PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned home Friday from a seven-year exile to the warm embrace of jubilant supporters despite criticism from the U.S. and domestic opponents who said his presence could disrupt the weekend’s already delayed presidential election.
Aristide emerged from a chartered flight from South Africa with his wife and daughters, waved and blew kisses at a crowd. Speaking to supporters and journalists, he criticized the decision to bar his political party, Lavalas Family, from the election, saying it had disenfranchised a majority of Haitians in the sharply divided nation.
“Excluding Lavalas, you cut the branches that link the people,” he said. “The solution is inclusion of all Haitians as human beings.”
His remarks seemed to contradict earlier statements by Aristide and his supporters that he was coming home only to work in education, not to engage in politics.
It’s not clear what impact he may have on Sunday’s runoff between two candidates who in the past opposed Aristide.
Aristide’s aides have said he feared that if he waited to come back, the winner of Sunday’s vote might have blocked his return. But the candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and popular singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, now stress their support for his right to return as a citizen under the constitution. Both candidates would like to attract Lavalas votes.