Haiti Local

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Jean-Bertrand Aristide (born July 15, 1953) is a Haitian politician and former Roman Catholic priest who was President of Haiti in 1991, from 1994 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2004. Aristide's supporters laud him as "the first democratically elected leader of Haiti" and a friend of the poor. Critics claim that he became dictatorial and corrupt once in power, and was unpopular enough to be twice overthrown, first in a military coup (September 1991) and subsequently in a rebellion in which former soldiers prominently participated (February 2004). After his second ouster, he maintained from exile in South Africa that he was still the legal and legitimate president and that U.S. forces had kidnapped him.

Education and church career[]

Aristide was born in Port-Salut, Haiti. He was educated at schools in Port-au-Prince and at the College Notre Dame, graduating in 1974. He then took a course of novitiate studies in La Vega before returning to Haiti to study philosophy at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame and psychology at the State University of Haiti. After completing his post-graduate studies in 1979, he travelled in Europe, studying in Italy and Israel. Aristide returned to Haiti in 1983 for his ordination.

He was appointed curate of a small parish in Port-au-Prince and then a larger one in the La Saline slums, gaining the affectionate Creole nickname "Titide" or "Titid" (tiny Aristide). An exponent of liberation theology, he became a leading figure in the more radical wing of the Catholic faith in Haiti (the ti legliz — from the Haitian Creole for "little church"), broadcasting his sermons on the national Catholic radio station. The Duvalier regime tried repeatedly to silence him. Only the collapse of the regime in April 1986 saved him. In September 1988, Aristide was expelled from his Salesian order for "incitement to hate and violence (and) the exaltation of class struggle." [1]

In 1995 Aristide left the priesthood. In 1996 he married Mildred Trouillot, a U.S. citizen, with whom he had two daughters.

First presidency and coup[]

Following the violence at the abortive national elections of 1987, the 1990 polls were approached with caution. Aristide announced his candidacy for the presidency and following a six-week campaign, during which he dubbed his followers "Lavalas" — "the flood" or "torrent" in Haitian Creole — the "little priest" was elected President with 67 percent of the vote.

Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, becoming Haiti's second democratically elected leader (see Leslie Manigat). Like Manigat, he was forced out of office after less than a year: on September 30, 1991 a military coup d'état forced Aristide to flee. A large-scale exodus of boat people ensued. The United States Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued refugees from the previous 10 years combined.

Aristide spent his basic exile in Venezuela and then in the United States, working hard to develop international support. Under U.S. and international pressure, the military regime backed down and U.S. troops were deployed in the country. On October 15, 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti to complete his term in office. Military rule had dealt a strong blow to Haiti's weak economy and much of Aristide's time was taken with economic measures. He also purged the Haitian army of many School of the Americas trained officers and established a civilian police force. In the Assemblée Nationale elections of June 1995, a multi-party coalition, the Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL) won a convincing victory.

Aristide's first term ended in February 1996, and the constitution did not allow him to serve consecutive terms. There was some dispute over whether Aristide should serve the three years he had lost in exile prior to new elections, or whether his term in office should instead be counted strictly according to the date of his inauguration; under U.S. pressure, it was decided that the latter should be the case. René Préval, a prominent ally of Aristide and Prime Minister since 1991 under Aristide, ran during the 1995 presidential election and took 88% of the vote. This marked the first time in Haitian history that there was a peaceful and democratic transition of power.

Second presidency and rebellion[]

In late 1996, Aristide broke from the OPL and created a new political party, the Fanmi Lavalas. The OPL, holding the majority in the Sénat and the Chambre des Députés, renamed itself the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte, maintaining the OPL acronym. Elections in April 1997 for the Senate drew only about 5 percent of registered voters and were plagued with allegations of fraud, the Préval government refused to accept the results.

New elections in May 2000 occurred for almost the entire Assemblée Nationale. Opposition-owned radio stations reported turnout of around 10%, but election officials and international observers reported around 60% turnout. The FL won a sweeping victory, but the methods used by the Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) in counting the votes were rejected by opposition parties, which united as the Convergence Democratique (CD) and demanded that the elections be ignored.

Aristide won the presidential election in November 2000 with 91.8% of the vote. Most of the opposition parties boycotted this election, claiming that they had no fair chance. After the election, the Organization of American States issued a report that the election was unfair and that the methodology for counting votes was flawed. Aristide supporters have claimed that the OAS report was engineered by the U.S. solely based on hostility to the president's policies. They also have questioned why the organization waited until after the election results to challenge the methodology, saying it was aware of the vote-counting process beforehand. The International Organization of Independent Observers, a private volunteer organization, reported that the election went over smoothly and they witnessed no irregularities. [2] However, the majority of Western governments claimed the election was blatantly rigged. In response, the Clinton administration worked with the European Union to block a $500 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to Haiti, fearing that Aristide's government was corrupt and the money would go to waste.

On February 7, 2001, Aristide was sworn in for his second term as President of Haiti. That same day, the CD swore in Gerard Gourgue as head of a new provisional government. Aristide agreed to reform the CEP, but he did not include any supporters of the opposition in the new body. Jean-Marie Cherestal was made the new Prime Minister in March 2001. The CD rejected both changes and in response the Government tried to have Gourgue arrested. The economy suffered as political control stalled. Aristide made moves to placate the opposition — in June 2001 certain senators holding contested seats resigned — but talks between the FL and the CD repeatedly failed. There was an attempted coup in mid-December 2001 and Cherestal resigned in January 2002, as the economy continued to slump.

Due to the objections of the opposition, elections were not held as scheduled in late 2003, and consequently the terms of most legislators expired in January, forcing Aristide to rule by decree. He promised to organize elections within six months, but the opposition refused to accept anything less than Aristide's resignation.

Aristide's opponents continued to accuse him of being corrupt and of using violence to attack political opponents. He maintained close ties not only to the Haitian police force, but also to street gangs such as the "Cannibal Army." [3]. His government built parks and facilities for the gangs in exchange for cooperation with his government. After the assassination of the leader of the Cannibal Army, Amiot Metayer, who had begun committing excessive acts of violence, that gang turned solidly against Aristide and joined the opposition.

In January 2004, political violence between Aristide supporters and supporters of the opposition escalated sharply, and on February 5, 2004, a rebel group calling itself the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front seized control of Haiti's fourth-largest city, Gonaïves, marking the beginning of a major revolt against Aristide. By February 22, the rebels had captured Haiti's second-largest city, Cap-Haïtien, and effectively split Haiti between a rebel-held north and a government-held south. The rebellion, led by former Cap-Haïtien police chief Guy Philippe, has been referred to as a "military coup" by Aristide's lawyer, who claimed that the heavy weaponry used by the rebels were shipped in from the Dominican Republic [4].

As the end of February approached, rebels continued to advance to within miles of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Departure from Haiti[]

In the early morning of February 29, 2004, after being harshly condemned by the governments of France and the United States, Aristide flew on a US-dispatched airplane to the Central African Republic. The circumstances surrounding this flight are a matter of controversy.

According to the Washington Times,

Mr. Aristide, who accuses the United States and France of conspiring to force him out of power, filed a lawsuit in Paris last week accusing unnamed French officials of "death threats, kidnapping and sequestration" in connection with his flight to Africa.
The Bush administration insists that Mr. Aristide had personally asked for help and voluntarily boarded a U.S. plane. "He drafted and signed his letter of resignation all by himself and then voluntarily departed with his wife and his own security team," Mr. Powell said. [5]

Many media sources reported that Aristide had resigned and been refused asylum by South Africa. On March 1, 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), along with Randall Robinson, a family friend of the Aristides, each reported that Aristide had told them using a smuggled cellular telephone that he had been forced to resign against his will by United States diplomats and Marines, and that he was abducted against his will, and continued to be held hostage by an undisclosed armed military guard. [6], [7] When asked whether Aristide was guarded in the Central African Republic by French officers, the French Defense Minister answered that Aristide was protected, not imprisoned, and that he would leave when he could; and that France had many officers present in the Central African Republic following the recent events in that country, but that they did not control Aristide's comings and goings [8].

Both Maxine Waters and United States congressman Charles Rangel, [9] who also reported talking to Aristide via cellular telephone, said that Aristide said he had not been handcuffed while being led away, while the Agence France Press reported that the caretaker at Aristide's house claimed that Aristide had been handcuffed and led away at gunpoint.[10]. Other reports of Aristide being led away by heavily armed American troops have been made by an Aristide bodyguard and an Orthodox missionary [11]. Aristide told CNN that there were unidentified civilian Americans and Haitians who had forced him to resign and board the plane leaving Haiti. [12]

The United States vice-president Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell both reported that Aristide had resigned willingly [13], [14]. The Associated Press reported that the Central African Republic tried to get Aristide to stop repeating his charges to the press [15]. Aristide has further alleged that the resignation statement that is being touted was altered to remove a conditional statement in which he stated,"'If I am obliged to leave in order to avoid bloodshed." [16]; this was confirmed by a Reuters translation of Aristide's original statement, which matches up word for word except for the one line, in which the conditional has been removed. On 14 March 2004, he left the Central African Republic for Jamaica, to the dismay of the French and American governments, who felt that his presence in the area would have a destabilizing effect on Haiti. The American ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, issued a warning to Aristide to stay at least 150 miles away from Haiti at all times. Condoleezza Rice is reported to have said that she did not want him in the Western Hemisphere. [17]

After arriving in Jamaica, Aristide gave a full interview, in which he claimed the following specifics (note: The US has neither confirmed nor denied these details, but has insisted that Aristide left willingly): He had met with US ambassador James Foley on February 28, 2004 — the day before the rebels were supposed to attack the capital. Foley agreed that Aristide should go on national television to appeal to the nation to remain calm, as he had done the night before. When he arrived at his residence, it was surrounded by "thousands" of troops, mostly Americans, which made him feel intimidated. The Americans told him they would provide him security as they escorted him to the media; however, instead, they took him straight to a white unmarked airplane with a US flag on the side. He was then obliged to board, followed by US troops in full gear who changed into civilian clothes once on board. On board were his wife and 19 members of Steele Foundation, a private mercenary corporation.

Aristide's account was directly backed up by two witnesses: a pilot and Aristide aide, Franz Gabriel; and an American security guard on the security detail, who told the Washington Post about the subterfuge to lure Aristide away: "That was just bogus. It's a story they fabricated." [18]

On May 31, 2004, Aristide and his family flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, along with US Congressmen from the Congressional Black Caucus. South Africa characterized his stay as "temporary".

Since Aristide departure several high level members of his governement has been charged and plead guilty to drug trafficking including his security chief and head of airport security.

See also[]

  • Roland Perusse, historian

External links[]

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