PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is trying to rebuild his political party as the Caribbean nation prepares for legislative and local elections, a prominent hotelier said Sunday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Richard Morse, manager of the Hotel Oloffson, said he has met with Aristide three times in the past two weeks to discuss the possibility of his wife, Lunise Exume Morse, running under Aristide's party as a senatorial candidate in a vote that's supposed to be held by year's end. His wife attended two of the meetings, and the couple also met with a leader of Aristide's Lavalas Family party, Morse said.
"He's back, and he's trying to get good people on his team," Morse said of Aristide, who was ousted from the presidency twice. "I think he feels that his party has to become a player and bring people together."
The Morses are still considering Lunise Exume Morse's candidacy for the west department, which includes the capital of Port-au-Prince, Morse said. Married since 1989, the couple sings together in a popular voodoo-inspired rock band that performs at the Oloffson on Thursday nights.
The comment by Morse comes after widespread speculation about Aristide's political ambitions following his return to Haiti in March 2011, despite opposition from the U.S., and marks the first time Aristide has been reported to be making such moves.
Upon his return, Aristide criticized election officials for excluding his party from earlier legislative elections but then vanished from the public eye, opting to stay in his compound in the capital. His supporters said he was focusing on rebuilding his medical university.
Aristide's apparent return to Haitian politics is certain to rile foreign diplomats and the country's tiny yet powerful elite who saw him as a divisive figure. A former priest, he was beloved by the poor majority but both of his terms ended in his overthrow – the first by a military junta in 1991, the second by a violent rebellion in 2004.
Under the Haitian constitution, Aristide would be barred from running for a third term as president but could play smaller role in politics in a deeply impoversished country where there's little if any viable opposition.
"He's not a candidate," Morse said. "He's a coach. He's an adviser."
On Wednesday, Aristide is due to make his first public appearance, aside from a few remarks during a brief television appearance with President Michel Martelly in 2011, as he heads to court to answer a judge's questions about the case of a slain journalist. Lavalas spokeswoman Maryse Narcisse told Radio Espace FM on Sunday that Aristide was planning to go.
The visit to the downtown Port-au-Prince courthouse is almost certain to draw thousands of his supporters.
Haiti was supposed to have held legislative and local elections in late 2011 but political infighting prevented authorities from creating an electoral council until last month.
Narcisse said last month that Lavalas plans to run in the election.
Morse used to be one of Aristide's high-profile supporters but became one of the more outspoken critics of his presidencies in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Morse is also a first cousin to Martelly and worked as a Haitian envoy in Washington. Morse quit in January over what he described as "outright corruption" in the National Palace.
The government has said it doesn't tolerate corruption and has announced several efforts that have resulted in the arrest of people allegedly involved in theft.