PORT-AU-PRINCE (CBS4)- Soon after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in Haiti after seven years in exile the South Florida Haitian community began celebrating.
In South Florida, home to one of the largest Haitian communities outside of the island nation, reaction to his return was almost universally positive.
In Haiti, a small crowd of journalists, dignitaries, airport workers and former members of his security team mobbed Aristide as soon as he descended the steps of the small plane that carried him from South Africa on Friday. He waved and blew a kiss to the crowd, but made no statement before entering a VIP lounge inside the airport terminal. His wife, Mildred, wept.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the airport waving flags and photos of Aristide.
In South Florida, sozens of people turned out at a community center in Little Haiti to cheer Aristide’s return to their homeland.
“Aristide talks for us,” supporter Yvrose St. Jour said. “We need him because he’s the leader. He’s the one the Haitian people listen to.”
Calls flooded talk radio programs on Creole-language WLQY Radio, and callers celebrated for former priest’s return.
“I’m very happy. He’s a good man,” said talk show host Nelson Voltaire. “He’s a friend of the people who has done a lot of good things for the country. He’s a master of democracy of Haiti.”
Voltaire said Aristide will be able to help Haitians.
“I think he’s the only Haitian who can make peace in Haiti,” he said. “(He can) help the country and he can help all the Haitian people.”
Aristide is criticizing a decision to bar his political party from the country’s presidential elections, calling it “the exclusion of the majority.” But he will not be helping through political means, according to Aristide’s US based attorney, and that’s just fine with his compatriots in South Florida.
As the phone lines lit up at the radio station, nine out of ten callers are thrilled that Aristide is back.
“They say that today has to be a day of reconciliation. We have to live together, to have one nation, one people,” radio host Altiery LeAndre said.
South Floridian Felix Joseph admits that some people in Haiti may not want their old president back but he and other Haitians in Miami believe that Aristide will help unify the people and will plan to bring better education to the island.
Jean Murray said he’s hoping for non-violence.
“Only one thing, we don’t need violence,” Murray said. “We don’t need violence. The country is a good country.”
CBS4’s Evan Bacon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.