Crowds are expected to gather at Port-au-Prince’s Touissant Louverture International Airport, awaiting the arrival of a charter plane carrying former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his wife, and two daughters. According to the Miami Herald, the plane, which left Johannesburg, South Africa yesterday evening and made a stopover in Dakar, Senegal to refuel, is expected to touch down in the Haitian capital around 10:40am (Eastern Standard Time), ending Aristide’s seven-year exile.
Among those who appear to be accompanying the former president back to his native Haiti, as a private citizen, are his lawyer, Ira Kurzban, actor and activist Danny Glover, and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. The latter has the first photos of the Aristide family making their way home. Glover, who is also the board chair of the TransAfrica Forum, wrote Wednesday on TransAfrica’s website that he was “going to South Africa to show our solidarity with the people of Haiti by standing at the side of the leader they elected twice with overwhelming support.”
As the AP reports, Glover was among a group of activists petitioning South Africa’s Jacob Zuma to assist in the return of Mr. Aristide in recent weeks.
The possibility of such a return continued to be opposed by the United States up through Thursday. Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, told reporters yesterday that the U.S. “along with others in the international community, has deep concerns that President Aristide’s return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilizing.’’ University of Virginia Haiti scholar Robert Fatton tells the Herald that such a position from the US will only make Aristide more popular than he currently is, in Haiti and elsewhere. “The more [the US] opposes him…the more popular he will be.’’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also placed a call to the South African President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday, asking that he prevent Aristide from returning before Sunday’s presidential elections.
The candidates who will square off in Sunday’s vote have long opposed Mr. Aristide – although their reaction to Aristide’s expected return has been difficult to read at times. Singer Michel Martelly, who in a Friday profile by the New York Times, boasts that his past is “open, public,” and available on You Tube, has become the subject of particular controversy after an old video surfaced earlier this month in which the former Kompas singer was caught making lewd statements about Mr. Aristide that are more than a little disturbing.
He, along with former first lady-turned-presidential candidate, Mirlande Manigat, both now say they do not oppose Aristide’s return. “He has the right to come back to this country,” Mr. Martelly tells the Times. In today’s Washington Post, however, one senses anxiety as the moment of that return draws near. In an interview Wednesday night, Martelly said he believes Aristide is simply trying to create a distraction. “He’s just coming back to create instability,” he remarked.
Aristide has insisted he is not seeking a return to formal politics but rather hopes to return to the field of education in Haiti – a possibility which many analysts say could have closed quickly after Sunday’s election.
The Congressional Black Caucus has expressed a similar opinion. In a resolution circulated Thursday, the CBC said it was “essential” that Aristide be allowed to return to Haiti before the Sunday’s election because of the possibility that those who participated in his ouster could “be in a position to block his return” after March 20.
CBC members Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Donald Payne (D-NJ) will be in Port-au-Prince this weekend on a House Judiciary Committee delegation. They say they plan to welcome Aristide back home when they arrive.
Other reports and opinion today on Aristide’s return from exile include: IPS, an opinion against the Aristide return from the Wall Street Journal, an opinion supporting the return from CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot in The Guardian; and letter from a number of legal scholars to Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills on Aristide’s legal right to return, organized Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. For the most up-to-date information on Aristide’s arrival in Port-au-Prince, see CEPR’s Live Blog or follow journalists in Haiti on Twitter: @jacquiecharles, @mediahacker, @bhatiap, @emilytroutman, @trentondaniel, and @benfoxatap.
Other headlines this morning:
· In New York Thursday, the UN Security Council, in a 10-0 vote, approved military action against Libya. The specifics, reports the Times, include UN authorization of “airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone” – what the paper describes as a “risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.” Of Latin Americanist interest: a vote in support of the military action by Colombia and an abstention by Brazil. The latter was joined by Russia, China, Germany, and India in abstaining from the vote. David Bosco at FP’s Multilateralist and Joshua Keating at FP’s Passport with thoughts on what to make of the abstention by the BRICs. On Brazil, specifically, it’s curious that the vote (or lack thereof) came one day before President Obama heads South -- a visit Brazil hopes will include the US publicly supporting its bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.
· More on stop one of Obama’s Latin American trip (Brazil) in the New York Times and at IPS this morning. The former spends significant time spelling out the stylistic differences between Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Lula da Silva, re: foreign relations. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations: “Lula seemed intent on proving a point — don’t underestimate Brazil — at times at the risk of alienating Obama.” Dilma, on the other hand “can now reap the benefits by forging a more productive relationship with respect, but without the drama.” Sweig adds that Latin America, as a whole, provides a “showcase of democratic stability and prosperity” at a time when other parts of the world, the Middle East in particular, are “in flux.” The Times, like many others this week, says domestic economic issues – both in Brazil and the US – which set the foundation for this weekend’s meetings between Obama and Dilma Rousseff. In the IPS piece, a quote from foreign minister Antonio Patriota which illustrates his hope of mutually beneficial strategic relationship: “We are in a position to renew the relationship with the United States and raise it to a level of greater interaction, of cooperation for mutual benefit, that is multipolar in nature, based on the pursuit of development and global solutions.” Key to watch: how the US handles Brazil’s demand for multipolarity and multilateralism, on this trip and beyond. More from Paulo Sotero of the Wilson Center, at the BBC, who says US support for Brazil’s bid for a permanent UNSC seat looks unlikely during Obama’s visit, even if many in the Obama administration seem open to the idea.
· Two opinions on stop-two of the Obama tour: Chile. In the Miami Herald, Martin Pascual of the Chilean NGO coalition Acción discusses the “broad contradictions” of Chile’s economic model that are too often overlooked. And economist Ricardo Ffrench-Davis contends that what economic success Chile has experienced over the last two decades is not because of economic liberalization but because of the willingness to adopt smart regulation of that liberalization, beginning in the 1990s.
· More economic news. In the US House, two hearings Thursday on the pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – one held by Rep. Connie Mack’s (R-FL) Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and one by Rep. Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) Trade Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. In a letter to the President Obama, yesterday, six House Democrats – led by Jim McGovern (D-MA) and George Miller (D-CA) – expressed their ongoing concerns about labor rights and human rights in Colombia. “Colombia continues to lead the world in murders of trade unionists. The level of murder and violence is not declining,” the House members contend. Opposing the FTA as it currently stands, the group also lays out specific steps that should be taken to ensure rights concerns in Colombia are properly addressed. The full McGovern-Miller letter here and specific recommendations here. Similar concerns in a new statement from Human Rights Watch, which throws its support behind the McGovern-Miller recommendations on “human rights benchmarks.” Ditto from the AFL-CIO which says it “hope that the Obama administration will insist that the Colombian government comply with all the recommendations contained in the letter, especially those that focus on ending violence and impunity and undertaking comprehensive labor law reform prior to sending the agreement to Congress.”
· Continuing in Colombia, the UNHCR with a news release on the more than 800 Afro-Colombians who have been displaced from their homes along western Colombia's Anchicayá River in the last month. “The displacements appear to be linked to the growth of illegal mining and the struggle between illegal armed groups to control this activity,” the UNHCR says. The UNHCR plans to visit the affected area with government officials and NGO representatives in the coming days.
· In Honduras, Pepe Lobo has retracted an announcement made by his foreign minister Mario Canahuati earlier in the week, saying UNASUR embassies in Honduras will not, in fact, be closed. More from Honduras Culture and Politics.
· In Venezuela, the rights group Control Ciudadano says there are growing worries about the politicization and de-professionalization of the Venezuelan military. More from El Universal.
· In Nicaragua, a group of former military officials with worrying statements this week against Daniel Ortega’s bid for re-election in November. AP reports.
· And the AP on the Mexican government’s public defense of its decision to allow US spy planes deep into Mexican territory.