Aris­tide as­sumes vis­i­ble role in Haiti pres­i­den­tial cam­paign­ing

Jamaica Gleaner - - MARKET REPORTS - – AP

FOR­MER PRES­I­DENT Jean-Ber­trand Aris­tide has leapt from be­hind the scenes to take a ma­jor role in cam­paign­ing for next month’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, lead­ing many to be­lieve the po­lar­is­ing fig­ure in the tu­mul­tuous world of Haitian pol­i­tics is poised to re­gain in­flu­ence if his party wins.

Aris­tide’s re­turn to open cam­paign­ing for an ally is en­er­gis­ing supporters in poor neigh­bour­hoods who see the for­mer slum priest as a nearmes­sianic fig­ure who fought for the coun­try’s most marginalised.

“He’s the king of kings! See­ing him on the streets again is like be­ing in par­adise,” Por­tau-Prince slum res­i­dent Jhony Nar­cisse said as he jogged to keep up with Aris­tide’s mo­tor­cade dur­ing a re­cent rally

Al­though Aris­tide said he wouldn’t fo­cus on pol­i­tics after he re­turned from ex­ile in 2011, the twice-elected, twice-ousted leader has been vig­or­ously cam­paign­ing for Maryse Nar­cisse, the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for his Fanmi Lavalas party. While Aris­tide isn’t a can­di­date for any post, he has been giv­ing stump speeches and wav­ing to ador­ing loy­al­ists from a con­voy tour­ing the coun­try.

In a re­cent speech, de­liv­ered through the sun­roof of an SUV, he de­clared that Lavalas would build homes for the poor if Nar­cisse, one of 27 can­di­dates in the Oc­to­ber 9 elec­tion, is elected.

“We’re not go­ing to build small bird­cages. We are go­ing to build houses,” Aris­tide said to cheers from the crowd.

FIG­URE OF RE­SIS­TANCE

Such re­marks sug­gest to some that he would not sit on the side­lines of a Nar­cisse pres­i­dency.

“It is clear that a vic­tory would al­low Aris­tide to gov­ern be­hind the throne,” said Henry Carey, a Haiti ex­pert and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Ge­or­gia State Uni­ver­sity.

Aris­tide be­came a global fig­ure of re­sis­tance when, as a slum priest known for fiery or­a­tory, he led a pop­u­lar move­ment that ousted the hated dic­ta­tor Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Du­va­lier in 1986. He was elected pres­i­dent in 1990, forced out in a mil­i­tary coup a year later and re­stored to power by the United States in 1994 to serve out the re­main­der of his term. As a cham­pion of the poor and ad­vo­cate of left­ist ‘lib­er­a­tion the­ol­ogy,’ he was deeply hated by mem­bers of the elite who worked to un­seat him.

Re-elected in 2000 amid low turnout and an op­po­si­tion boy­cott, he was ousted four years later in a na­tion­wide re­bel­lion led by op­po­nents with ties to the elite and the old Du­va­lierist regime. His crit­ics ac­cused Aris­tide of break­ing prom­ises to help the poor, al­low­ing cor­rup­tion fu­elled by drug traf­fick­ing and mas­ter­mind­ing at­tacks on op­po­nents with armed gangs.

Aris­tide spent seven years in ex­ile in South Africa after his 2004 ouster. He was greeted by ju­bi­lant crowds upon his re­turn to Haiti in 2011, but largely kept a low pro­file un­til this year.

Nar­cisse fin­ished fourth in last year’s open­ing round, which was later an­nulled amid accusations of fraud.

Nar­cisse said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press that she wel­comes Aris­tide’s help in her cam­paign and would con­sider him a valu­able ad­viser if she were to win, though she said he was not in­ter­ested in a Cabi­net post.

“I’m very happy that he’s there. He’s a charis­matic leader,” she said. “The pop­u­la­tion lis­tens to him. There’s a love re­la­tion be­tween Haitians and him.”

Nar­cisse isn’t the only can­di­date with ties to the for­mer pres­i­dent.

The field also in­cludes Jude Ce­lestin, who is backed by Rene Preval, a for­mer pro­tégé of Aris­tide who served as pres­i­dent in 1996-2001 and then again in 2006-2011.

In this Septem­ber 21, 2016 photo, Haiti’s for­mer Pres­i­dent JeanBer­trand Aris­tide (left) ap­plauds as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Maryse Nar­cisse re­ceives a shovel and sand from a sup­porter as a sym­bol of Haiti’s re­con­struc­tion after the dev­as­tat­ing 2010 earth­quake, as she cam­paigns in Port-auPrince, Haiti.

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