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Former President Aristide To Return To Haiti

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Former President Aristide To Return To Haiti

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Former President Aristide To Return To Haiti

Former President Aristide To Return To Haiti

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Voters in Haiti are set to go to the polls on Sunday to cast ballots in a presidential run-off election. The contest is between 70-year-old former First Lady Mirlande Manigat and pop singer Michel Martelly, better known as Sweet Micky. The elections have been marred by violence and corruption claims. Now, former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide has announced that he will return to the country from South Africa, after seven years in exile. To discuss the likely political impact of Aristide's return, host Michel Martin speaks with Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, Jacqueline Charles.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we'll tell you about Bhangra, the music has traveled from India's Punjab region to dance floors around the world. DJ Rekha, known as the ambassador of Bhangra will tell us more about it a little later in the program.

But, first, on to Haiti. This Sunday, Haitians will head to the polls to cast their ballots to select the country's next president. Will it be 70-year-old former first lady, Mirlande Manigat, or singer and musician Michel Martelly, known as Sweet Micky. Most of all, authorities hope to avoid the anger and chaos that followed the first round of voting last November.

Adding to the concern, former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide announced that he will return to the country after seven years in exile. And rumors say as early as this week. On Monday, the Obama administration asked Aristide to refrain from returning to the country before the elections. Here to tell us the latest is Jacqueline Charles. She is the Miami Herald's Caribbean correspondent. And she's with us on the phone from Port-au-Prince, the capital. Jacqueline, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Ms. JACQUELINE CHARLES (Caribbean Correspondent, Miami Herald): Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, obviously we want to hear about Jean-Bertrand Aristide and what's going on with him. But first, I'd like to hear about the two candidates running for president.

Ms. CHARLES: Yes. These two candidates, former first lady, Mirlande Manigat, who has been a long-time opposition leader here in Haiti. She's 70 years old, as you mentioned. And there's basically a generation that separates her and Michel Martelly, who is well known to kompa music fans as Sweet Micky. Both of them have been engaged in a very robust campaign across this country. They are attracting large crowds. Michel Martelly has individuals like Wyclef Jean, who was out on the campaign trail campaigning alongside him.

And so basically we are here. We are watching and we're waiting to see whether this is going to be a very close race, whether or not one of these candidates will basically, you know, take it away. But there is still the concern, in terms of how these elections came about. The fact that there was fraud in all of the presidential camps, it wasn't just one candidate that was accused of fraud, but the report that was done by the Organization of American States shows that all of the camps had fraud.

And so this is an issue that's an ongoing concern, even going into the runoffs, in terms of whether or not some procedures that have been put in place for Sunday, whether that will diminish or even eliminate the frauds so that you can have the election that is credible at the end of the day.

MARTIN: Now, you previously talked about the former president, the former strongman, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, returned to the country this January. He was in exile in France. Now, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is also widely viewed, you know, as a dictator, certainly as a repressive figure, is also announcing his return. Do we know why he wants to come back?

Ms. CHARLES: Well, let me just say that former President Aristide was democratically elected both times, you know, in Haiti. He has been in exile twice. He is scheduled to return back to Haiti after seven years in exile in South Africa. So unlike Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was president for life, who was a dictator, you know, his homecoming - there will not be a 25-year difference.

I think that from what I've been told by individuals that he has said that he'd rather die a martyr in Haiti than spend one more day in South Africa. That he is miserable. He is frustrated and he wants to return home. And clearly the return of Jean Claude Duvalier, who was exiled in France, opened a door for that. And under the Haitian constitution, all Haitians are entitled to a passport and they are entitled to return home even without a passport.

So, today he has this passport and this country is waiting. I can tell you it's a little bit on edge. There's a lot of uncertainty about, one, whether he will come; two, what impact will his arrival have? Yes, he remains relevant, but how relevant?

MARTIN: What role - forgive me, Jacqueline - what role has he said what role he hopes to play in the life of the country going forward? And I do want to mention that Jean Claude Duvalier has been charged with corruption, theft and embezzlement upon his arrival and has been ordered to remain in the country pending the investigation. So what role does Aristide say he wishes to play? Has he said?

Ms. CHARLES: Yes. Aristide has said - has been quoted as saying that he wants to play a role in the field of education. That's what he's been doing in South Africa and that is what he wants his contribution to be here in Haitian society upon returning back home.

MARTIN: And finally, has either of the candidates, the current candidates who are on the ballot favor? Do we have any sense of who has the edge?

Ms. CHARLES: You know what? I dont want to call it. You know, this is a country where when you talk to the average person on the street and you can't really tell, you know, where they stand. Clearly, both candidates are drawing crowds.

But I will tell you what is interesting in this country in terms of democracy 25 years is that Haitians today are debating. They are debating their choice. Some people are choosing one or the other. Some are choosing none of the above.

And so I think that's what makes Sunday interesting to see what is going to happen and how is the arrival of Aristide going to impact the vote in terms of the elections. Will it be chaos? Will it better than the first round? Or, you know, will we get the credibility that some individuals are looking for out of a very flawed process?

MARTIN: And finally, Jacqueline, we only have about 30 seconds left. How soon do you expect that results will be reported? Any idea?

Ms. CHARLES: Yes. The final results are scheduled to be reported on 16th of April, but prior to that there will be some preliminary results. But on the 16th of April hopefully we will know who among these two candidates is president.

MARTIN: Jacqueline Charles is the Miami Heralds Caribbean correspondent and she was kind enough to join us on the phone from Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Jacqueline, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Ms. CHARLES: Thank you for having me.

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