Haiti politicians hope for reconciliation

by Clarens Renois, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 21 2011 07:44 PM | Updated as of Jan 22 2011 03:44 AM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Many of Haiti's leading political class hope that after decades of bloodshed and political turmoil their nation can find a path to reconciliation, even if they still dream of justice being done.

"If all those who have been exiled want to return to help rebuild the country, that would be a good thing," said Chavannes Jeune, a candidate in Haiti's disputed presidential election.

He said he would be in favor of a national reconciliation process similar to that pursued in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide there, but "after repentance and restitution" to the Haitian people.

"If we have to hold trials, they will be never-ending as we just don't have the necessary judicial structure," he told AFP.

Haiti has lurched from crisis to crisis in recent decades, with a succession of oppressive leaders and natural disasters impoverishing the nation of some 10 million people and crippling its government. Most of its people have long been dependent on aid handouts, and there has been little effective leadership.

For 28 years, Haiti endured the repressive rule of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

"Baby Doc" fled the country in 1986 after 15 years in power, but ended his exile late Sunday, making a surprise return and stunning Haitians who remain suspicious of his motives with the nation in the grip of a political crisis.

Another disgraced former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been living in exile in South Africa since 2004, was quick to say he also wanted to return to his Caribbean homeland.

Aides to both men have insisted that under Haiti's constitution a citizen cannot be barred from returning home.

"The constitution does not recognize exile, he (Duvalier) has the right to return to the country," Jeune agreed.

Another presidential hopeful Jean-Henry Ceant said now -- as Haiti struggles to rebuild after a massive January 2010 earthquake which left 1.3 million homeless -- was a good time for everyone to work together.

"It's the right moment to bring back all Haiti's sons for a huge concerted effort to resolve Haiti's crisis which would go beyond all the cliques and divisions," he said.

But there are moves to try to bring Duvalier to justice. Haitian prosecutors have charged him with corruption, embezzlement of state funds, and criminal association during his regime.

And four individual suits have been lodged against the ousted dictator alleging torture, enforced exile, and crimes against humanity.

Rights groups and opponents have long accused "Baby Doc" of presiding over a brutal regime in which thousands were killed or tortured, many victims of the vicious secret police, the Tonton Macoutes, which was loyal to the Duvalier family.

Michel Martelly, one of the leading hopefuls in the race to replace President Rene Preval, also advocates unity.

"My dream is to see all the former popular leaders reunited in one place for a national reconciliation," he said, calling for clemency and inclusiveness.

"If I come to power, I would like all the former presidents to become my advisors in order to profit from their experience.

"I can rally people across all sections of society. Duvalier is a Haitian and it is democratic that he comes back. If he also has legal problems, than let the justice system do its work."

Martelly is hoping to square off against former first lady, Mirlande Manigat, in the delayed second round of the presidential elections. But a date for the vote has yet to be reached, and it is not yet certain which candidates will go through.

A team of international monitors has called for Martelly to be allowed to run, saying November's first round was tainted to help Preval's handpicked protege, Jude Celestin, win.

The Organization of American States has said Celestin should be withdrawn from the race, and Martelly and Manigat should battle it out.

But there is no indication yet what Preval and his government intends to do.

And with the political situation in limbo, Duvalier's return and Artiside's hopes of joining him are merely fueling tensions in a country which has known little stability in recent years.