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7 Years After Ouster in U.S.-Backed Coup, Former Haitian President Aristide Prepares to Return Home

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Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is preparing to return to Haiti after seven years in exile. Aristide has lived in South Africa since his ouster in a 2004 U.S.-backed coup. Reporting from Johannesburg, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman speaks with Aristide’s attorney Ira Kurzban and actor Danny Glover as they prepare to accompany Aristide back to his country. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is set to return to Haiti ahead of Sunday’s runoff elections. He has lived in exile in South Africa since 2004. Amy Goodman is in Johannesburg to cover Aristide’s trip. She spoke to his lawyer, Ira Kurzban, about how Aristide secured permission to return.

IRA KURZBAN: The President’s diplomatic passport, which was given to me by the government of Haiti several weeks ago, with the understanding that the President is free to come back to Haiti as a Haitian citizen whenever he wants.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did you get it?

IRA KURZBAN: I got it from the Haitian government in Port-au-Prince when I was there. And they were very cooperative.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Confidential diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal extensive efforts by U.S. officials to prevent Aristide from returning to Haiti since he went into exile seven years ago.

IRA KURZBAN: The documents were basically during Condoleezza’s reign as the Secretary of State, and they were asking U.N. officials to put — and Brazilian officials, to put pressure or to somehow pressure the South African government to make sure that Aristide does not leave South Africa and that he remains there. You know, the irony of all this is, on the one hand, they were saying how unpopular — in 2004, they were saying how unpopular he was, and yet they didn’t want him in the Western hemisphere. And somehow, no one caught the irony of all that. But yeah, the documents were basically saying that the United States government was engaged in a conscious program, through the Brazilians and others, to pressure South Africa to make sure that Aristide did not come back, as I’m sure they’re under immense pressure today to try and keep him here at least until after the election.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Ira Kurzban, the attorney for former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was speaking with Amy Goodman. Amy is in Johannesburg and will be on the flight with Aristide to cover his return. She joins us now.

Welcome, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Hi, Juan. It’s great to be with you.

There is a lot happening right now. As you hear, a lot of interference, trying — with the U.S. government attempting to prevent the Aristides from returning, especially before Sunday, when the elections will be taking place. But as his lawyer, Ira Kurzban, says, the deal for Aristide to return was worked out with the current government, with the President, René Préval. And they are planning to return before this election, to ensure that everything that was worked out — because there has been so much difficulty over these years — does actually take place.

Meanwhile, today in Congress, the House task — the Haiti task force, a subcommittee of the Congressional Black Caucus, is holding a hearing. Among them speaking, Brian Concannon, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a human rights group; Nicole Lee of TransAfrica.

The election on Sunday is between Michel Martelly, who is associated with FRAP — he is the well-known singer, “Sweet Micky” — and as well, he is running against Mirlande Manigat. And the election will be very interesting, but Aristide’s return is separate from that election. Many people are awaiting his arrival in Haiti. He will be returning with his wife and his two daughters. I will be covering this trip for Democracy Now! as we cross the Atlantic. The negotiations are still taking place, as they have been for quite a long time.

This morning, Danny Glover, the actor, activist, flew in, who has long been involved with Haiti. We flew in yesterday on the longest flight, it’s believed, in the world, the longest continuous flight. But I put that question to Danny Glover.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Glover, you just took perhaps the longest continuous flight in the world, from New York to Johannesburg.


AMY GOODMAN: Why are you here?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, I’m here to accompany my friend, President Aristide, home back to Haiti. I’m here on behalf of his family and himself. He’s a very close friend of mine. And not only that, he has been issued permission by the Haitian government to come home. He has the right to return home. And I’m here to accompany him home.

AMY GOODMAN: The State Department has issued essentially a warning that says the Aristides should not be coming home before the election. What is your response?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, first of all, President Aristide — the State Department has said essentially that President Aristide left voluntarily from Haiti seven years ago. He did not leave voluntarily. We all know that; history recounts that, what happened.

And the fact that, also, that he is going home to be of assistance in the rebuilding of Haiti, his plans to be involved in building educational institutions and hospitals, etc., is an indication that he is there to be a part of the renewal and rebuilding of Haiti. And my — certainly the State Department has its own reasons for not having him back at all, because this is the first time President Aristide would have been in the hemisphere since he was deposed seven years ago. But he is coming back to be with his people. He is coming back home with his family. So, I’m here to be a part of that journey with him.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Amy Goodman interviewing Danny Glover in Johannesburg. We will post the entire interview Amy had with him on our website.

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