The Washington Post
Monday, March 15, 2004; Page A15

Exiled Haitian Departs for Jamaica Over U.S. Protest

Aides, American Lawmaker Join Aristide on the Trip From Africa

By Peter Eisner
Washington Post Foreign Service

BANGUI, Central African Republic, March 15 -- Deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Monday left this landlocked African nation where he has been marooned since his ouster last month and headed for Jamaica accompanied by a U.S. lawmaker and other supporters.

After a farewell to the nation's president, Francois Bozize, Aristide arrived at the Bangui airport at about 2 a.m. Monday and said he was "very happy" to be going to Jamaica, where he was invited by the prime minister for an extended stay.

Accompanied by his wife, Mildred Trouillot, Aristide then boarded a chartered jet, accompanied by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Randall Robinson, founder of the humanitarian organization TransAfrica, along with a Jamaican legislator and Aristide's attorney, who landed here Sunday to collect Aristide and fly him to Jamaica.

The mission was initially delayed pending permission from Bozize to leave the country. Delegation members had speculated that Bozize wanted Aristide to take part in a commemoration on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the coup here that brought him to power.

But at about 1 a.m., Bozize summoned Aristide and his entourage, brought out parting gifts of two works of art -- a design made of thousands of butterfly wings, and another design made of local wood carvings. The two men shook hands and Aristide said, in the local Sanko language, "I love you, my brother," which he said he had just learned.

Aristide did not discuss what he planned to do after arriving in Jamaica. His Miami-based attorney, Ira Kurzban, said it was premature to raise the possibility of returning to Haiti. "It is up to the Haitian people," Kurzban said. Waters said her goal in leading the delegation was mostly humanitarian. Aristide and his wife were to be reunited in Jamaica with their two children, who have been staying with relatives in the United States since they left Haiti on Feb. 29.

The Jamaican legislator in the delegation, Sheila Hay Webster, said the Jamaican prime minister, P.J. Patterson, had asked that Aristide refrain from politics during an estimated 10-week stay in Jamaica.

But Haiti's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, said that allowing Aristide to return to the Caribbean would constitute an "unfriendly act" by Jamaica. Bush administration officials also opposed his return. "We think it's a bad idea," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We believe that President Aristide, in a sense, forfeited his ability to lead his people, because he did not govern democratically."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on CNN's "Late Edition," said: "And the hope is that he will not come back into the hemisphere and complicate [the] situation."

In a brief interview Sunday night, Aristide declined to discuss his plans in Jamaica or the situation in Haiti. "I'm happy to see my friends, but sad that so many Haitians are suffering," he said.

In comments since arriving here, Aristide has charged that he was kidnapped by U.S. officials and forcibly sent into exile. Waters, Robinson and Kurzban have accused the Bush administration of engineering the departure of Aristide.

Haiti's first democratically elected president, Aristide was ousted in a military coup in 1991, seven months into his term. He was restored to power three years later in a U.S. military invasion and was reelected president in 2000.

Earlier Sunday, Aristide smiled and embraced Robinson, Waters and her husband, Sidney Williams, a former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, after they arrived following an 18-hour trip from Miami. They were met at the airport by the Central African Republic's foreign minister, Charles Wenezoui, and then proceeded in a motorcade to the presidential palace surrounded by soldiers toting machine guns.

Waters, a staunch supporter of Aristide in Congress, said she had secured a promise from the Bush administration not to block his departure. "It should be thought of as giving him a safe and secure place to live," she said. "That's what it amounts to."

© 2004