PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti —
But he has many critics who say he led a corrupt government, orchestrated violent attacks on foes and was as hungry for power as the leaders he denounced. He was last ousted in 2004 in a violent rebellion that swept the country.
On Friday, Aristide was mobbed by allies and journalists outside the private plane before being hustled into an airport VIP lounge as several thousand supporters rallied in the streets outside the terminal.
"It's one of the most beautiful moments for the Haitian people," actor Danny Glover, who accompanied Aristide from South Africa, told The Associated Press as he left the VIP lounge before the ex-leader. "It's a historic moment for the Haitian people."
In the street outside the airport, people listened joyfully to remarks from Aristide on car radios.
"This man is our father. Without him we haven't lived," said 31-year-old Sainvil Petit-Frere, one of about 3,000 cheering and chanting supporters in a quickly growing crowd in the capital, Port-au-Prince. "This is the doctor who will heal the country."
Aristide compared his return to the Haitian revolution that ended slavery in 1804 in what was then a French colony.
"Today, may the Haitian people mark the end of exile and coups d'etat while peacefully moving from social exclusion to inclusion," he said with his wife, Mildred, and daughters by his side.
The multilingual Aristide spoke in Haitian Creole, English, Zulu and Spanish in his typically effusive style. "Sisters, brothers, for seven years we communicated at a distance," he said. "Today we are home together to bring peace, every day, together."
Later, thousands of people gathered outside his home in the Tabarre section of the capital, crowding around the SUV that took him from the airport and hoping he would speak. But he made no further remarks as police and security guards hustled him through hordes of supporters struggling to touch him.