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 the meetings were part of an organized effort to bring together former leaders so they can help Haiti pull together and rebuild from last year's devastating earthquake.
The occasion, unprecedented by former Haitian leaders, prompted Aristide to make his first public speech on national television since he returned from South Africa in March after seven years in exile.
"This visit reinforces all the steps that have been made so that we can put our heads together," Aristide said in a videotape of his talk with the president while sitting with his wife, Mildred, at his side.
The National Palace released the video Wednesday night to The Associated Press.
Haiti needs "to speak, to dialogue, to unite so that the country can become more beautiful," Aristide said at his home on the edge of Port-au-Prince.
Martelly earlier told The Associated Press that the two discussed a range of topics, from education to security to reconciliation.
"We are writing a very special page in the history of Haiti," Martelly told AP after meeting with Haiti's other former leader, Duvalier. "It's time for us to unite."
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.
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 said he hopes to meet with other former Haitian leaders soon, including his predecessor, former President Rene Preval.
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 a 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.