United States officials asked former president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, to delay his return to the country until after the March 20 elections amid fears that his presence will influence voters. President Aristide has been living in exile in South Africa since his removal from office in 2004. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner stated in comments yesterday that the decision to allow Mr. Aristide to return was up to Haitian authorities but warned that his return before the election could be “destabilizing” and “could only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections.” Mr. Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, has echoed the U.S. State Department’s sentiment that the former president’s return be left up to the Haitian authorities while noting that Mr. Aristide wishes to return to Haiti to dedicate himself to education and not to politics.
Speculation of Mr. Aristide’s return to Haiti has increased since the return of another exiled former Haitian leader, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, to Haiti on January 16, 2011, after 25 years of living in exile in France. U.S. authorities have appealed to the South African government to delay Mr. Aristide’s departure from the country. However, South African deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman stated today that it was not “our responsibility to say if Jean-Bertrand Aristide should or should not leave South Africa before the election” while noting that the Haitian government has cleared the way for Aristide’s return by issuing him a passport this past February.
Both presidential candidate’s in this weekend’s run-off, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly, or “Sweet Micky” as he is more popularly known, have no objections to Mr. Aristide’s return. Meanwhile, Mr. Aristide remains a divisive figure in Haitian politics and still retains some support, especially among Haitian living in slums and tent cities where the since the January 2010 earthquake, where people have become frustrated with the slow pace of recovery.