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Aristide Arrives Quietly in Jamaica

Haiti's interim prime minister calls sheltering the ousted leader an 'unfriendly act' and recalls his envoy from the neighboring island.

March 16, 2004|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived Monday in Jamaica, prompting Haiti's new prime minister to formally recall his nation's ambassador in protest amid fears that Aristide is plotting a return to power.

While Haitian interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue called Jamaica's decision to admit Aristide an "unfriendly act," there were indications that Jamaican officials did not intend to allow Aristide to use their country as a platform to influence events in his homeland, just 130 miles away.

Aristide arrived without fanfare at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston after an overnight flight from the Central African Republic, which had granted him refuge after he fled Haiti on Feb. 29. Jamaican officials whisked Aristide, his wife and a small group of supporters to a rural retreat by helicopter.

The former president's only public comments, released by Jamaica's Foreign Ministry, were to give thanks to the Jamaican people.

Although Jamaica and other Caribbean countries have been sharply critical of the events surrounding Aristide's fall from power, officials here said they admitted him for humanitarian reasons. He is to be reunited here with his two daughters, who have been living in New York since their father's rule over Haiti crumbled.

"It has been made very clear to the former president that Jamaica is not to be used as a launching pad to further any desire to be reinstated in Haiti," Foreign Minister K.D. Knight said Friday, shortly after Jamaica announced he would travel here.

Information Minister Burchell Whiteman sought to downplay the significance of the visit.

"Several Haitian leaders have been here, some deposed, others seeking refuge," he said Monday. "He is not the first."

Aristide arrived in Kingston on a chartered jet with U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and other supporters about 1 p.m. Citing security concerns, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry declined to say where Aristide would stay during his visit, which is expected to last eight to 10 weeks.

Jamaican media reported that Aristide was staying in a rural villa near Lydford, about 70 miles from Kingston.

"He was very, very calm," said Sharon Haye-Webster, a member of the Jamaican parliament who also traveled with Aristide from Africa. "He was happy that the Caribbean was accepting him and giving him support. This is a home in a sense. We are part of a democratic tradition and we must respond."

Support for Aristide remains strong in Jamaica, especially given the confusing events surrounding his resignation.

Some saw domestic political concerns behind Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson's decision to allow Aristide's visit.

"Patterson is doing the right thing by siding with a political brother from the region," a columnist for Kingston's Sunday Observer newspaper wrote. "Say what you will. Aristide was elected."

Shortly after arriving in Africa, Aristide said he had been spirited away in a U.S.-backed "coup." In subsequent interviews, Aristide said that American officials urged him to leave the country and that they misled him, telling him he was boarding a car for an interview that took him to the airport instead. He said he had no choice but to board the aircraft that would take him into exile.

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