LIVE BLOG: Aristide Returns to Haiti
|Thursday, 17 March 2011 15:51|
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.
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.Concluding:
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.
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.
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"
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.
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:
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.
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.’’
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
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"
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.