On American Wings, Aristide Triumphantly Returns Home
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Reclaiming the nation he was forced to flee, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide faces a daunting task: transcending Haiti’s fractious history to create true democracy.
The diminutive priest-turned-president took his first step Saturday, returning to Haiti in triumph three years after his ouster in a military coup and days after the coup leaders fled under U.S. pressure.
His return - literally on American wings - triggered wild celebrations throughout Haiti.
The Clinton administration, which sent 20,000 troops to Haiti to ensure the departure of its military rulers, is hoping the restoration of Aristide’s elected government will send a message to dictators around the world.
The U.N. Security Council welcomed Aristide’s return by voting Saturday to lift stifling trade sanctions imposed to force out army rulers.
Aristide released a white dove into the air before he addressed thousands of singing, dancing Haitians at the National Palace.
″Today is the day that the sun of democracy rises, never to set,″ he said from behind a bulletproof shield - a reminder of the danger he still faces from rightist opponents.
A cordon of American soldiers separated the populist president from his people. GIs manned rooftops and tanks, and Humvee jeeps prowled the city, watching for trouble by Aristide’s armed opponents. At least 10,000 exuberant people gathered outside the palace, pressing against the green iron gates.
Thousands more Haitians danced toward downtown, leapfrogged by 13 U.S. Blackhawk helicopters that ferried Aristide and his delegation from the airport to the palace.
In Cap-Haitien, on Haiti’s north coast, thousands paraded through the streets after Aristide’s speech, which many heard on state TV or radio.
The 41-year-old Aristide, who has survived up to a half dozen assassination attempts by the military and its allies in the past decade, began practicing reconciliation the moment he stepped off the U.S. Air Force plane.
He greeted Maj. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval and Col. Jodel Lesage, the army officers who replaced coup leaders Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Col. Michel Francois. Cedras fled to Panama on Thursday; Francois to the Dominican Republic.
Aristide faces daunting tasks once the festivities end: uniting the nation, developing the poorest country in the Americas and setting up a pluralistic political system.