The former president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was due to fly home from a seven-year exile in South Africa last night, against the wishes of the US and only days before the election of a new leader of the country. The drama that usually attends the comings and goings of the priest-turned-president was provided by the presence of a Hollywood star wanting to escort him back to Haiti and a phone call from US President Barack Obama who wanted to postpone Mr Aristide's departure.
Danny Glover, the American actor and activist arrived yesterday in South Africa saying he wanted to escort the 57-year-old home, while US officials confirmed that Washington had appealed to the South African government to delay the trip until after this weekend's presidential run-off in Haiti. The twice-elected – and twice-ousted – Aristide was said by aides to be eager to return before Sunday's vote confirms one of two right-wing politicians as the new president. Both candidates are hostile to the man who says he last saw Haiti from the window of a US jet after he was "kidnapped" by US forces. America deny abducting Mr Aristide in 2004 when he was taken into exile, initially in the Central African Republic, before settling in South Africa.
President Obama was concerned enough at the possible impact of the populist's return to telephone South Africa's President Jacob Zuma yesterday. "The United States, along with others in the international community, has deep concerns that President Aristide's return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilising," Tommy Vietor, the US National Security Council spokesman, said. "President Obama reiterated his belief that the Haitian people deserve the chance to choose their government through peaceful, free, and fair elections March 20."
Glover, star of the Lethal Weapon films, is chairman of the African American rights group Transafrica and an outspoken critic of his government's actions towards the impoverished Caribbean nation. Glover complained about international efforts to delay Mr Aristide's return from exile when Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, overthrown as president in 1986, has already been allowed back.
South Africa said Haiti had issued Mr Aristide with a diplomatic passport and that it had no reason to intervene.