Haiti’s president-elect says constitution allows return of ousted leader | VailDaily.com

Haiti’s president-elect says constitution allows return of ousted leader

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti’s president-elect said Wednesday that the nations’ constitution permits the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but Rene Preval declined to say whether he would welcome home his exiled former mentor.Preval, a 63-year-old agronomist, said Aristide could not be barred from returning to the volatile Caribbean nation two years after he was toppled in a bloody revolt.”My position is simple on President Aristide and any other citizen who wants to come to Haiti,” Preval said in his first news conference since he was declared the winner of the Feb. 7 election. “Article 41 of the Haitian Constitution says that no Haitian needs a visa to enter or leave the country.”The United States said Wednesday that Arisitide’s return would serve no useful purpose, with State Department spokesman Adam Ereli saying: “Aristide is from the past. We’re looking to the future.”Aristide said Wednesday he wants to return from exile in South Africa, but that the timing of his arrival in Haiti would be up to “my president” and other leaders.”The date of my return will emerge from consultations” among Preval, the United Nations, the Caribbean Community and his host, the South African government, the ousted leader said in an interview with international news agencies.Asked if he had spoken to Preval, Aristide said, “It’s a private issue.”It remains unclear if Aristide could return without consequences. Officials with Haiti’s interim government have said Aristide could be charged with corruption and other crimes, though no indictments have been issued against him.Preval said his government would have two main priorities during his five-year term: rebuilding Haiti’s gutted and corruption-prone civil institutions, and improving security to attract private investment and jobs.”I talked to a lot of people during my campaign, and almost everyone told me they don’t have work,” Preval said. “It is the private sector that must invest, but it is the state that has to create a stable environment.”The president-elect stopped short of saying whether he would offer amnesty to heavily armed gangs – some with alleged ties to Aristide – that have been blamed for a wave of kidnappings that helped delay the elections.The United States and others have warned that the return of Aristide could further destabilize Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. When pressed by reporters, Preval, who read from a pocket-size copy of Haiti’s constitution, declined to discuss Aristide’s potential return in detail.”Remember, you’re talking to a president,” he said at the modern, gated home of his sister in the hills east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. “The response isn’t with me. It’s with the constitution.”Preval urged citizens to turn out for the second round of legislative balloting and pledged to work with lawmakers in other parties.”I think the conditions are here to build this country together,” he said.Preval, who served as president from 1996 to 2001, was declared the winner of the election after electoral authorities proportionally divided the blank votes among the candidates to avoid a runoff. There were 91,219 blank ballots, according to updated numbers published by elections officials this week.The move gave Preval 51 percent, enough for an outright victory, but prompted complaints from his two closest rivals, who finished with 12 percent and 8 percent of the Feb. 7 vote.Group 184, a coalition of business leaders and activists who were instrumental in the ouster of Aristide, has issued a statement calling Preval’s election unconstitutional.The president-elect brushed aside the criticism in his news conference.”We clearly have a winner in the first round of the presidential vote,” he said. “Most competitors accepted this result, although there are some critics. It is normal.”—Associated Press writer Michelle Faul in Pretoria, South Africa, contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado

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