Along Rue Champ de Mars, he waved to cheering crowds from his slow-moving, police-escorted motorcade. And in Bel Air and St. Martin, gang-infested former strongholds overlooking the empty grounds of the razed presidential palace, he blew kisses from the rooftop of an SUV.
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 59, used a rare public appearance in Haiti’s capital Wednesday to show that he could still draw a crowd.
“The Haitian people love him and today they showed their affection and attachment to him,” Dr. Maryse Narcisse, Aristide’s spokeswoman, told The Miami Herald as the motorcade crept through Delmas 2 with thousands in tow. “Since this morning, they’ve been accompanying him.”
Aristide’s tour of Port-au-Prince came after a three-hour, closed-door audience with a Haitian investigative judge, who summoned him as part of the ongoing murder investigation into the unsolved assassination of agronomist-turned-famous journalist Jean Léopold Dominique.
At the insistence of Dominique’s widow, former radio journalist Michèle Montas, Judge Yvickel Dabresil has been trying to determine the “intellectual author” behind Dominique’s murder and that of a security guard 13 years ago in the courtyard of Dominique’s Radio Haiti-Inter in Port-au-Prince.
“It has been a long, bloody and tortuous investigation but I feel there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Will we ever find justice? I don’t know but I think we have moved forward,” Montas said.
“I hope this testimony and other crucial ones the judge has gathered in the last few months will allow the truth to finally come out on who engineered, planned the assassination and paid for the crime.”
Narcisse, who accompanied Aristide inside the courthouse, declined to say what was discussed during the secret testimony.
“Jean-Dominique was a friend, a brother to him,” Narcisse said about Aristide. “He believes that as a citizen when the justice summons him, it is his duty to collaborate … Today was an occasion for him to exercise his right as a citizen by being present in court.”
But Aristide is no ordinary Haitian citizen. The founder and head of Fanmi Lavalas, once the most powerful political party in Haiti, Aristide was twice exiled during his two separate presidencies.
Today, two years after his surprise return to Haiti following seven years in exile in South Africa, Aristide’s popularity and that of his fractured Lavalas party remain topics of debate in Haiti and outside.
“Lavalas today showed proof of our slogan: by ourselves, we are weak. Together we are strong,” said Sen. Francky Exius, referring to the thousands who followed the motorcade and lined the capital’s streets.
But while Exius and others hailed Wednesday’s relatively peaceful show of force as a “political victory” against what they say is a politically motivated maneuver by Haitian President Michel Martelly’s government to persecute their former leader, others say it was an exercise in democracy in a fragile Haiti.
“What is taking place today brings neither positive nor negative value to the Lavalas party, which lost the power many years ago and has not, since then, influenced the political, economic, and legal environment,” said Michel Eric Gaillard, a Port-au-Prince-based political analyst. “The Lavalas party is remembered as a dividing force. It remains to be seen whether they have the capacity to reinvent themselves and attract significant votes in the next election.”