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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exiled Lawmakers Return to Haiti's Parliament

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haite -- Haiti takes a hesitant step toward democracy Wednesday when parliament, shuttered for months, reopens to debate a proposed amnesty for the army officers who overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.


Eleven exiled Haitian lawmakers left Miami and headed back to their homeland to attend the session. Before they left, several said they opposed granting the military rulers amnesty, but would go along with the move in order to restore the elected government to Haiti.


"Personally I think amnesty is an immoral act," Fritz Robert St. Paul, an exiled deputy, said before leaving Miami International Airport. "But one of the conditions of the return of President Aristide is the amnesty. So we're going to do the sacrifice."


From exile in the United States, Aristide appeared on television Tuesday night and urged Haitians to move peacefully toward democracy.


"Since last week, I have seen how happy you are to welcome the American soldiers," he said on the U.S. military-run Tele Demokrasi.


He urged his countrymen to support the U.S. money-for-guns program, which began Tuesday and under which U.S. forces are offering up to $300 for each firearm turned in.


"Violence doesn't lead to democracy. Vengeance is a poison for democracy," Aristide said. "When you talk, sing and dance, avoid slipping into disorder," he cautioned, warning against "traps set by the enemies of democracy."


American troops are to provide security for the returning deputies and senators, and at Wednesday's parliamentary session. But the dominating foreign military presence is a sensitive issue in Haiti. Some lawmakers threatened to resign or not to show up if U.S. troops are posted inside the legislature.


"There will be no foreign soldiers within the parliament building," said Frantz-Robert Monde, president of the 82-member Chamber of Deputies. "The security they will give to legislators will be on the outside of the building."


Eleven other senators who were elected during military rule will be barred from the session.