Ousted Haitian leader Jean Bertrand Aristide with South Africa’s president Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki last week after receiving an African languages doctorate from the University of South Africa (BBC).
PORT-AU-PRINCE–Haiti’s president has lowered rice prices and the Senate has sacked the prime minister. But hungry Haitians who rioted over food prices still want more.
“Aristide or death! Aristide or death!” young men chant outside parliament.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide – the slum priest-turned-president who needed a U.S. intervention to restore him to power in 1994, and who accuses Washington of kidnapping him into exile a decade later as the country descended into political chaos.
The clamour for Aristide’s return was deafening during last week’s unrest over skyrocketing food prices that left at least seven people dead and Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis out of a job. Some protesters vowed to press on until they unseat President René Préval, a former Aristide ally.
Either way, Aristide’s return has become a key demand on the streets after entire slums rallied for the former president.
Aristide’s smiling, bespectacled face is everywhere in the poor areas of Port-au-Prince, from paintings sold on roadsides to photographs pasted onto cellphones.
“Whether or not one likes Aristide, he remains a force in this country because the masses remain very attached to him,” said Patrick Elie, who has served as an adviser to both Aristide and now Préval.
In speeches from South Africa, Aristide has hinted at returning, but said he merely wants to be a teacher. He has said his possibilities depend on Préval, who served as his prime minister.
Préval won the 2006 elections with the support of voters who believed he would bring Aristide home. But he has not called publicly for Aristide’s return.
Aristide generally keeps a low profile, living with his wife Mildred and their two daughters in a government villa in Pretoria, a garden city of government headquarters and embassy residences.
A miraculous Aristide comeback would not be unprecedented. Aristide became popular as a priest in the slum of La Saline, and was elected president in 1990. Ousted in a military coup the following year, U.S. troops restored him to the presidential palace in 1994.
After stepping down, he was re-elected in 2000 but was ousted again in a bloody 2004 rebellion amid charges that he broke promises to help the poor, allowed drug-fuelled corruption and masterminded assaults on opponents.
By Jonathan M. Katz