To say the twice exiled President Aristide is a mythic figure in the Haitian imagination is an understatement. To say he evokes strong emotions from Haitians, even less so. In a post titled “The Haitian Soap-Opera could not get any more dramatic,” New York City to Haiti, a Haitian-American living in Port-au-Prince, describes it thus:
There are two kinds of Haitians, people who love Aristide “Titid” or those who despise him. Many believe he was the messiah of the poor people because before him, they were widely ignored, others believe he is the most malevolent force to ever preside Haiti because he incited violence and targeted the middle and upper class. Many believe that he still has the power to control the masses and disturb the current electoral process. This is something we will have to wait to see. Haiti is on edge, both with excitement and/or fear. Grab your popcorn, folks! Things just got a bit interesting.
Obama, ostensibly not the biggest fan of the whole situation, apparently called South Africa’s President Zuma personally in an effort to delay Aristide’s return until after today's election. This, in turn, caused the (Boston-based) lawyers at Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, well-known Aristide defenders, to circulate a petition in favor of said return. Alain Armand, a.k.a. @theHaitian, a Haitian-American lawyer living in Haiti, objected:
The IJDH would better serve the Haitian constitution by helping it honor its commitment to free education for its children or prosecuting lawless and corrupt government officials like ex-presidents and corrupt customs officers. I, for one, reject this petition [in favor of Aristide’s return] on the basis that it supports everything that is wrong with Haiti today. It is an argument for more impunity, the one thing Haiti has too much of.
But Aristide did indeed return, to the jubilation of massive crowds who, for the most part, probably do not read, write, blog or even tweet; his main constituency comprises the most disaffected. His speech at the airport was broadcast live on all Haitian radio stations and the national TV channel. Flanked by his wife and two daughters, as well as celebrities such as Danny Glover and Venezuela’s Ambassador, Aristide, with his usual eloquence, expressed his happiness to be home. He mentioned the coup that overthrew him only in passing; instead, stressing the need for inclusion for Haiti’s poor majority.
When is a house just a house?
Haiti-based tweeters, including @Thirdworldgirl and @EmilyTroutman, an AOL news reporter, spent Friday watching and commenting on Aristide’s return: They wondered what it meant for Haiti’s future and for today’s second round election, in which the two main opponents are Michel Martelly, a right-wing singer [video: Kr] who has insulted Aristide and endorsed the coup in past concerts and Mirlande Manigat, a centrist professor whose election rallies have been violently disrupted by what she calls Martelly’s “Pink Militia”…
For many who’d spent the past month tweeting in favor of either candidate, one preoccupation was whether their candidate would garner Lavalas votes. @Durandis, who has tweeted favorably about Manigat, mused [Kr]:
A vertiginous buzz ensued over whether Aristide’s many “house” and “home” references were a subtle encouragement for voters to choose Manigat over Martelly. (Manigat’s electoral emblem is a small house.) Aristide’s speeches are usually metaphorical; Haitians know how to decode his words and the many Creole idioms that pepper his speeches. Though his supporters say it is unlikely he will endorse either candidate, Manigat supporters have capitalized on the rumour:
They were met with scepticism from the Martelly side, which found other ways to ride the Aristide wave:
Crowds as measure of popularity
Tweeters and bloggers also bickered over how many folks came to greet Aristide at the airport and joined the procession to his home in Tabarre, with his supporters seeing thousands and the rest seeing hundreds or less.
Le Monde du Sud/Elsie News, a France-based Haitian native who favours Aristide, noted [Fr] the downplay of numbers by what French-speaking reports she could find, voicing her disappointment in the silence of French-speaking mainstream media on the crowds who met Aristide:
Est-ce qu'il faut être anglophone et/ou hispanophone pour avoir une information tout court et de plus objective sur Haïti? Est-ce qu'il serait préférable de ne pas savoir lire du tout et de se contenter de regarder des photos – qui disent quand même plus que les “quelques dizaines
de curieux.” de Alterpresse ? […] Pourtant son confrère Le Nouvelliste, très loin d'être favorable à Aristide écrit ceçi:
‘Une centaine d'employés de l'aéroport couraient de leur côté en direction de l'avion pour accueillir Jean Bertrand Aristide.’
Seraient-ce les ‘quelques dizaines de curieux’ mentionnés par Alterpresse?
‘About a hundred employees of the airport ran towards the plane to welcome Jean Bertrand Aristide.’
Would that be the ‘few dozen’ mentioned by Alterpresse?
Could one explanation lie in France’s opposition to Aristide’s return, which Haiti-based @Mediahacker emphasized in his summary of Wikileaks cables about the issue?
This video, posted by Aristide supporter @gaetantguevara, allows netizens to judge the extent of the crowd for themselves:
Since his speech at the airport on Friday, Aristide has not addressed Haitian voters who choose between Manigat and Martelly today.