Times report.
Update 1:08 PM: The AP's latest on Aristide's arrival, and the scene on the ground, which Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker recently described as a "carnival atmosphere, unbridled joy on street". Fox and Daniel report:
On Friday, Aristide was mobbed by close allies and journalists outside his private plane before being hustled into an airport VIP lounge as several thousand supporters rallied in the streets outside the terminal.
The reporters also point out that Aristide "took a swipe at the decision to bar his political party from the country's presidential election." The AP continues:
"It's one of the most beautiful moments for the Haitian people," actor Danny Glover, who accompanied Aristide from South Africa, told The Associated Press as he left the VIP lounge before Aristide. "It's a historic moment for the Haitian people."
In the street outside the airport, where people listened to his remarks on car radio, there was jubilation.
"This man is our father, without him we haven't lived," said 31-year-old Sainvil Petit-Frere, one of about 3,000 cheering and chanting supporters in a quickly growing crowd. "This is the doctor who will heal the country."
Aristide compared his return to the Haitian revolution that ended slavery in 1804 in what was then a French colony. "Today, may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coups d'etat," he said with his wife, Mildred, and daughters by his side.
Aristide, addressing reporters and a Haitian public that clustered around TVs and radios throughout the country, said the decision not to allow his Lavalas Family party disenfranchised the majority in a sharply divided nation.
Update 12:33 PM: Danny Glover just called to say there are tens of thousands in the street and that the car he is in can barely move because of the throngs of people. This picture from Etant Dupaine shows the massive crowd that is outside of Aristide's former residence in Tabarre.
"Excluding Lavalas, you cut the branches that link the people," he said in remarks that were otherwise largely devoted to thanking supporters who stayed loyal to him during his exile and helped engineer his return over the objections of the U.S. government. "The solution is inclusion of all Haitians as human beings."
Update 12:10 PM: Jacqueline Charles tweets that, "Among the delegation officials greeting #jba was a top #Manigat supporter." More evidence of why now was the time to return, before the election passes and candidates are no longer campaigning. As Charles reported for the Miami Herald earlier today:
Throughout quake-ravaged Port-au-Prince on Thursday, newly erected green and white welcome home banners read: “Our mother is here already, our father is coming. We all agree.’’
The “father” refers to the pending arrival of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is expected to return from South Africa on Friday — or as early as Thursday — despite diplomatic attempts to keep him away until after Sunday’s critical presidential and legislative runoff elections.
The fluttering green and white banners — in which the word “mother” refers to presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat — shows to what extent candidates in Haiti’s historic elections are willing to go to court Aristide’s supporters, but also how relevant he remains even after seven years in exile.
Update 12:03 PM: Turns out the New York Times report this morning, which included, "the turnout was far below the thousands many had expected to greet him" was a bit premature. Thousands now following Aristide to his former residence, as seen in this picture from Allyn Gaestel (@samayxalaat).
Update 11:59 AM: Amy Goodman continues to regularly file audio reports from on the ground, her latest is up now. "The scene is amazing, thousands of people just outside the airport where they were held back, but they're not held back anymore," reports Goodman. She also confirms they are on their way to the former home of Aristide in Tabarre where crowds have been forming all morning.
Update 11:50 AM: Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous), who is in a car with Danny Glover and others accompanying Aristide, is sharing pictures of the massive crowds that are lining the streets. Not sure where they are headed, but reports are that there are large crowds forming outside Aristide's former residence as well.
Update 11:38 AM: As can be seen in the background of this picture of Aristide during his press conference, former Colombian Senator and peace activist Piedad Cordoba is in Haiti to welcome Aristide. She is also tweeting (in Spanish) at @piedadcordoba.
Update 11:27 AM: Amy Goodman files her latest audio report from the airport in PaP.
Update 11:24 AM: Although earlier reports had said the crowds were not very large, they appear to be gaining in size. These pictures from Etant Dupaine show many Haitians waiting outside the airport (pic 1, pic 2) while Melina Miles recently tweeted: "Hearing estimates of 5000 in the street outside the airport waiting for #Aristide #Haiti #JBA".
Update 11:11 AM: More quotes, from those on the ground, via Twitter:
@jacquiecharles: #jba condemns any form of violence. #haiti now speaking French
@jacquiecharles: #jba speaks directly to #haiti youth, but beats on social exclusion and need for education.
@jacquiecharles: #jba ends, blows a kiss ans ends with good, bad times "it's the same love." #haiti
@sharifkouddous: Aristide: "we are together. We are side by side. This is our home" #Haiti
@sharifkouddous: Aristide: "Haiti I love you. And I will love you always."
@melindayiti:"If you could hear my heart you would hear how it beats faster, how it sings a song of consolation for #Haiti" #JBA
@sebwalker: Aristide: "modern day slavery will have to end today...the greatest richness of Haiti is Haitians"
Update 11:01 AM: Watch Aristide speak live, via HaitiXchange.
Update 10:57 AM: A sampling of reports from Twitter as Aristide is now addressing journalists and supports after arriving in PaP.
From @jacquiecharles: #jba retraces his step into exile, thanks all who defended haitian dignity, died from quake and mentiones gerard jean juste.
From @sebwalker: Aristide addressing media at a podium on edge of tarmac...incredible scenes...pays respect to victims of cholera...crowd cheering
and: "Aristide: "Today may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coup d'etat...move from social exclusion towards inclusion"
From @Vladlaguerre: From Aristide thank you the haitian gov,S. A gov,the diplomatic,Dany Glover... http://yfrog.com/h4q6sdyvj
Update 10:43 AM: Reuters quotes CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot:
"Aristide's return marks an end to the era when the United States gets to choose the political leaders of other countries. It is a historic victory for democracy and self-determination," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Update 10:41 AM: The plane has landed and reporters are anxiously awaiting a press conference, expected any minute from the airport. Reporters noted the overwhelming emotion from the Aristide family as they exited the plane, accompanied by Democracy NOW!'s Amy Goodman, Danny Glover, and others.
Update 10:20 AM: J.F. String has a nice run down of all the Aristide related news in today's Hemispheric Brief. He also flags an important quote from Robert Fatton on the potential blowback from the US' hard stand against Aristide's return:
University of Virginia Haiti scholar Robert Fatton tells the Herald that such a position from the US will only make Aristide more popular than he currently is, in Haiti and elsewhere. “The more [the US] opposes him…the more popular he will be.’’
Update 10:14 AM: Democracy NOW!'s Sharif Kouddous Tweets that the plane has landed. Picture here.
Update 10:10 AM: Crowds are beginning to form. Via Twitter:
AP's Trenton Daniel(@trentondaniel): Crowds begin to swell outside Port-au-Prince airport for "2nd Jesus Christ." #Haiti
Haitian Journalist Vladimir Laguerre (@Vladlaguerre): The number of Aristide's supporters of grow up step by step in front of the Airport.
Update 9:54 AM: Seems as though the streets in PaP and at the airport are pretty calm right now. The latest, via Twitter:
Al Jazeera's Sebastian Walker (@sebwalker): On tarmac at PaP airport with waiting for Aristide to arrive. Streets are quiet...for now. He's due in about an hour
Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles (@jacquiecharles): I saw no crowd coming in to airport. A colleague who recently arrived said there were more troops than people. Let's wait. #Jba #Aristide
Update 9:15 AM: Although many are expressing concern that Aristide's return could complicate this weekend presidential election, despite his statements to the contrary, the real threat to the elections is the poor organization and fraud that has marred the entire electoral process. The OAS yesterday issued a statement, warning that, "Missteps made during the first round will have the same impact in the second round". AFP has the story:
The Organisation of American States yesterday denounced irregularities in the training of election personnel in Haiti, saying they could impact this weekend's presidential runoff.
Update 8:51 AM: For those who want to follow along on twitter, we're at @HaitiAidWatch. As for people tweeting from the ground, Ansel Herz (@mediahacker) is a good start, and here was his suggestions from earlier this morning on other to follow: "#FF on the ground in #Haiti @kimives13 @melindayiti @samayxalaat @sharifkouddous @vladlaguerre @gaetantguevara @carelpedre @sebwalker"
The OAS, which is conducting a joint electoral observation mission in Haiti with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said training of election officials was "essential" to the success of the poll scheduled for Sunday, following deadly violence and corruption that marred the first round last November.
"It is therefore regrettable that the training of supervisors was once again disrupted not only by those who were excluded because of their poor performance or delinquency during the first round, but also by protests organized by experienced supervisors" who were replaced in the process, the OAS said.
"Missteps made during the first round will have the same impact in the second round," it said in a statement.
The OAS underlined the need to recruit competent and experienced staff, cautioning that "attempts to insert the names of people who do not meet the criteria can disrupt training and will not help achieve the main objective, which is to improve the organisation of the second round."
Update 8:43 AM: The AP's Trenton Daniel and Ben Fox describe the mood on the ground early Friday morning:
Joy filled Jean-Bertrand Aristide's most ardent followers early Friday as they waited the last few hours until the former president considered by many a champion of the poor returned from seven years of exile.
To read the whole article, click here.
Thousands were expected to throng the airport to greet the chartered jet carrying Aristide from South Africa, where the government assisted his departure despite a request from U.S. President Barack Obama that the homecoming be postponed until after Haiti's presidential runoff election Sunday.
"We are going to party," said 36-year-old mechanic Assey Woy, discussing the news of the ousted leader's return with friends on a street corner downtown. "It will be like New Year's Day."
Energy spread through Aristide's followers Thursday as word spread across Haiti that he was heading back home. Some joined in a raucous, horn-blaring victory procession. Others decorated the courtyard of his foundation headquarters with Haitian flags and photos of the former president. One woman waited with a bouquet of flowers.
Update 8:36 AM: Kenneth Kidd reporting for the Toronto Star, spoke with Patrick Elie about Aristide's return, and the upcoming elections:
“I think it’s going to be large,” Patrick Elie, a friend and former close adviser to Aristide, said of the likely reception.
Update 8:29 AM: Overnight, the plane carrying Aristibe stopped in Dakar to refuel. Amy Goodman, from Democracy NOW! spoke with both Aristide and his wife Mildred during that stop. You can listen to the audio at the links.
“What will happen is that he will, by his presence, expose the fraud that these people running for president truly are,” Elie told the Star. “These people don’t represent the Haitian people.
“The election will go (ahead), but the point will have been made.”
While conceding Martelly has likely picked up supporters in Aristide’s natural constituency, Elie said Martelly can’t claim to be truly popular because voter turnout was only 23 per cent.
“He got 20 per cent of 20 per cent,” said Elie. “That’s 4 per cent of the electorate.”
Friday, Update 8:20 AM: Best estimate has Aristide's plan landing somewhere around 10:40 AM EST (that's 9:40 Haitian time). Reporters are already heading to the airport and we can expect some updates from the airport soon. In the meantime, Sean Christie, writing for South Africa's Mail & Guardian reports that South Africa paid for Aristide's flight, a decision sure to rankle Washington:
"We covered the cost of Aristide's stay in South Africa and now we will facilitate his journey home," said department of international relations and cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela.
Update 10:09 PM: Via Jacqueline Charles, AFP is now reporting (in French) that the plane carrying Aristide, Democracy NOW!'s Amy Goodman, Danny Glover, and others is set to arrive at 10:00 AM (11:00 EST) in Port-au-Prince tomorrow.
Update 7:47 PM: Ansel Herz's latest for Inter-Press Service provides important background on this weekend's election, including the continuing calls for its cancellation:
Some are still calling for the vote to be annulled and re- started. Ginette Cherubin, a member of Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), revealed that she and three other members, out of eight, never agreed to the announced results pitting the two candidates against each other. A majority of the council is required to take a decision.
Update 7:37 PM: The Center for Economic and Policy Research released the following statement, calling on governments to respect international law and not try to block Aristide's return:
The changed results conformed to the recommendations of a report by the Organization of American States and intense pressure from the United States. The ruling party candidate was thrown out due to alleged fraud and Martelly moved into second place.
Richardson Dumel, a CEP spokesman, refused to confirm that a majority of the body's members signed the results, saying repeatedly he could not comment on it or Haiti's electoral law.
Presidential candidate Jean Henry Ceant, who came in fourth in the first round, demanded the CEP provide a copy of the results to a Haitian court. The document, delivered by Dumel, bears a CEP stamp but no signatures. Ceant maintains the election is illegal.
No government should stand in the way of Haiti’s former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from returning to Haiti, the Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot said today, following news that Aristide was en route to Haiti.
Weisbrot noted that there is still a chance that Washington could pressure the government of Haiti to not let Aristide's plane land. “That would be even more outrageous, and would probably provoke a strong reaction within Haiti and from other governments.”
Weisbrot added, “President Zuma is to be commended for standing up to the United States government and the UN Secretary General, both of which have attempted to violate international law by preventing President Aristide from returning to his home country.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty that the United States has ratified, states that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country."
“This is another example of how most developing countries respect international law more than the United States does,” said Weisbrot. “How can our government preach to others about the rule of law? Or democracy in North Africa, when they do not respect democracy just a few hundred miles from our East Coast?
Full text, here.
Update 7:09 PM: The Congressional Black Caucus has issued a statement regarding Aristide's return, reports Jacqueline Charles for the Miami Herald. Charles also speaks with CBC member Maxine Water:
The Congressional Black Caucus circulated a resolution calling it “essential” that Aristide be allowed to return to Haiti before the election because he believes that those who ousted him before “will be in a position to block his return” once a new government is established.
“President Aristide has stated that he has no intention of affecting Haiti’s upcoming election,” the resolution says, adding that the U.S. should not “use its power to prevent his planned return to the land of his birth.’’
Waters acknowledged she disagreed with the election and the runoffs, but is “simply in favor of fairness and justice, and a democracy that can carry out a real election.”
She said Aristide wants to help develop education efforts in Haiti and suggested he could “be of terrific assistance to the redevelopment of Haiti.”
She said she’s talked to the White House and the State Department and that they’ve “made it clear” that they’d prefer him not to return before the election.
“Between President Aristide and the South African government, they’ve decided he’s going to return and that’s their decision, no matter what the White House would like,’’ Waters told The Miami Herald. “The bottom line is he’s returning, he’s going to get there.’’
Asked about the White House’s contention that Aristide’s return could be destabilizing, Waters said, “I support democracy, just as I support the people in Egypt, Libya deciding who their leaders should be or who they should not be. I support democracy in Haiti the same way.’’
Update 6:11 PM: As media outlets file stories on Aristide's return, they would be good to point out the reason for Aristide returning before this Sunday's election. As Isabeau Doucet reported for the Guardian, "Aides say Aristide fears the election winner might reverse the long-awaited decision to allow his return – both are right-wing candidates long opposed to him. Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said: "He is genuinely concerned that a change in the Haitian government may result in his remaining in South Africa.""
As both Martelly and Manigat campaign for the presidency, they are wary not to anger Aristide supporters who could tip the election either way. Manigat has gone so far as to say she is willing to cooperate with Aristide on education, and reportedly put up a banner near Haiti's airport that reads, "you have your mother, now your father is coming." As soon as the election has passed, the enormous pressure from the United States and others could be much more influential with the candidates, and potentially thwart Aristide's constitutional return.
Update 5:46 PM: Catching up on today's coverage, check out Greg Grandin's blog post for The Nation from earlier, where he provides some useful background on what has prevented Aristide from returning previously:
Another thing to watch for during Obama’s visit in Brazil is if Jean-Bertrand Aristide manages to return to Haiti. If Aristide does land in Port-au-Prince while the first family is in Rio, it would be further indication of the United States’s waning influence in the region. As Wikileaks cables reveal, the US Department of State has been intensely lobbying Brazil to use its influence in South Africa, where Aristide resides in exile, to prevent his departure. Unfortunately, the strong independent streak Lula exhibited in other areas of foreign policy didn’t extend to Haiti, where Brazil has largely supported efforts by the “international community,” led by the United States, Canada and France, to place the island country in receivership after having drove Aristide out in 2004. Now, though, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, seems to have declined to press South Africa to bend to Washington’s will, and Aristide is expected to return home.
Update 5:42 PM: Democracy NOW! has posted a series of pictures from Aristide's plane. The AP's Ben Fox is reporting that the first stop will be in Senegal.
Update 5:34 PM: Important point to remember for tomorrow: As Jacqueline Charles reported, "Aristide, 57, arrives with no guarantees from Haiti, says the Haitian government and others privy to the planning of his trip. His request for 60 armed police officers was turned down. Under a law passed in his absence, former presidents are only entitled to five years of state-sponsored protection."
Update 5:18 PM: Amy Goodman of Democracy NOW! files this report just before boarding plane that will bring Aristide back to Haiti. Goodman, met privately with Aristide and his family earlier today with the rest of the delegation that will accompany the former president to Haiti. "He is extremely excited about returning home," reports Goodman. Although the exact itinerary is not known, they expect to arrive in Haiti around noon on Friday.
Update 5:12 PM: Karen Allen of BBC tweets: "Aristide jets off shortly after 2310 SA time. A new chapter in Haiti's history begins."
Update 5:09 PM: While Aristide waits to depart, get caught up on today's happenings with the latest from the AP:
Declaring the "great day has arrived," Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived at a South African airport Thursday, on his way home after seven years in exile despite President Barack Obama's bid to keep the hugely popular but controversial figure away from his country until it holds a presidential election this weekend.
Also, Democracy NOW!'s Amy Goodman, who is accompanying Aristide back to Haiti, reported from South Africa this morning, and will be updating readers here.
Thursday, Update 5:03 PM: Despite intense diplomatic pressure, which included a call from President Obama to South African President Zuma, Aristide is set to depart for Haiti this evening. Folks tweeting from the ground in South Africa (@jgg17, @sebhervieuare) have posted pictures of Aristide and the South African Foreign Minister boarding the chartered plane at Lanseria airport.