Aristide ally: Haiti's ex-leader speaks next month

AP News
Posted: Sep 13, 2011 9:23 PM
Aristide ally: Haiti's ex-leader speaks next month

Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will make his first major public appearance since his triumphant return to Haiti in March after seven years in exile, a close ally said Tuesday.

Former Sen. Louis Gerald Gilles told The Associated Press the former leader planned to attend a ceremony in October to inaugurate the expansion of his university and will deliver a speech on education. Gilles, a physician who served as a senator from Aristide's Lavalas party during the leader's second term, did not provide the exact day in October when the event would take place.

Upon his March return at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Aristide denounced the exclusion of his political party from a recent presidential election.

Since then, he has avoided making public appearances and remained in his private compound on the northeastern end of the capital. He has also declined numerous media requests to be interviewed.

Aristide said from South Africa that he was eager to return to his homeland so that he could focus on rebuilding his university and work as an educator. The University of the Aristide Foundation closed in 2004 after he was toppled in a violent rebellion but reopened four years later. Its 200 students take computer courses and Spanish taught by Cuban instructors.

Aristide has been a divisive figure since he emerged as a fiery priest in the 1980s. Some 30 years later, he remains beloved by much of the poor, loathed by a tiny elite, and distrusted by foreign governments, namely the U.S.

In the seven years he's been gone, Aristide returns to a Haiti much different from the one he left. The country was devastated by massive earthquake last year and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 6,200 people, according to health officials.

Maryse Narcisse, a Lavalas leader who was a spokeswoman for Aristide while he was in exile, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.