vendredi 18 mars 2011

Aristide jets back to Haiti and SA foots bill

SEAN CHRISTIE Mar 18 2011 09:28 The South African government has confirmed that ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand-Aristide will end his seven-year exile in South Africa before the March 20 Haitian elections -- and that the South African taxpayer will now cover the costs of his journey.
"We covered the cost of Aristide's stay in South Africa and now we will facilitate his journey home," said department of international relations and cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela.
This could strain Pretoria's relations with Paris and Washington, which have actively sought to delay Aristide's return until after the elections. Monyela said Aristide would announce details of his travel arrangements himself from Lanseria International Airport late on Thursday evening, after the Mail & Guardian had gone to press. It was known that Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, and actor and activist Danny Glover would accompany Aristide home. Glover recently co-signed a letter to President Jacob Zuma asking that Aristide be allowed to return home.
According to Kurzban Aristide would return to Haiti via private jet, the charter costs of which had delayed Aristide's return thus far. No commercial airlines fly directly to Haiti and it is speculated that the United States government will not allow Aristide to transit through the US. A Lanseria-based charter company said it would cost "well over R6-million" to charter a flight to Haiti.
The cost of Aristide's seven-year stay in the country has run to tens of millions of rands, but it is widely believed he was hosted by South Africa at the behest of the US government. A source well acquainted with issues surrounding Aristide's exile confirmed that South Africa had agreed to keep Aristide until after the Haitian elections and that the French had applied more pressure to ensure that he stayed put.


Bon voyage, Jean-Bertrand Aristide

STUART GRAHAM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Mar 18 2011 07:26 Former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide left South Africa for Haiti at 11.15pm on Thursday night, after more than seven years in exile in the country.
"The great day has arrived. The day to say goodbye before returning home," Aristide said at a briefing before his departure.
Actor Danny Glover preceded Aristide on to the plane, which left from Lanseria Airport.
Aristide was escorted aboard by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, but she did not accompany them on the flight.
They were followed by Aristide's wife Mildred and their children.
"We are delighted to return home after seven years," Aristide told a large media contingent.
"In Haiti also they are very happy because they were waiting for us and they have wanted for us to be back home as soon as possible. It's normal. Their dream will be fulfilled," said Aristide, who read his statement in isiZulu.
'Goodbye interaction'
Nkoana-Mashabane said Aristide, who received a doctorate from the University of South Africa for a comparative study on isiZulu and Haitian Creole, had held a "goodbye interaction" with President Jacob Zuma.
Nkoana-Mashabane said Zuma wished Aristide "bon voyage" and a happy landing as he set about trying to help rebuild Haiti, ravaged by an earthquake 14 months ago.
Aristide left the press conference without taking questions.
His stay in the country cost the South African taxpayer about R5-million a year.
In response to a Parliamentary question last year, Nkoana-Mashabane said that by June 2010 his stay had cost R30-million.
It was reported on Thursday that United States President Barack Obama tried to persuade Zuma to prevent Aristide, a former priest who worked in the slums, from returning to Haiti until it had held its presidential election at the weekend.
Aristide was twice president of Haiti and is popular among the Caribbean nation's poor, who make up the majority on the island.
Concern over return
In his first presidency he was ousted in a coup. He was restored to power in 1994 in a US military intervention ordered by then US president Bill Clinton.
He was re-elected years later, but fled on a US plane during a rebellion in 2004. Aristide claimed the US had kidnapped him.
US National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor told the Associated Press that the United States, along with others in the international community, had deep concerns that Aristide's return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilising.
"President Obama reiterated ... his belief that the Haitian people deserve the chance to choose their government through peaceful, free, and fair elections [on] March 20," Vietor told AP.
Both of Haiti's presidential candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, have said that Aristide has the right to return as a Haitian citizen.
South African Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said on Thursday that the country could not be held responsible for whether Aristide stayed or returned to Haiti.
"What I should stress is that we are not sending former president Aristide to Haiti.
"He was given the passport by the government of Haiti and we can't hold him hostage if he wants to go," Chabane said.
Aristide has said he will not be involved in politics in Haiti and wants to lead his foundation's efforts to improve education in the Caribbean nation. - Sapa