Aristide Returns to Haiti

US wanted him to steer clear until after Sunday's election
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 18, 2011 11:47 AM CDT
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, bottom center, arrives at the airport in Port-au-Prince.   (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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(Newser) – The US really, really wanted him to stay away until Sunday's presidential elections were over, but Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to Haiti today after a seven-year exile. The former priest and twice-elected president arrived just ahead of a runoff to determine whether pop singer Michel Martelly or former first lady Mirlande Manigat will be the nation's next president, reports Reuters. Aristide, who left for South Africa in 2004 following an armed rebellion and US pressure, says he wants no part of politics and is there to work on his education foundation, reports CNN.

But the US, including President Obama himself, is skeptical given the timing and pressed Aristide to delay out of fear he'd have a "destabilizing" effect on the election. It's not clear exactly what effect that might be, but Aristide remains hugely popular with the nation's poor. Manigat has said he'd be welcome in her government, and Martelly, who once denigrated him in song, has changed his tune of late, adds the New York Times. (Click for the story of another former Haitian leader who returned to the country recently.)

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