Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Aristide Years: Haitian History Part III

Jean Bertrand Aristide, formerly a Catholic priest, was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader. Widely popular among the poor, whom he served as a parish priest, Aristide won the presidential election in 1991 with 67% of the vote. But Aristide served only 8 months of his term before he was overthrown in a military coup led by Raoul Cedras. Aristide spent part of his exile in the U.S. In 1994 with the help of U.S troops, Aristide was restored to power. However, the embargo against Haiti during his enforced absence along with terror of the Cedras regime crippled Haiti’s economy. Aristide disbanded the national army, which was guilty of severe human rights violations. He finished out his aborted term in 1996. Rene Preval, Haiti’s current president, followed Aristide, serving from 1996-2000.

In 2000, Aristide ran for president again and won, this time with almost 92% of the vote. But again, Aristide was not able to serve out his full term. A rebellion led by many former army officials took control of the northern part of the country in 2004. As they were advancing to Port-au-Prince, Aristide was escorted by U.S. military to a plane and flown to the Central African Republic. Aristide asserts that he was kidnapped by the U.S. government.

Aristide is a controversial figure among many people. Some have tried to link him to drug dealings and opposition killings. Others were unhappy with him because he did not embrace American-style development. But even those who view him negatively would grudgingly admit that he was overwhelmingly elected president of the country twice. Aristide’s elections, ousters, and legacy may embody better than anything the clash in Haiti between the poor who are the majority and the rich who hold the power. It is an old story.

And things have not gotten better in the three years that Aristide’s been gone.

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