Former Haiti President Returns From Exile Former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide returned from exile in South Africa Friday — just two days before Haitians will choose a new leader. Robert Siegel speaks with NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Former Haiti President Returns From Exile

Former Haiti President Returns From Exile

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Former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide returned from exile in South Africa Friday — just two days before Haitians will choose a new leader. Robert Siegel speaks with NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port au Prince, Haiti.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Thousands of dancing and cheering supporters greeted Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as he returned to Haiti today after seven years in exile.

Aristide's return complicates this Sunday's presidential election in Haiti. Two candidates are vying for the office that Aristide won twice and was deposed from twice.

NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Port-au-Prince.

And, Carrie, Aristide arrived in a charter flight from South Africa, where he's been for most of the last seven years. What was the scene like at the airport and in Port-au-Prince?

CARRIE KAHN: Robert, it felt like carnival. They have these huge trucks that they use for the floats at Mardi Gras, and they were just blasting music. Filled - shops filled with people. They were plastered with pictures of Aristide and read: Welcome back home.

You know, there were huge banners strung across the streets in the capital everywhere. And there's a road that goes from the airport to his former residence - it's about 2, 3 miles - and people were just running, crowding down the streets, chanting and singing: Titid - that's Aristide's nickname - Titid is all we need.

And once at the residence, there was more crowd, more loud music, and hundreds of supporters actually jumped the wall of his home and flooded the residence.

After a while, they were escorted out. One man told me that Aristide addressed them and said he was tired after his long flight from South Africa, and that he would speak to supporters tomorrow.

SIEGEL: But we heard that he did briefly address close friends and journalists at the airport. What did he actually say?

KAHN: He did. They were all packed into a VIP lounge at the airport. Most people listened in the country over the radio. And he did not address directly the upcoming election, only he just briefly said that it was unfair that his Lavalas Party was excluded from the contest. But he spoke mostly in very flowery, poetic terms about Haiti's predicament these days. And here's a little bit of his speech.

Mr. JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He said that people's suffering is flowing like a river of pain from his eyes and tearing his heart apart.

You know - but, Robert, the timing of his return really is no accident. As you said, it's just two days before this really critical presidential election. Advisers say that he came back now not to affect the election, but that he feared if he didn't come now, neither of the two candidates would let - would bar - would let him return once they became president.

SIEGEL: Well, tell us about the two candidates who are running for president and their views of Aristide and his time in office.

KAHN: Well, neither of the two candidates are supporters. They're much more to the right of Aristide, who is a very populist leftist, very popular among the poor here. And in the past, both candidates have supported his opponents.

One of the candidates, Michel Martelly, he's been very critical of Aristide, especially after Aristide was deposed in one of the military coups. But both Martelly and the other candidate - she's a former first lady, her name is Mirlande Manigat, and she's 70 years old - both of them have toned down there comments. And both even recently said they respect his right to return.

You know, he's very popular still here. And face it: Both of them need his supporters' votes.

SIEGEL: Now, Aristide's return, which follows the return of another former Haitian leader, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, makes a situation - politics in Haiti, which is never simple, still more complicated. How is this all likely to play out?

KAHN: It's hard to say. You know, just when you think things can't get more complicated in Haiti, there's a new surprise.

This presidential election just comes at a really critical time. The country is still recovering from the earthquake. The next president will have to transparently administer billions of dollars of foreign aid. You know, hundreds of thousands still live in these wretched tent encampments throughout the capital, and cholera is spreading throughout the country. It's just a difficult time now.

SIEGEL: Okay. NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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