Exiled Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide will arrive here today from South Africa, according to his attorney, returning less than 48 hours before a runoff vote in a presidential election that has already been marred by fraud and chaos.
It was unclear what impact the deposed president's return would have on Sunday's vote, which is seen as a critical step toward jump-starting the country's rebuilding process after the January 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 people. But U.S. officials have been so worried about Aristide's disruptive potential that President Obama expressed his concerns this week to South African President Jacob Zuma, according to the White House.
Aristide boarded a plane in Johannesburg with his wife, Mildred, the Associated Press reported, and the American actor and political activist Danny Glover. "The great day has arrived!" he said in Zulu, a language he studied in South Africa, the AP reported.
Haiti's attempt to elect a successor to outgoing President Rene Preval, a former Aristide ally, has been a process as shaky as this city's cracked buildings. The first round of voting in November was plagued by cheating and widespread voter disenfranchisement, leading to a political crisis that international observers had to sort out through delicate negotiations.
That fragility has foreign observers and many Haitians wary of Aristide's return so close to Election Day. The priest-turned-politician was the country's first democratically elected leader in 1991 and remains a revered figure among Haiti's poorest.
Aristide has said he will stay out of politics and wants to return to teaching. But few believe him -- not his supporters and certainly not his adversaries.