Hundreds Greet Aristide on Return to Troubled Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to Haiti on Friday after a nearly a month in Cuba, thrilling hundreds of supporters who gathered at the airport at a time of tensions over the recent assassination of the country’s leader.

Aristide, a charismatic yet divisive figure in Haiti who was receiving unspecified medical treatment in Cuba, arrives back in a country simmering with tension over the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse as new details about the investigation emerged.

Police Chief Léon Charles said 24 police officers were standing guard when a group of heavily armed men attacked the president’s private house. He said they have been interrogated and that a fifth high-ranking police official has been placed in isolated detention with four others, although none have been named as suspects.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said the government will continue to bring those responsible to justice.

“We will continue to pose questions,” he said.

Meanwhile, throngs of Aristide supporters cheered when they saw the former president arrive. They had arrived a couple of hours before the plane landed, holding pictures of the former priest, some saying, “The king is back!”

Joel Edouard “Pacha” Vorbe, an executive committee member of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party, said Aristide is in good health although he didn’t have details about his condition.

“He is completely recovered,” Vorbe said.

Aristide’s return adds a potentially volatile element to an already tense situation in a country facing a power vacuum. Aristide has long been one of Haiti’s most polarizing politicians and is still popular with some groups.

The twice-elected, twice-ousted leader returned to Haiti from exile in 2011 and has largely kept a low profile except for when he campaigned for the presidential candidate of his party in 2016.

It wasn’t clear what health conditions prompted Aristide to fly to Cuba. At the time, Moïse said only that Aristide had to seek treatment abroad and that Haiti’s embassy in Cuba would provide any assistance required.

Joseph is currently governing Haiti with the backing of police and military, although he faces growing challenges to his power more than a week after Moïse was killed.

More than 20 suspects accused of direct involvement in the slaying have been arrested, the majority of them former Colombian soldiers. At least three other suspects were killed, and police are still looking for at least seven others, authorities have said.

Colombia’s government has said only a small group of Colombian soldiers knew the true nature of the operation and that the others were duped.

While Haiti’s government has asked for military assistance, U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that sending troops was “not on the agenda.” However, he said U.S. Marines would be deployed to boost security at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s elections minister, said he believes the door is still open for potential U.S. military assistance, noting that the country is in a “fragile situation” and requires a secure environment to hold elections in upcoming months.

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