BREAKING: Haitian Gov’t. Agrees to Issue Aristide a Diplomatic Passport

Posted on January 31, 2011

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Stay tuned.  Three articles follow:

NYT


January 31, 2011

Haiti Agrees to Issue Passport for Aristide, Lawyer Says

By GINGER THOMPSON

WASHINGTON — The Haitian government has agreed to issue a diplomatic passport to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his lawyer said Monday, potentially dropping a major hurdle that has prevented Mr. Aristide from returning home after seven years in exile.

The lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said he was notified of Haiti’s decision last week. He said he sent a letter to Haitian authorities on Monday requesting that Mr. Aristide’s passport be “issued immediately, and that plans for his return commence immediately.”

A senior Haitian official told Reuters that Haiti’s Council of Ministers, under the direction of President René Préval, agreed to issue Mr. Aristide a passport if he asked for one. That decision was a significant reversal for Mr. Préval, who had refused Mr. Aristide’s request for a passport for years, partly in response to international pressure.

Mr. Aristide, the firebrand slum priest who became this country’s first democratically elected president in 1990, was ousted from power twice. The last time was in 2004, under intense pressure by the United States and the threat of invasion by armed insurgents.

Since then, Mr. Aristide and his supporters have made numerous public appeals asking officials to allow him to return to Haiti. Those appeals intensified two weeks ago when the former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier managed a surprise return home, ending 25 years in exile.

Last week, Mr. Aristide’s supporters took out a full-page ad in The Miami Herald demanding his return. The ad was signed by prominent supporters including Dr. Paul Farmer, the deputy United Nations envoy to Haiti. Since then, rumors have swirled across Haiti that Mr. Aristide had flown to Cuba or Venezuela to plot his own surprise return. Mr. Kurzban said that Mr. Aristide remained in South Africa, where he has lived in exile.

The State Department did not comment Monday on Haiti’s decision.

The United States and several other countries, including France and Canada, which provide millions of dollars in support to Haiti, the Western hemisphere’s poorest country, have expressed concern that Mr. Aristide’s return could destabilize the country as it struggles to resolve a hotly contested presidential election.

Asked why Mr. Aristide wanted to return, Mr. Kurzban said, “He wants to return as a private citizen, to help his country.”

REUTERS

UPDATE 2-Haiti opens door for return of ex-president Aristide

Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:30pm EST

* Possible Aristide return worries some western aid donors

* He remains popular, his party was banned from elections

* Lawyer requests passport, security plan for his return (Adds Aristide lawyer’s letter, quotes, details)

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Haiti’s government is ready to issue a diplomatic passport to ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, opening the way for his return home from exile in South Africa, a senior official said on Monday.

Aristide’s Miami-based lawyer formally requested the passport in a letter to Haitian authorities, asking them to guarantee security for the former leader’s return to his poor, earthquake-battered Caribbean homeland.

No timing was specified, but the United States and other western donors are wary that the reappearance of the leftist former Roman Catholic priest on his home soil could disrupt an already edgy political climate after chaotic presidential and legislative elections held in November.

“The Council of Ministers, under the leadership of President Rene Preval, decided that a diplomatic passport be issued to President Aristide, if he asks for it,” Fritz Longchamp, general secretary for the presidency, told Reuters.

Aristide, who became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1990 before being driven out by an armed revolt, said this month he was ready to return to his homeland “today, tomorrow, at any time.”

His willingness to go home follows the controversial return to Haiti on Jan. 16 of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. The reappearance of Duvalier, 59, was judged unhelpful by many foreign governments. He now faces charges in Haiti of corruption, theft and crimes against humanity.

The return of Aristide, who is still popular and could mobilize fanatical support in the streets, would complicate the charged atmosphere as Haiti awaits first-round results from the Nov. 28 elections, expected to be released on Wednesday.

Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party, the biggest in the country, was barred from the poll by Haiti’s electoral authorities.

The Western Hemisphere’s poorest state is in the grip of a cholera epidemic and struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

Haiti’s government and electoral authorities are under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and other donors to enact Organization of American States recommendations that revise contested preliminary election results.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Haiti on Sunday to back the OAS election proposal. [ID:nN30180467]

In his letter to Haiti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marie-Michele Rey and Minister of the Interior Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, asked that the diplomatic passport be delivered to South Africa’s government.

“Consistent with Haitian law, I kindly request that his diplomatic passport be issued immediately and that plans for his return commence immediately,” said the letter, a copy of which was sent to Reuters by a source close to Aristide.

The lawyer also asked for the Haitian authorities to draw up a security plan for Aristide’s return.

OAS experts, citing widespread irregularities in voting tallies from the first-round election, have recommended that presidential candidate and popular musician Michel Martelly be included in a second-round runoff vote in place of the government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin.

The preliminary results announced in early December triggered street riots by Martelly’s supporters, because Celestin was placed narrowly ahead of their candidate.

Opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat is already confirmed through to the runoff, to be held on March 20.

Despite the OAS report and international pressure, Celestin, a government technocrat and protege of Preval, has not formally withdrawn from the race despite urging from his own INITE coalition to do so. (Writing by Pascal Fletcher, Editing by Bill Trott and Christopher Wilson)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP) – 7 hours agoPORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is eligible for a passport but has not applied for one, Haitian officials said Monday.

That followed a letter from the ousted leader’s U.S. lawyer, Ira Kurzban, telling officials at Haiti’s foreign affairs and interior ministries that he understood they had agreed to issue Aristide a diplomatic passport.

“I kindly request that his diplomatic passport be issued immediately and that plans for his return commence immediately,” he said. The letter was forwarded to reporters.

But Interior Minister Paul-Antoine Bien-Aime said in an official letter, sent later Monday, that no passport had been requested. “It appears that to date, neither ministry had received a request for issuance or renewal of passports from the former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” he wrote.

Aristide is a former priest and liberation theologist who rose to become Haiti’s first democratically elected president. He was overthrown in a coup, restored to power, then ousted again in 2004. His return was forced by the threat of a U.S. military invasion; debate has raged for years over what role the U.S. played in his departures.

His lack of a valid passport has long been given as a principal technical reason impeding his return. Haitian officials say that he would not need a passport to re-enter Haiti, but could need one to pass through other countries on his way back from his exile in South Africa.

Bien-Aime’s letter was sent to media in two versions, one French and the other Haitian Creole. The French version says: “The Government of the Republic gives its assurance that as soon as it is made, such a request will be honored promptly.”

The Creole differs slightly: “The government gives a guarantee that if President Aristide requests a passport, it will respond to him quickly.”

Fritz Longchamp, Preval’s chief of staff, said: “The French version is more accurate than the Creole.”

He said government ministers decided last Tuesday to announce that Aristide could get a passport if he applied. Longchamp said this has been a long-standing position of the government, reiterated to “lay to rest all the speculation” that the Haitian government was preventing his return.

Speculation that Aristide might come back to Haiti soared after ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier stepped off an Air France jet in January in a shocking return from nearly 25 years of exile.

If Aristide followed, he would arrive in the midst of a potentially destabilizing political crisis in which President Rene Preval’s chosen candidate is deadlocked with a rival for the remaining spot in a delayed electoral runoff.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came to Haiti on Sunday to meet with Preval and the candidates. Final results from the Nov. 28 first round are expected Wednesday with the vote rescheduled for March 20.

Preval, who was once Aristide’s close ally but now regarded as a traitor by his partisans, faces the constitutional end of his term on Feb. 7, though a law passed last year could allow him to stay longer.

Aristide could not participate in the election as a candidate, and has said he does not want to.

But his return would be a bombshell that could change the course of the race by setting off unrest or reawakening dormant political allegiances. He remains popular in many circles but his Fanmi Lavalas party was not permitted to participate in this or other recent elections.

Last week a full-page ad ran in the Miami Herald calling for a new passport and for Aristide’s immediate return. It carried 190 signatures including social organizations, political figures such as Jesse Jackson and deputy U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Paul Farmer, entertainers Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover, and names associated with controversy such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and imprisoned radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley posted on Twitter last week: “We do not doubt President Aristide’s desire to help the people of Haiti. But today Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past.”

Clinton told Radio Metropole on Sunday: “I don’t know what, if any, plans President Aristide has.”

Over the weekend, Internet rumors spread citing a Venezuelan news report that Aristide had traveled to the nearby island of Cuba. Kurzban said the rumors are untrue and the ex-president was in South Africa on Monday.

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