The Obama administration expressed surprise and worry Monday at former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier's sudden reappearance in Haiti, the country he fled 25 years ago with help from the U.S.
In a brief statement issued nearly 24 hours after Duvalier arrived in Haiti from France, the State Department said it's worried that his presence in his homeland could further upset Haiti's fragile political climate. It called his presence in Haiti a "visit," though Duvalier hasn't said publicly whether his return is permanent.
"We are surprised at the timing of this visit, given the continuing turmoil surrounding the November 28, 2010 elections as well as the unpredictable impact of Duvalier's return on Haiti's political situation,'' the statement said. "Our focus continues to be a resolution of Haiti's elections crisis that reflects the will of the Haitian people and that ensures reconstruction and humanitarian efforts proceed unabated."
The statement urged "all political actors and their supporters to remain calm and to work peacefully toward a prosperous future for Haiti.''
Canada, which has a large population of Haitian exiles, expressed similar worries.
"Our government is concerned that Haiti's former dictator has returned at a critical time in Haiti's democratic process," said Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "We urge all parties to respect Haiti's constitution, and the democracy, human rights and rule of law it represents."
U.S. officials have been grappling for months with the fallout from November's presidential election, which was marred by allegations of fraud.
The Organization of American States has declared that Haitian officials were incorrect when they named a backer of the current president, Rene Preval, as the No. 2 vote getter in the election and therefore the second candidate in a runoff. The OAS said Preval's candidate, Jude Celestine, actually ran No. 3 and that the runoff should be between Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady who was the top vote-getter, and Michel "Sweet Micky'' Martelly, a musician.
The U.S. has said it could support a new election, something 12 of the 19 candidates on the Nov. 28 ballot also favor.
The U.S. has long harbored concern that former players in Haiti's political battles would return from their exiles in hopes of regaining power.
According to confidential diplomatic cables quoted Monday on the website of The Guardian newspaper in London, the U.S. expressed worries about Duvalier's possible return as far back as 2006 — when the country was about to elect a new president.
At the time, Duvalier was holding a valid Haitian diplomatic passport he'd been issued in 2005; Haiti Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said Monday it was that passport, which expired in 2010, that Duvalier used Sunday to enter Haiti.
In the cable, a U.S. diplomat expressed worries that either Duvalier or former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — whose exile in South Africa the U.S. had helped engineer in 2004 — would return to the country.
"Both potentially were provocative and could complicate the ability of any new government to establish itself,'' the February 2006 cable said, according to The Guardian.
It quoted Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. charge d'affaires in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, as alerting the Dominican Republic's foreign minister, Carlos Morales Troncoso, about Duvalier's possible return.
"If the election were inconclusive, a return of either one could certainly make things worse,'' the cable says. "We thought that neither should be allowed back into Haiti until a newly established, functioning democratic government could make a decision itself.''
At that time, Haiti's presidential election had been long-delayed. The election to replace the interim government of Gerard Latortue had been scheduled for 2005, but wasn't held until Feb. 7, 2006. That's when Preval came to power.