MIAMI -- In what may be his first public statement since onetime nemesis Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier showed up in Haiti, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said he is "ready" to return to his troubled homeland.
Aristide, a two-time head-of-state, wrote a letter from South Africa, according to his former foreign press liaison, Michelle Karshan. Copies were e-mailed to a list of undisclosed recipients and it is now circulating on the Internet.
Karshan said Wednesday she received the letter "directly" from Aristide and his spokeswoman Maryse Narcisse.
If Aristide were to return, it would be come at a politically fragile time in Haiti, compounded only by Duvalier's presence in the country. One year after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, Haiti is wrestling with sluggish reconstruction, an electoral crisis and a deadly cholera outbreak.
"The purpose is very clear," according to Aristide's letter. "To contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education," Aristide wrote in the letter dated Jan. 19. "The return is indispensable, too, for medical reasons: It is strongly recommended that I not spend the coming winter in South Africa because in six years I have undergone six eye surgeries.
Aristide, a priest-turned-president who fought the Duvalier regime in the mid-1980s, could not be reached for comment Wednesday in South Africa.
Seven months after he was democratically elected in 1990 for his first term, a military junta ousted him. Three years later, a U.S. invasion restored him to power.
He went into exile a second time in 2004 amid a violent rebellion; Aristide said he was "kidnapped" by the international community.
Since he was ousted, Aristide, 57, has been a research fellow at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, where he has been teaching and presenting research papers, such as "Why African descendants are still facing poverty in Haiti." Aristide's apparent desire to return to Haiti on Wednesday comes just days after Duvalier made a surprise visit to his native country -- the despot's first trip since nationwide unrest led to the end of a brutal 29-year dynasty that ran the country until 1986.
Duvalier, the son of medical doctor-turned-tyrant Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, traveled back to Haiti on an expired diplomatic passport.
He spent his years in exile in France. On Tuesday, embezzlement and corruption charges were filed against him.
That Duvalier was able to enter Haiti without proper travel documents raises questions about Aristide's own ability to return. Aristide doesn't have a diplomatic passport, said his lawyer, Ira Kurzban, but it's been no secret that he has yearned to return home.
"The hope is that if (Aristide) gets a passport, the South African government will work in a cooperative way with the United States and other governments to make sure (he) can return to Haiti," Kurzban said.
In the letter, Aristide wrote that he was looking to return soon.
"Let us hope that the Haitian and South African governments will enter into communication in order to make that happen in the next coming days." On Monday, one day after Duvalier unexpectedly landed in Haiti, Kurzban said he and Aristide had spoken over the telephone. Kurzban declined to discuss the details.
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