Aristide Awaits Vote in Silent African Exile; Lavalas Family Party Retains Political Strength

Article excerpt

Byline: Geoff Hill, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PRETORIA, South Africa - Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the deposed president of Haiti, remains hunkered down behind tight security in South Africa as his nation prepares to vote for the first time since he fled the country almost 21 months ago.

His Lavalas Family party remains a major political force in Haiti and could emerge as kingmaker, but if the ousted leader is sending directions, he is doing so in deep secrecy.

Since arriving in South Africa in May 2004, Mr. Aristide has been protected in a secure residence with around-the-clock protection by an elite South African police unit and enjoys privileges usually reserved for Cabinet ministers and top officials.

Repeated requests for an interview were made over a period of a week and written questions were submitted through the South African government, and directly through his assistant at the University of South Africa, where he and his wife, Mildred, have been appointed "honorary research fellows."

No response was received.

The reticence may stem in part from legal maneuvers by the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of Florida, which has obtained drug-related convictions of top former police officials who served under Mr. Aristide.

Newsweek, in its Oct. 24 international edition, quoted the U.S. attorney's office as saying it will "continue to pursue" these cases. The office has not said whether Mr. Aristide is a target of the investigations. South African officials say they have "taken note" of persistent press reports that Mr. Aristide may be indicted.

These officials decline to comment further on a situation that has the potential to embarrass President Thabo Mbeki, who led his country's effort last year to provide asylum for Mr. Aristide, who fled Haiti after an armed uprising in February 2004, shortly after celebrations marking 200 years of Haiti's independence from France.

Most countries, including the United States, shunned the event. At the time, Haiti had become a major transshipment point for South American cocaine heading for the United States. …