Haiti's president meets with 'Baby Doc,' Aristide

October 12, 2011 - 6:15 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti's new president met with former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier on Wednesday in an effort to reconcile the Caribbean country with its troubled past.

President Michel Martelly, who on Tuesday sat down with 1988 coup leader Prosper Avril, said he aims to bring together former leaders so they can help Haiti pull together and rebuild from last year's devastating earthquake.

"We are writing a very special page in the history of Haiti," Martelly told The Associated Press after meeting for an hour with Duvalier. "It's time for us to unite."

Martelly said he hopes to meet with other former Haitian leaders soon, including his predecessor, former President Rene Preval.

Martelly said the morning meeting with Aristide at his private residence on the edge of metropolitan Port-au-Prince was spent discussing a range of topics, from education to security to reconciliation.

Martelly, a ribald musician before he was elected to the presidency in March, was once openly critical of Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest-turned-two-time president who was ousted in 1991 by a military coup and in 2004 by a ragtag group of former soldiers.

But differences were apparently set aside Wednesday.

"He received me as one of his own," Martelly said of Aristide. "We are all Haitians on this land — that's the signal we need to send out."

Martelly met in the afternoon with Duvalier for an hour at a private villa in the lush hills above Haiti's capital, where the two posed in an outdoor pavilion for images captured by national television. Longtime supporters, including Duvalier's partner Veronique Roy and attorney Reynold Georges, joined them.

Duvalier made an unexpected return in January after 25 years in exile in France. Shortly after, the former despot was charged with embezzlement, human rights abuses and other crimes but efforts to move forward on the prosecution have stalled.

Martelly said he also hopes to meet with Leslie Manigat, a professor who became president in 1988 in a vote widely considered fraudulent only to be toppled two years later. Manigat is apparently ill, Martelly said. Preval is currently out of town.

Manigat's wife, Mirlande, was Martelly's rival in the March runoff election that brought the former musician to power.

His inauguration in May marked the first time that a Haitian president, Preval, completed two terms. It was also the first time that a leader transferred power to a member of the opposition.

Avril was an army colonel who led a 1988 coup that overthrew a transitional government. He resigned two years later amid protests.