San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Aristide returns to Haiti after 7 years in exile

After years in exile in South Africa, former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide returned home Friday and called for an “end to exile and coups d’état.”

In a speech at the Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince, Aristide, who was flown into exile in South Africa on Feb. 29, 2004 following a coup, also called for an “end to exclusion” of the people in the poorest country in the Americas.

Aristide said he returned to Haiti to work with children, improve education and combat poverty and exclusion.

“The solution is to include all Haitians, without preferential treatment, because every human being is a human being,” Aristide said.

The former priest and president said he returned from seven years in exile to “sew peace.” He also said Haiti needs to “put an end to all forms of violence.”

Aristide said he maintains the “same love” for his fellow Haitians, including those who live on the island and in other countries, despite his many years abroad.

“Honor and respect,” Aristide repeated, which is an old form of greeting in the Caribbean nation.

The ex-president also said his heart raced as approached is supporters.

“Bravo and thank you,” he said to them. He also thanked authorities from Haiti and South Africa, as well as the delegation of dignitaries that accompanied him on his return flight, and national and international organizations.

Aristide called his country “gravely ill,” after last year’s earthquake tragedy that caused 316,000 deaths, 300,000 injuries and left 1.5 million people homeless.

“Haiti needs respect and dignity,” Aristide said. He also emphasized the “pain” that tens of thousands of Haitians continue suffering as they sleep in makeshift tents, with no place to call home.

“The humiliation of one Haitian is the humiliation of all Haitians,” he said.

Aristide thanked Cuba for its contribution in the fight against the cholera epidemic that began spreading across Haiti in October, causing 4,672 deaths.

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