After seven years in exile, today may be the last day Jean-Bertrand Aristide spends outside his native Haiti. A source close to the former president tells AFP Tuesday evening that plans are being made for Aristide’s return to Port-au-Prince on Thursday – just three days before a scheduled national election is set to take place.
If it occurs, the return would defy an appeal made by the US Monday. The DOS asked that Mr. Aristide delay his trip back to Haiti until at least after Sunday’s vote. In response to a US request that South Africa help to postpone Aristide’s homecoming, South African deputy foreign minister Marius Freeman said Tuesday that was not his country’s duty. Freeman:
“It is not our responsibility. If America feels that he should only go in two weeks or three weeks or four weeks, they need to engage the Haitian government.”
Mr. Aristide has called South Africa home since his 2004 ouster. In February, the government of outgoing President Rene Preval granted a request made by the former leader for a diplomatic passport – a move that would facilitate a trip out of South Africa. (Originally, it was believed Aristide would need a passport to fly through a third country on his way back to Haiti -- there are no direct flights from South Africa to Port-au-Prince – but there are now some who say South Africa may be planning to fly Aristide back on a government plane).
In statements made over the last two months, Aristide has said he does not intend to return to formal politics but would rather commit himself to matters of education in his home country.
Reporting from Port-au-Prince, AP says the return of Mr. Aristide – a former shantytown priest who is still beloved by Haiti’s poor majority – would be “nothing short of rapturous.” The paper speaks with one of Aristide’s many supporters who lives near the St. Jean Bosco Catholic Church at which Aristide once presided. “It's like Jesus coming back,” the 50-year-old man tells AP.
But sociologist and Haiti expert Alex Dupuy warns that the second-coming of Aristide will be to a Haiti that is has quite different from the country he returned to after his first time in exile during the early 1990s or the country he left in 2004. “The political landscape has changed significantly since then,” Dupuy tells AP. “I see him coming back to a playing field where neither he nor his Lavalas Party are the principal actors.”
Critics of Aristide also insist that should the former leader return, he should face prosecution for violence committed by supporters during the final days of his truncated second term. Reed Brody, a counsel for Human Rights Watch, says that case would a difficult one to make. Further, he argues the Aristide presidencies must be placed in their appropriate historical perspective. “It would…be wrong to equate Aristide to the Duvalier years, when repression was much more widespread,” Brody says. After the current presidency of Rene Preval, Brody maintains that “the Aristide periods were probably the periods of least violence in Haiti's history.”
For more, longtime Haiti-watchers Amy Wilentz, in the New York Times and Kim Ives, in the Guardian both comment on (and support) Aristide’s now probable return. Wilentz, currently in Port-au-Prince, is particularly instructive for the history of the Aristide period she provides. For his part, Kim Ives lays out some of reasons the former president may feel it necessary to return before March 20 elections. There are also the opinions of presidential contenders Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, who, as of Monday, expressed little public concern about Aristide’s pending return. Both individuals opposed Aristide during his time in public office.
To other stories:
· From the New York Times today: a report on the increased presence of US drones “deep into Mexican territory.” According to both American and Mexican officials, US spy planes are being used with increasing frequency in order to locate traffickers in the country. The new program began last month, according to sources inside the Pentagon. Other military officials tell the Times that the information which led to the arrest of multiple suspects in the murder of US ICE agent, Jaime Zapata, came from US intelligence drones. However, an official agreement between US president Barack Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon about the use of US spy planes in Mexican territory does not appear to have been signed until Calderon’s visit to Washington earlier this month. The Times adds that the opening of a second US-Mexico “fusion center” was also agreed to during that Calderon-Obama meeting. Details are few thus far but the facility is expected to serve as a space for US and Mexican authorities to share intelligence. The Mexican Constitution prohibits foreign military and law enforcement agents from operating in Mexico except under extremely limited conditions – a point many Mexican officials are quick to point out and an issue which continues to place US-Mexico cooperation on “shaky” legal foundations, according to the Times. As Mike Vigil, a retired chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration tells the paper:
“It wasn’t that long ago when there was no way the D.E.A. could conduct the kinds of activities they are doing now. And the only way they’re going to be able to keep doing them is by allowing Mexico to have plausible deniability.”
· In other Mexico stories, the AP reports on the resignation of the three judges who acquitted a man charged with killing Rubi Frayre Escobedo in Ciudad Juarez in 2008. Frayre Escobedo’s mother, Marisela, was also murdered. The man acquitted by the now former Juarez judges has been the main suspect in that case as well. The El Paso Times and AP report on another Mexican rights activist seeking asylum in the US. Cipriana Jurado left Mexico in June after she says she was targeted by the military for investigations she carried out about military abuses. If granted asylum, Jurado’s lawyer says hers would be the first successful asylum petition in recent memory by a woman activist alleging abuse at the hands of the Mexican government. Her asylum hearing begins today. PBS has more on the growing incursion of Mexican cartels into Guatemala. And EFE looks at the growing use of Twitter in Mexico, including by the Mexican state. According to the report, the social networking site has become one of the most up-to-date locations to find information about recent incidents of violence, etc.
· In Venezuela, El Universal and AP have short reports on yesterday’s student march to the Venezuelan National Assembly over matters of public university budget cuts. The students were met at the Assembly by both chavista and opposition lawmakers who received their petitions. Reports suggest the turn-out for the demonstration was significantly less than may have first been expected.
· Also in Venezuela, the AP reports that Venezuela announced Tuesday it will suspende its plans to develop a nuclear energy program, citing the current Japanese nuclear crisis. According to Dow Jones, the Japan crisis is not expected to halt similar plans in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.
· Dow Jones also reports on an electoral victory for President Cristina Fernandez’s ruling Frente Para la Victoria coalition in provincial elections in Catamarca. FPV federal senator Lucia Corpacci defeated incumbent Governor Eduardo Brizuela earlier this week to win the province’s governorship in the first vote of 2011.
· Meanwhile, Mercopress says Peru’s presidential vote next month has turned into a “guessing game.” Left-leaning candidate Ollanta Humala surged five points in the most recent poll conducted by the Catholic University in Peru. The three front-runners all fell slightly. Former president Alejandro Toledo, however, remains the favorite.
· The Economist looks at first lady Sandra Torres’s presidential bid in Guatemala – particularly the legal obstacles she must overcome before her candidacy becomes official. According to the magazine, Ms. Torres is unpopular in urban areas but could find significant support in Guatemala’s rural countryside where the social programs she has administered during her husband’s presidency are believed to have had more impact.
· In Uruguay, the AP has made official its recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state, while remaining quiet about the issue of borders. Uruguay was the first in the region to announce it would soon recognize a Palestinian state during this most recent wave of South American recognitions.
· In Florida, the ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of a state law which currently bans public universities from using any funds for research and travel to Cuba. More from the Miami Herald’s Cuban Colada blog.
· Amnesty International, in a new statement, says that despite the recent releases of prominent dissidents in Cuba, instances of repression continue on the island.
· In economic news: Cuban Colada also looks at the Cuban government’s decision this week to reestablish 1:1 peso to dollar parity on the island. IPS looks at the role a revived cooperative movement is playing in protecting small producers from economic shocks in Mexico. And from Infolatam/EFE, new economic forecasts from ECLA. ECLA executive secretary Alica Bárcena said this week she believes Latin America will grow 4.5% in 2011, up slightly from 4.2% in 2010.
· Finally, a host of new opinions on President Obama’s upcoming visit to Latin America, set to begin Friday: Michael Shifter in El Colombiano, Cynthia Arnson at AQ, Julia Sweig and Shannon O’Neil do a media call whose audio is up at CFR’s site, and from the region, former Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim makes the case for Brazil’s entry onto the UN Security Council as a permanent member, at Foreign Policy. An additional point of interest is the White House’s presentation of the president’s trip yesterday. In particular, it’s notable how Mike Froman, the White House's deputy National Security Advisor for international economic affairs, presented the tour almost entirely in terms of US domestic economic concerns: “This trip is fundamentally about the U.S. recovery, U.S. exports and the critical relationship that Latin America plays in our economic future and jobs,” said Froman. Perhaps that’s an important, although often forgotten, insight into what really drives US-Latin America policy.