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27870: (news) Chamberlain: South Africa-Aristide (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By MICHELLE FAUL
PRETORIA, Feb 17 (AP) -- Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled Haitian
leader who still claims to be the country's real president, has remained
silent about the electoral victory of a one-time protege.
Thursday's announcement that Rene Preval has won the first elections
since Aristide's ouster in a February 2004 coup has raised speculation
about the former leader's future.
Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, fled a
rebellion amid allegations of corruption and oppression.
His South African hosts still call him "President Aristide," let him
live in a villa in the presidential compound in Pretoria, and say he is
welcome to stay as long as he needs but hope "he is not here for life," in
the words of Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Aristide's spokeswoman Maryse Narcisse said Friday "President Aristide
is still the elected constitutional president of Haiti."
"I think the people of Haiti said 'We are voting to ensure the return of
our constitutionally elected president, we want our leader-in-exile to be
able to come back," Narcisse said in a telephone interview from her base in
Preval's rallies were punctuated by occasional calls for the return of
Aristide, whose tenure as president would officially have ended on Feb. 7.
"Preval would still be president, but it's time for Aristide to come
back. He's been gone for too long," said one Preval supporter, 53-year-old
Andre Octave Laplante.
Aristide nurtured Preval's political career. When the constitution
banned Aristide from seeking a second consecutive term in 1994, Preval ran
and won. He was largely seen as keeping the presidential seat warm for
Aristide's 1999 bid, but the two fell out.
The cause and extent of that rupture have never been clear.
"This is a huge dilemma and I can't imagine that Mr. Preval would desire
to once again have Aristide's presence casting a cloud over his ability to
lead," Robert Maguire, director of international affairs at Trinity
University in Washington, said by telephone.
Preval, who was silent when the rest of the country was calling for
Aristide's return in 2004, has been ambiguous about whether or not he
favors his return.
But Leslie Voltaire, a former Aristide Cabinet minister, said Aristide
now "has a friend and an ally in power."
"It will be very difficult for Mr. Preval to work for Mr. Aristide's
return right now because Mr. Aristide has a lot of powerful enemies,"
Voltaire said from Haiti's capital, "But I think that in the near future we
could prepare the way for his return."
Those enemies include the United States and France, Haiti's former
colonizer, which refused Aristide's pleas for help as armed rebels closed
in on Port-au-Prince.
Instead, U.S. officials told Aristide to prepare for a bloodbath or
leave on a plane that they chartered. Afterward, U.S. officials accused
Aristide of profiting massively from cocaine-trafficking. Aristide denied
the charges and no proof was ever offered.
U.S. officials look on an Aristide return as potentially destabilizing
and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack strongly hinted last week
that he should remain in exile.
"We think the Haitian government should be looking forward to their
future, not to its past," McCormack said.
Associated Press writer Evens Sanon contributed to this report from