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Aristide, Jean-Bertrand

Aristide, Jean-Bertrand

July 15, 1953 Port-Salut, Haiti

Political leader, priest

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president of Haiti, has had a political history as troubled as that of his country. At one time the priest-turned-politician was considered to be the savior of Haiti's poorest citizens. By 2004 many people felt that, despite his good intentions, Aristide had become a corrupt leader who was no longer capable of running his country. Aristide has twice served as president of Haiti. In 1991, less than a year after becoming the country's first democratically elected president, he was overthrown by opposition groups. He was again elected president in 2000, but in February of 2004 he left office amid controversy. U.S. officials claimed that Aristide had resigned; the ousted president has insisted that he was forced to resign. While in exile in the Central African Republic, Aristide stated that he believed he was still the legal and true president of Haiti. He told Amy Goodman on the Znet Web site, "[The people of Haiti] are still fighting in a peaceful way for their elected President. I cannot betray them."

Titide, the political priest

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born on July 15, 1953, in the fishing village of Port-Salut, Haiti, to parents who were farmers. The occupation of his parents was not uncommon, since the majority of Haitians make a small living by farming. The unique thing was that Joseph and Marie Solanges Aristide, although poor, were educated. According to statistics released by the United Nations (UN) in 2000, fifty percent of the people in Haiti cannot read or write. Joseph died when Jean-Bertrand was only three months old. Marie Solanges then packed up her young son and his older sister and moved to Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, where her children would have a better chance of receiving an education. An education, she knew, would help them rise out of poverty.

When he was six years old Aristide began studying at a primary school run by the Society of St. Francis de Sales, an order of Roman Catholic priests known as the Salesians. The main mission of the Salesians is to serve the poor. Aristide proved to be an exceptional student. In 1974 he earned a bachelor's degree from the College Notre Dame in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. He then traveled to the Dominican Republic to study for the priesthood at the Salesian Seminary. Aristide then returned to Haiti, where he studied philosophy at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame and psychology at the State University of Haiti. He also studied in Rome, Israel, and at the University of Montreal in Canada. As a result of his travels, Aristide learned to speak six languages (Spanish, English, Hebrew, Italian, German, and Portuguese), in addition to Creole, the native language of Haiti, and French, the official language of the country. He also studied music and learned to play several instruments, including guitar, piano, and saxophone.

"In order for peace to reign, one must speak the truth."

After he became a priest in 1983, Aristide was assigned to a small parish just outside Port-au-Prince called St. Joseph. He was soon transferred to St. Jean Bosco, a larger parish in the heart of the Port-au-Prince slums. Aristide quickly earned a reputation as a champion of the poor. He spent countless hours working at orphanages and youth centers in the poorest and roughest neighborhoods of the capital city. He was also known as a fiery speaker who used the pulpit to spread his political message. Although small in size (he is only five-foot four inches tall), his words were powerful. Aristide, lovingly nicknamed "Titide" (Tiny Aristide) by his followers, spoke out against the military government that had oppressed the Haitian people for most of the twentieth century.

Snapshot: History of Haiti

Haiti is a tiny country located to the south of the United States, in the Caribbean Sea. It occupies the western portion of the island of Hispaniola; the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern portion. Haiti is small, about the size of Maryland, but it is densely populated. About 95 percent of the people who live there are black; they are descendants of the African slaves who worked on the French sugar plantations early in Haiti's history.

In 1492, during his exploration of the Americas, Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola and established a Spanish settlement near the present city of Cap-Haitien. By the 1500s, more and more Spanish planters were drawn to the region and slaves from Africa were imported to work the large plantations. In 1697 Spain ceded, or transferred, the western third of the island (now Haiti) to the French. Under French rule, Haiti became one of the wealthiest communities in the Caribbean, and one of the largest producers of sugar and coffee.

By the late 1700s nearly half a million black slaves were living in Haiti. Although they comprised the majority of the population, they were at the bottom of the ethnic hierarchy. The political power was concentrated in the hands of mulattos (people of mixed black and white background) and light-skinned descendants of French landowners. This created a tension between the various groups, which simmered throughout Haiti's history. From 1791 through 1803 the country was rocked by a slave rebellion, led by General Toussaint L'Ouverture (c. 17431803), a free slave who had risen in the ranks of the French army. By 1801 General L'Ouverture controlled the entire island. That same year he established a constitution that abolished slavery. In 1804 former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines (17581806) declared Haiti an independent state, free from France's rule. Dessalines called himself emperor and seized all white-owned land.

The remainder of the nineteenth century was marked by frequent and often violent shifts in political power, with twenty-two changes of government between 1843 and 1915. In 1915, because there seemed no end to the constant conflict, the United States stepped in and occupied Haiti until 1934. Following the departure of U.S. troops, the country endured a succession of leaders. One of them was Dumarsais Estime, the first black president of the republic, who took office in 1946. Two subsequent regimes were overthrown, and six held power, before François Duvalier was elected president in 1957. In 1964, Duvalier proclaimed himself president for life. When he died in 1971, he was succeeded by his nineteen-year-old son, Jean-Claude.

Takes on the Tontons

In particular, Aristide denounced the Duvaliers, a family of Haitians who had been in power since the late 1950s. Until the family was overthrown in 1986, both François "Papa Doc" Duvalier (19071971) and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" (1951), ruled the country through military might. "Papa Doc" created a private army, known as the Tontons Macoutes, whose sole purpose was to rid the country of all opposition. Anyone suspected of opposing the Duvaliers was bullied, kidnapped, or murdered. The army also swept the streets, robbing and killing at random. The people of Haiti lived in constant terror. The majority of them also lived in squalor, since the Duvaliers and their followers, who made up about ten percent of the population, controlled all the wealth.

The Duvaliers, and the military governments that came after them, felt threatened by Aristide. He was a charismatic man, whose kind heart was apparent to the hundreds of people who crowded his church services. He was also being heard across the country, since his sermons were broadcast on the Roman Catholic station, Radio Soleil. As a result, the number of Aristide's followers was growing by the thousands. In addition, Aristide's sermons were starting to become more radical, as he called for the masses to rise up and claim their rights. Although the tiny priest did not condone violence as a means for change, he did not discourage it, either. As a matter of fact, Aristide was known for quoting a certain passage from the Bible: "And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one" (Luke 22: 36).

The military rulers demanded that the Catholic Church stop Aristide from stirring up the Haitian people. When church leaders were unable to do so, the Tontons stepped in. Several attempts were made on Aristide's life, and on September 11, 1988, his church was attacked while he was saying mass. More than a dozen people were killed, over seventy were seriously wounded, and St. Jean Bosco was burned to the ground. Two weeks later, Aristide was expelled from the Salesian Order and the Vatican (the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome) ordered him to transfer out of Haiti.

Following the attacks, Aristide's followers became more loyal than ever. They viewed him as a true holy man, a prophet who would lead them out of their misery. And because he had escaped death over and over, they called him "Mister Miracles." When news got out that Aristide was going to be transferred, tens of thousands of Haitians stormed the streets in what would become the largest demonstration in Haiti's history. They physically blocked access to the airport, forcing Aristide to remain in the country. Aristide stayed and continued to help the poor, even though he had no official church. He helped create a medical center, ran a halfway house for young runaways, and established workshops so that people could become skilled craftsmen.

First presidency: 1991

By the end of the 1980s the military force in Haiti had escalated out of control. World peacekeeping organizations such as the UN and the Organization of American States finally stepped in and demanded that a free election take place. At first Aristide was reluctant to become a presidential candidate. His followers, fearful that the Tontons would take control, begged him to run. On October 18, 1990, Aristide entered the race and called his campaign the Lavalas (cleansing flood). A record number of Haitians flocked to the polls, eager to vote in the country's first free election. Aristide won by a landslide, taking almost 68 percent of the popular vote. Aristide supporters danced in the streets, sure that their nightmare was over. Aristide's opposition, composed of the wealthy and the military, viewed him as a threat to their way of life.

Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, determined to focus on social reform. One of his goals was to launch a national literacy program so that even the poorest Haitians could learn how to support themselves. He was also determined to purge the government of corrupt officials from former administrations. Many leaders were asked to retire; some army officers, judges, and police suspected of past violence were jailed. There was an uneasy peace in Haiti, but it did not last long.

It soon became obvious that Aristide, suspicious of the past, could not work with opposition leaders who remained in office. In addition, he formed his own personal army of street gangs who were encouraged to avenge past wrongs. Such eye-for-an-eye justice disturbed many outside of Haiti. The country's military opposition resurfaced, and on September 30, 1991, just seven months into his term, Aristide was overthrown by Raoul Cedras (1950), a general in the Haitian military.

The Tontons Macoutes was re-formed as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, and Cedras launched a new reign of terror. Anyone aligned with Aristide was silenced, which resulted in public executions and widespread torture. Aristide, who had fled to Venezuela and then to the United States, pleaded with world leaders for help. International peacekeeping groups, including the UN and the United States, responded. For almost three years they exerted pressure, both economic and military, to reinstate Aristide. Over and over again their efforts stalled. In September of 1994, more than twenty thousand U.S. troops were sent to Haiti to face the Cedras regime, and a month later Aristide was finally allowed to return to his country and serve out the remainder of his term. According to the constitution of Haiti, a president's term lasts five years.

When Aristide's term ended in February of 1996, he was not allowed to run again, since the constitution of Haiti does not allow for consecutive terms. Aristide was succeeded by Réné Préval, an ally of Aristide and his prime minister since 1991.

Second presidency: 2001

In 1994 Aristide resigned from the priesthood. Not because he had lost his faith, he explained to Patrick Samway in America, but "because it gave me the free space in which to work." In 1996 he married Mildred Trouillot, a lawyer who had served as an adviser to Aristide's government. After leaving office and resigning from the priesthood, Aristide continued to fight for the underprivileged, in Haiti as well as around the world. For example, he founded the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, an organization that worked to find solutions to problems facing developing nations.

Aristide also began work on a campaign to become the president of Haiti for a second time. In late 1996 he formed a new political party, the Fanmi Lavalas (FL), or the Lavalas Family Party. The FL swept the Senate elections in May of 2000. Haiti's legislative body, like the U.S. Congress, is divided into two houses: the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Parties who opposed Aristide merged to form the Convergence Democratique (CD) and claimed that the elections were fixed. The CD boycotted the November of 2000 presidential elections, and when Aristide walked away with almost 92 percent of the popular vote, they cried foul. Since Aristide had run virtually unopposed, they did not accept him as the true president. When Aristide took over the presidency on February 7, 2001, the CD named Gerard Gourgue as the head of its own government.

The Haiti that Aristide inherited in 2001 was utterly in ruins. The unemployment rate was at an all-time high, roads were impassable, education and health care were in short supply, and drug trafficking was widespread. Once considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti had become one of the poorest countries in the world. Aristide promised to create jobs and to provide basic necessities, including safe housing and access to clean water. Because of constant conflict with the CD, however, Aristide had little time to make good on his campaign slogan of "Peace in the mind, peace in the belly."

In December of 2001, opposition forces attempted to overthrow Aristide. Aristide supporters responded by setting fire to CD headquarters. The result was a continuing battle between political forces. As a result Haiti continued its downward spiral, and by 2003 the country was in worse shape than ever. In April the UN declared Haiti to be in a state of emergency. According to UN reports, 56 percent of Haitians suffered from malnutrition and only 46 percent had access to clean drinking water.

End of the Aristide era

By the end of 2003 many groups in Haiti, including labor unions and human rights organizations, were calling for Aristide to resign. Even some of his most loyal supporters felt betrayed. In February of 2004 a rebel group calling itself the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front seized Gonaives, Haiti's fourth largest city. The group was led by Guy Philippe, a former police chief. By late February the rebels controlled Haiti's second largest city, Cap-Haitien, which caused Haiti to be split directly in half, with Aristide in control in the south and rebel groups controlling the north.

Aristide's security forces, known as the chimeres, battled the rebel army, but they also clashed with any group that opposed the president. They attacked student protesters with machetes, pistols, and rocks, and roamed the streets looting stores, burning cars, and sometimes killing innocent people. Hundreds of Haitians were killed or wounded in the crossfire.

During peace negotiations that ensued, the rebel leaders would accept nothing but Aristide's resignation. Aristide held fast and refused to step down until the end of his term in 2006. By late February, the international community was again poised to intervene. In a February 27, 2004, address reported on the CNN Web site, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (1937) made a plea: "I know Aristide has the interest of the Haitian people at heart. I hope that he will examine [the decision to resign] carefully considering the interests of the Haitian people."

On February 29, 2004, Aristide reportedly took the plea to heart. In the early hours of the morning he signed documents to officially resign, and then boarded a plane and flew to the Central African Republic. At first the press reported that Aristide had resigned of his own free will, but Aristide began to give interviews that suggested otherwise. According to Steve Miller and Joseph Curl of the Washington Times, the president-in-exile accused the United States of kidnapping him. In an interview with the Associated Press and CNN, Aristide declared, "[My captors] were not Haitian forces. They were ... Americans and Haitians together, acting to surround the airport, my house, the palace. Agents were telling me that if I don't leave they would start shooting and killing in a matter of time."

U.S. officials denied the accusations. In the same Washington Times article, Secretary of State Powell responded that "Mr. Aristide was not kidnapped. We did not force him on the airplane. He went on the plane willingly.... It was Mr. Aristide's decision to resign." In interview after interview, Aristide insisted that he was forced out of his country. He also insisted that he was not a man of violence, but a man of peace. In a March 8, 2004, interview on the CNN Web site, he commented, "Before the elections of the year 2000, which led me for the second time to the National Palace in Haiti, I had talked about peace. And throughout in the National Palace, throughout my tenure, I talked about peace. And today I continue to talk about peace."

Nowhere to go

In 2004, however, Haiti was not a peaceful country. By April, nearly four thousand troops from the United States, Canada, France, and Chile were stationed there trying to keep the peace. It was hoped that elections would result in a new democratic government, but considering the country's history, the outlook was grim. One thing was certain: Aristide would not be returning home. As provisional president Boniface Alexandre commented to Robert Novak of CNN, "He cannot come back to Haiti."

In March of 2004 Aristide received temporary asylum in Jamaica, and in June he and his family took up residence in South Africa. Many in South Africa were not eager to accept him, but government officials agreed to open its doors, seeing the situation as a temporary one. In a press conference on May 31, as quoted on AllAfrica.com, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad welcomed the ousted president, saying, "President Aristide, his family and aides will remain in the country until the situation in Haiti has stabilized to the extent that they can return."

For More Information

Books

"Jean-Bertrand Aristide." Contemporary Black Biography. Volume 6. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 1994.

"Jean-Bertrand Aristide." Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003.

"Haiti." Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, 10th ed., 6 vols. Gale Group, 2001.

Periodicals

Padgett, Tim, and Kathie Klarreich. "One More Show of Force: The U.S. Military Returns to Haiti to Try to Stop the Violence." Time (March 15, 2004).

Samway, Patrick H. "Rebuilding Haiti: An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide." America (February 15, 1997): p. 12.

Samway, Patrick H. "When Mayhem is the Rule." Time (March 8, 2004).

Web Sites

Bowman, Jo. "Aristide Begins Asylum in South Africa." AllAfrica.com: South Africa. (June 2, 2004) http://allafrica.com/stories/200406020177.html (accessed on June 9, 2004).

Goodman, Amy. "Goodman Interviews Aristide." ZNet (March 8, 2004). http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=36&ItemID=5111 (accessed May 4, 2004).

Koinange, Jeff, Lucia Newman, and Barbara Starr. "Aristide Appeals for Peace in Haiti." CNN (March 8, 2004). http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/americas/03/08/haiti (accessed on May 5, 2004).

Miller, Steve, and Joseph Curl. "Aristide Accuses U.S. of Forcing His Ouster." Washington Times (March 2, 2004). http://www.washtimes.com/national/20040302-124204-5668r.htm (accessed on May 5, 2004).

Newman, Lucia, John King, and John Zarrella. "Powell to Aristide: Do What's Best for Haitian People." CNN (February 27, 2004). http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/americas/02/27/haiti.revolt0630/index.html (accessed on May 5, 2004).

Novak, Robert. "Haiti after Aristide." CNN (March 25, 2004). http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/03/25/haiti (accessed on May 5, 2004).

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Aristide, Jean-Bertrand 1953–

Jean-Bertrand Aristide 1953

Haitian president, priest

Began Struggle for Haitis Poor

Entered Politics Reluctantly

Encouraged Unrest

Made Appeals for Help

Selected writings

Sources

Jean-Bertrand Aristide shaped Haitian politics since the early 1980s, as a priest, president, and exiled statesman. The populist priest, known for his impassioned speeches and his activist role against Haitis repressive government, was first elected president of the island nation in 1990, thereby becoming the first official elected by democratic process in Haiti in almost 200 years. Only eight months after Aristide took office, he was ousted from Haiti in a bloody coup detat led by disgruntled military leaders and police forces. With a near total embargo imposed on Haiti by the United Nations and the mounting threat of international military intervention on Aristides behalf, Aristide returned to power in 1994. Precluded by the Haitian constitution from succeeding himself, Aristide did not run for reelection in 1996 and was replaced by Rene Preval. Reelected in 2000, Aristide reluctantly resigned from office on February 29, 2004, under pressure from the United States, France, and other countries after doubts about the legitimacy of the earlier election process came to light.

Aristides popularity with the Haitian masses was unquestioned, but detractors in his homeland and elsewhere sought to discredit both his presidencies. Some political observers have suggested that he was so transfixed by his role as leader of the oppressed that he ignored political realitythe need to involve the legislature, the mercantile elite, and other constituencies in his crusade to redirect his embattled country. Others have questioned his commitment to human rights in the wake of Haitis unprecedented violence, and still others have intimated that he may suffer from mental illness. Time magazine reporter Edward Barnes noted, however, that while nagging doubts remain about Aristides character and ability, nevertheless, Haitis overall human-rights record improved during his brief presidency. Similar questions about Aristide arose during his second presidency that started in 2000.

Began Struggle for Haitis Poor

The first child of a farming family living on Haitis southern coast, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born on July 15, 1953. Aristide might have been just another disenfranchised, illiterate commoner were it not for his mother, a devout Roman Catholic who saw education as the means by which her children could rise above poverty. After her husband died when Jean-Bertrand was just three months old, she decided to live as a single woman. She never accepted another husband, despite the offers of marriage she had, because she wanted to guarantee our education, Aristide told Interview magazine. She feared our having a stepfather who did not share her vision for her children. At six Aristide was sent to a primary school run by the Society of St. Francis de Sales, or the Salesian order, one of whose central tenets was serving the poor. He proved to be a good student who eventually obtained a degree in psychology from a Haitian university and studied biblical theology in Israel.

While in Jerusalem, Aristide began to focus on the plight of his less fortunate Haitian brethren and the injustices heaped upon them. In articles for Haitis

At a Glance

Born on July 15, 1953, in Port-Salut, Haiti. Education: Universite dEtat, Haiti, BA, 1979; studied in Israel, Egypt, Canada, Italy, and Great Britain. Religion: Roman Catholic.

Career: Salesian Order, ordained priest, 1982-89; led popular uprising against Haitian leader Jean-Claude Duvalier, 1986; Haitian government, president, 1991, 1994-95, 2000-04; Aristide Foundation for Democracy, founder, 1995; Fanmi Lavalas political party, founder, 1995.

Awards: Martin Luther King International Statesman and Ecumenical Award; Aix-la-Chappelle Peace Prize; Pax Christi Maine, Oscar Romero Award, 1993; UNESCO Prize for Human Rights, 1996.

Addresses: c/o Haitian Embassy, 2311 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008,

Catholic newspaper, Aristide placed the blame for social conditions largely on the shoulders of the ruling Duvalier family, who since 1957 had used predatory economic policies to enrich themselves and the elite class, and who had used death squadsthe notorious Tontons Macoutes to silence any voices raised in dissent. Aristide bemoaned the unfulfilled promise of this former French slave colony, which had gained its independence at the turn of the nineteenth century. He returned to Haiti for his ordination as a Catholic priest in 1982 and was assigned to a small church serving many of the capital citys slum dwellers.

The pulpit became a platform for the young would-be reformer. In impassioned, incisive sermons, Aristide urged the people to rise up against the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, son of the dynastic patriarch Francois, and to demand a Haiti in which political fair play replaced corruption and democracy replaced dictatorship. The death squads, he said, should not enjoy their free reign of intimidation. As Anthony P. Maingot put it in Current History, Advocating the right of the common people to defend themselves, Aristide would quote from the Gospel of St. Luke, where Christ is cited as saying,And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.

The Haitian government was clearly threatened by this rabble-rousing priest but feared the backlash if he were to be silenced by the traditional means: murder. Instead, pressure was put on the Haitian hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, many of whose members had been appointed by the Duvaliers, to send Aristide into exile. In 1982 he was dispatched to Montreal, Canada, where he studied biblical theology for three years. Aristides reformist zeal could not be suppressed, however, and when he returned to Haiti he played an important role in mobilizing the people to rise up against Duvalier. The dictator was forced to flee in 1986, but the celebration of his regimes collapse was short-lived. A new government, a military junta headed by Lt. General Henri NamphyDuvaliers hand-picked successorcontinued with the same brutal tactics that had become a staple of Haitian politics. In those dark days, Aristides emerged as one of the strongest voices against what was called Duvalierism without Duvalier.

Once again the government sought to still Aristide by prevailing upon the Salesian order to silence him. The church again obliged, reassigning the radical priest to a small parish at Croix-des-Missions, a wealthy community whose residents included Namphy and a number of Tontons Macoutes. But when several youths in Aristides old parish heard of the impending transfer, they began a hunger strike, a nonviolent protest that was new to Haitis political landscape. Paul Farmer wrote in America: As days went by, more and more people came to pray over the fasting young men and women, who called upon the bishops to state unambiguously their support for the poor. Aristides transfer, said the strikers, was out of the question. The church leaders, thinking it would be unseemly to call for police support to quell a nonviolent protest, were forced to concede. In attempting to suppress Aristide, the church had instead given the Prophet, as he was widely known, more power and prominence than he had had before.

Similarly empowering, though more tragic, was the massacre of September 11, 1988. As Aristide was beginning his morning mass that day, a band of 100 Tontons Macoutes, armed with sticks, knives, guns, and machetes, stormed the church, killing 13 parishioners, wounding 70, and burning the building to the ground. The army and police, standing outside, took no action. Aristide, having escaped this and other brushes with death, became known as Mister Miracles, a title that further enhanced his Messianic image. This assassination attempt, more than any other, sent shock waves through the community. Less than a week later a group of young, noncommissioned officers overthrew Namphy. In his place came Lt. General Prosper Avril, who had been a loyal servant of the Duvaliers but was now hailed by the United States governmentwhich a year earlier had denounced Aristide as a communistas the best chance for delivering democratic reform. Meanwhile, in a repetition of the past, the Salesians ordered Aristide to leave the country. On the scheduled day of his departure, tens of thousands of supporters rallied in the streets and blocked access to the airport, making the priests exit physically impossible. Although Aristide was successfully kept in Haiti by his worshippers, the Salesiansciting his encouragement of violence and exaltation of the class struggleformally expelled him from the order.

While sullen over his expulsion, Aristide continued working with the poor and disaffected, seeing more clearly than ever that the entire country was his parish. He founded a school that offered classes in language, linguistics, psychology, and economics, and established workshops that trained young people in crafts that could help them make a living. Political conditions in Haiti also made it difficult for Aristide to slip into obscurity. The Avril government, facing a collapse of military discipline, a rising crime rate, labor strikes, and roving gangs, was toppled in March of 1990. The new leader, Supreme Court justice Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, recognized that the state machinery was in an advanced state of decay. The government was unable to collect taxes and pay its employees, and petty corruption was widespread. Pascal-Trouillot announced that elections would take place in December, 1990. When Roger Lafontant, Minister of the Interior under Duvalier and leader of the Tontons Macoutes, announced his candidacy for president, many Haitians feared that dark days would return. Aristide was seen as the only figure who could prevent this relapse.

Entered Politics Reluctantly

Aristide, who had said as early as May, 1990, that he was not interested in seeking political office, was skeptical of the upcoming elections. He was quoted in America as having written: The election drums are sounding, but for what kind of elections? Without judgment, many of the criminals will return to the polling place, even more demonic, to drink the peoples blood, to kill people, to burn, to empty guns into radio stations, to fire on rectories, to hunt down priests, to hunt down lay people, to persecute the organizations of the people. But the chorus calling for an Aristide candidacy drowned out his cynical pronouncements, and he entered the field.

In the first free and fair election in Haitis 187-year history, 85 percent of the electorate went to the polls. Aristide garnered an astonishing 67 percent of the popular vote. None of the other 11 candidates received more than 14 percent. Aristides inauguration in February of 1991 validated in many ways the hopes that his supporters had pinned on him. He took the oath of office not in French, the language of Haitis elite, but in Creole, the tongue of the masses. He received the official presidential sash from a peasant woman who, with the help of four homeless boys, placed it over his shoulder. In his inaugural address, Aristide ordered six of the countrys seven highest-ranking generalsmen associated with the violence of the old guardto retire.

At first it appeared that Aristide, though the 40th president of Haiti, was the first president of a new type of country. The United States restored and doubled its previously suspended direct aid to the Haitian government, and Aristide secured a $422 million loan from a World Bank-led consortium. The new president also jailed army officers, judges, and police who had been involved in corruption and violence, and he initiated a national literacy program and ambitious agrarian reform. Business in the capital city of Port-au-Prince was booming, and Aristide began concerted attempts to weed patronage out of government. Leading opposition figures pledged to resolve their policy differences with Aristide in the Parliament, rather than in the street.

Encouraged Unrest

Although the international community embraced Aristide, the political rebirth of Haiti was troubled. Most damaging to the presidents imageand most worrisome to the armywas the fact that Aristide seemed to encourage street justice and mob violence as a means of avenging past actions of the military and recurring waves of dissent. In August, 1991, when Aristide faced a no-confidence vote in the legislature, his partisans gathered in the thousands outside the Parliament building with stacks of old tires and matchesthe increasingly popular tools of murder known as necklaces when placed around a victims neck and set on fire. The legislature backed down from voting. The New Yorker quoted Aristide as saying that the burning tire is a beautiful device, which smells good and everywhere you go you want to breathe it. Such rhetoric would return to haunt Aristide in 1993 when he sought help from the United States to restore his presidency.

The no-confidence vote in 1991 was called largely because Aristide, in the eyes of some of his critics, had forgotten that the presidential sash brought a different set of responsibilities than the priests collar. He could no longer act unilaterally, but needed to involve the legislature and the small mercantile elite in his grand schemes for a new Haiti. Instead he alienated the Parliament, the army, and especially the elite, who drew his scorn. Some feared that the populist leader had been so conditioned by the murderousness of his past enemies that he was unprepared to listen to those who genuinelyand peacefullydisagreed with him.

In September of 1991, just a few days after he had delivered a triumphant address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Aristide was swept from office in a military coup. The deposed leader took refuge in the United States, meeting with President George Bush and later Bill Clinton in search of an alliance that would return him to the presidential palace. In the meantime, the new illegitimate government of Haitiheaded by armed forces chief Lt. General Raoul Cedrasconsolidated its power with new waves of violence and repression. Haitis problems spilled over onto American shores with the arrival of thousands of refugees demanding political asylum in the United States.

Made Appeals for Help

Aristide took his case to the American people, to the United States government, and to the United Nations, imploring other powerful nations to use economic sanctions against an increasingly isolated Haiti. By 1993 the international community responded with an oil and gasoline embargo and other sanctions against the country. The economic pressures brought Cedras to the negotiating table in the spring of 1993, and a provisional agreement was brokered that would return Aristide to power on October 30, 1993. As that deadline approached, however, the illegitimate rulers of Haiti sought waysby diplomacy and forceto scuttle the plans. The week before the deadline, armed civilians prevented a United States warship from docking at Port-au-Prince to facilitate Aristides return. Elsewhere in the city, foreigners were attacked by mobs. Aristide remained in exile, and expanded economic sanctions against Haiti produced widespread shortages and privation there.

Some observers began to speculate that only an intervention by American armed forces would restore Aristide to power in Haiti. Indeed, it did. In 1994 Aristide resumed his official place as Haitian president with the support of 20,000 U.S. troops. But when he returned to Haiti, Aristides term was almost over and the Haitian constitution prevented him from succeeding himself. His longtime adviser Rene Preval was elected to the presidency on December 17, 1995.

But Aristide did not leave politics. He formed the Aristide Foundation for Democracy and a new political party, the Fanmi Lavalas, in 1997. He regained the presidency in 2000. The enormous success the Fanmi Lavalas candidates had gaining seats in that election prompted many to suspect the elections legitimacy. Calls for Aristides resignation mounted and the United Nations suspended financial aid to the country, which was crucial to Aristides ability to improve Haitis domestic and economic troubles.

Aristide survived an attempted coup in 2001, but pressure from throughout the country and the international community continued to rise. By February of 2004 an opposition movement instigated violence in several Haitian towns. The increasing violence and the request of both the United States and France for Aristides resignation led to the end of Aristides presidency on February 29, 2004. He left the country and found permanent asylum in South Africa by May. Haiti continues to flounder in the aftermath of Aristides latest exile and observers wonder if the rebels will again take control of the country. It has yet to be seen if the United Nations Stabilization Mission will be able to fulfill its charge to stabilize the country, ensure democratic governance supported by free and fair elections, and ensure the rule of law and function of human rights institutions and groups.

Selected writings

La vérité! En vérité!: dossier de défense présenté à la Sacrée Congrégation pour les religieux et les instituts séculiers, Le Natal, 1989.

In the Parish of the Poor: Writings from Haiti, translated and edited by Amy Wilentz, Orbis Books, 1990.

(With Christophe Wargny) Tout homme est un homme =Tout moun se moun, Editions du Seuil, 1992; translated by Linda M. Maloney as Aristide: An Autobiography, Orbis Books, 1993.

(With Christophe Wargny) Dignité, Editions du Seuil, 1994, translated by Carrol F. Coates as Dignity, University Press of Virginia, 1996.

(With Fiona Houston) Peace, Justice, and Power: My Return to Haiti, the United States, and the New World Order, National Press Books, 1995.

Investir dans lhumain: livre blanc de fanmi lavalas sous la direction de Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1999.

Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization, Common Courage Press, 2000.

Sources

Books

Abbott, Elizabeth, Haiti, Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Anthony, Suzanne, Haiti, Chelsea House, 1989.

Chambers, Frances, Haiti, ABC-CLIO, 1983.

Morse, Richard M., ed., Haitis Future: Views of Twelve Haitian Leaders, Wilson Center Press, 1988.

Stotzky, Irwin P., Silencing the Guns in Haiti: The Promise of Deliberative Democracy, University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Periodicals

America, March 9, 1991, p. 260.

Current History, February 1992, p. 65.

Economist, April 24, 2004, p. 38.

Emerge, June 1993, p. 22.

Interview, October 1991, p. 89.

New Republic, October 28, 1991, p. 17.

Newsweek, March 8, 1993, p. 6; August 30, 1993, p. 43; October 25, 1993, p. 25; November 1,1993, p. 34; December 6, 1993, p. 33.

New Yorker, October 21, 1991, p. 29.

New York Review of Books, March 26, 1992, p. 62.

New York Times, March 16, 1993, p. A13.

New York Times Upfront, April 26, 2004, p. 14.

Time, April 26, 1993, p. 10; November 1, 1993, p. 27.

On-line

CNN, www.cnn.com (June 3, 2004).

Tom and Sara Pendergast

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Aristide, Jean-Bertrand 1953–

Jean-Bertrand Aristide 1953

Haitian priest and politician

At a Glance

President by a Landslide

Political Turmoil Brewed

Ousted from Office

An Uncertain Future

Selected writings

Sources

Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been a force in Haitian politics since the early 1980s. The populist priest, known for his impassioned speeches and his activist role against Haitis repressive government, was elected president of the island nation in 1990, thereby becoming the first official elected by democratic process in Haiti in almost 200 years. Only seven months later Aristide was ousted from Haiti in a bloody coup detat led by disgruntled military leaders. As of late 1993 he remained in exile despite severe economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the threat of military intervention on his behalf by the United States. Although supported by the majority of Haitis impoverished populace, Aristide is opposed by an army of gun-toting desperadoes who murder at will in a frenzied attempt to keep the elected president and his followers at bay.

Aristides popularity with the Haitian masses is unquestioned, but detractors in his homeland and elsewhere have sought to discredit his presidency. Some political observers have suggested that he is so transfixed by his role as leader of the oppressed that he ignores political realitythe need to involve the legislature, the mercantile elite, and other constituencies in his crusade to redirect his embattled country. Others have questioned his commitment to human rights in the wake of Haitis unprecedented violence, and still others have intimated that he may suffer from mental illness. Time magazine reporter Edward Barnes noted, however, that while nagging doubts remain about Aristides character and ability, nevertheless, Haitis overall human-rights record improved during his brief presidency.

The first child of a farming family living on Haitis southern coast, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born July 15, 1953. Aristide might have been just another disenfranchised, illiterate commoner were it not for his mother, a devout Roman Catholic who saw education as the means by which her children could rise above poverty. After her husband died when Jean-Bertrand was just three months old, she decided to live as a single woman. She never accepted another husband, despite the offers of marriage she had, because she wanted to guarantee our education, Aristide told Interview magazine. She feared our having a stepfather who did not share her vision for her children. At six Aristide was sent to a primary school run by the Society of St. Francis de Sales, or the Salesian order, one of whose central tenets was serving the poor. He proved to be a good student who eventually obtained a degree in psychology from a Haitian university and studied biblical theology in Israel.

At a Glance

Born July 15, 1953, in Port-Salut, Haiti. Education: Universite dEtat, Haiti, B.A., 1979; studied in Israel, Egypt, Canada, Italy, and Great Britain. Religion: Roman Catholic.

Ordained priest in the Salesian Order, 1982; led popular uprising against Haitian leader Jean-Claude Duvalier, 1986; expelled from order, 1988; elected Haitian president in first free and fair elections, 1990; deposed in coup detat, 1991; in exile, 1991.

Addresses: c/o Haitian Embassy, 2311 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008.

While in Jerusalem, Aristide began to focus on the plight of his less fortunate Haitian brethren and the injustices heaped upon them. In articles for Haitis Catholic newspaper, Aristide placed the blame for social conditions largely on the shoulders of the ruling Duvalier family, who since 1957 had used predatory economic policies to enrich themselves and the elite class, and who had used death squadsthe notorious Tontons Macoutes to silence any voices raised in dissent. Aristide bemoaned the unfulfilled promise of this former French slave colony, which had gained its independence at the turn of the nineteenth century. He returned to Haiti for his ordination as a Catholic priest in 1982 and was assigned to a small church serving many of the capital citys slum dwellers.

The pulpit became a platform for the young would-be reformer. In impassioned, incisive sermons, Aristide urged the people to rise up against Jean-Claude Duvalier, son of the dynastic patriarch François, and to demand a Haiti in which political fair play replaced corruption and democracy replaced dictatorship. The death squads, he said, should not enjoy their free reign of intimidation. As Anthony P. Maingot put it in Current History, Advocating the right of the common people to defend themselves, Aristide would quote from the Gospel of St. Luke, where Christ is cited as saying, And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.

The Haitian government was clearly threatened by this rabble-rousing priest but feared the backlash if he were to be silenced by the traditional means: murder. Instead, pressure was put on the Haitian hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, many of whose members had been appointed by the Duvaliers, to send Aristide into exile. In 1982 he was dispatched to Montreal, Canada, where he studied biblical theology for three years. Aristides reformist zeal could not be suppressed, however, and when he returned to Haiti he played an important role in mobilizing the people to rise up against Duvalier. The dictator was forced to flee in 1986, but the celebration of his regimes collapse was short-lived. A new government, a military junta headed by Lt. General Henri NamphyDuvaliers hand-picked successorcontinued with the same brutal tactics that had become a staple of Haitian politics. In those dark days, Aristides emerged as one of the strongest voices against what was called Duvalierism without Duvalier.

Once again the government sought to still Aristide by prevailing upon the Salesian order to silence him. The church again obliged, reassigning the radical priest to a small parish at Croix-des-Missions, a wealthy community whose residents included Namphy and a number of Tontons Macoutes. But when several youths in Aristides old parish heard of the impending transfer, they began a hunger strike, a nonviolent protest that was new to Haitis political landscape. Paul Farmer wrote in America: As days went by, more and more people came to pray over the fasting young men and women, who called upon the bishops to state unambiguously their support for the poor. Aristides transfer, said the strikers, was out of the question. The church leaders, thinking it would be unseemly to call for police support to quell a nonviolent protest, were forced to concede. In attempting to suppress Aristide, the church gave the Prophet, as he was widely known, more power and prominence than he had had before.

Similarly empowering, though more tragic, was the massacre of September 11, 1988. As Aristide was beginning his morning mass that day, a band of 100 Tontons Macoutes, armed with sticks, knives, guns, and machetes, stormed the church, killing 13 parishioners, wounding 70, and burning the building to the ground. The army and police, standing outside, took no action. Aristide, having escaped this and other brushes with death, became known as Mister Miracles, a title that further enhanced his Messianic image. This assassination attempt, more than any other, sent shock waves through the community. Less than a week later a group of young, noncommissioned officers overthrew Namphy. In his place came Lt. General Prosper Avril, who had been a loyal servant of the Duvaliers but was now hailed by the United States governmentwhich a year earlier had denounced Aristide as a communistas the best chance for delivering democratic reform. Meanwhile, in a repetition of the past, the Salesians ordered Aristide to leave the country. On the scheduled day of his departure, tens of thousands of supporters rallied in the streets and blocked access to the airport, making the priests exit physically impossible. Although Aristide was successfully kept in Haiti by his worshippers, the Salesiansciting his encouragement of violence and exaltation of the class struggleformally expelled him from the order.

While sullen over his expulsion, Aristide continued working with the poor and disaffected, seeing more clearly than ever that the entire country was his parish. He founded a school that offered classes in language, linguistics, psychology, and economics, and established workshops that trained young people in crafts that could help them make a living. Political conditions in Haiti also made it difficult for Aristide to slip into obscurity. The Avril government, facing a collapse of military discipline, a rising crime rate, labor strikes, and roving gangs, was toppled in March of 1990. The new leader, Supreme Court justice Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, recognized that the state machinery was in an advanced state of decay. The government was unable to collect taxes and pay its employees, and petty corruption was widespread. Pascal-Trouillot announced that elections would take place in December, 1990. When Roger Lafontant, Minister of the Interior under Duvalier and leader of the Tontons Macoutes, announced his candidacy for president, many Haitians feared that dark days would return. Aristide was seen as the only figure who could prevent this relapse.

President by a Landslide

Aristide, who had said as early as May, 1990, that he was not interested in seeking political office, was skeptical of the upcoming elections. He was quoted in America as having written: The election drums are sounding, but for what kind of elections? Without judgment, many of the criminals will return to the polling place, even more demonic, to drink the peoples blood, to kill people, to burn, to empty guns into radio stations, to fire on rectories, to hunt down priests, to hunt down lay people, to persecute the organizations of the people. But the chorus calling for an Aristide candidacy drowned out his cynical pronouncements, and he entered the field.

In the first free and fair election in Haitis 187-year history, 85 percent of the electorate went to the polls. Aristide garnered an astonishing 67 percent of the popular vote. None of the other 11 candidates received more than 14 percent. Aristides inauguration in February of 1991 validated in many ways the hopes that his supporters had pinned on him. He took the oath of office not in French, the language of Haitis elite, but in Creole, the tongue of the masses. He received the official presidential sash from a peasant woman who, with the help of four homeless boys, placed it over his shoulder. In his inaugural address, Aristide ordered six of the countrys seven highest-ranking generalsmen associated with the violence of the old guardto retire.

At first it appeared that Aristide, though the 40th president of Haiti, was the first president of a new type of country. The United States restored and doubled its previously suspended direct aid to the Haitian government, and Aristide secured a $422 million loan from a World Bank-led consortium. The new president also jailed army officers, judges, and police who had been involved in corruption and violence, and he initiated a national literacy program and ambitious agrarian reform. Business in the capital city of Port-au-Prince was booming, and Aristide began concerted attempts to weed patronage out of government. Leading opposition figures pledged to resolve their policy differences with Aristide in the Parliament, rather than in the street.

Political Turmoil Brewed

Although the international community embraced Aristide, the political rebirth of Haiti was troubled. Most damaging to the presidents imageand most worrisome to the armywas the fact that Aristide seemed to encourage street justice and mob violence as a means of avenging past actions of the military and recurring waves of dissent. In August, 1991, when Aristide faced a no-confidence vote in the legislature, his partisans gathered in the thousands outside the Parliament building with stacks of old tires and matchesthe increasingly popular tools of murder known as necklaces when placed around a victims neck and set on fire. The legislature backed down from voting. The New Yorker quoted Aristide as saying that the burning tire is a beautiful device, which smells good and everywhere you go you want to breathe it. Such rhetoric would return to haunt Aristide in 1993 when he sought help from the United States to restore his presidency.

The no-confidence vote in 1991 was called largely because Aristide, in the eyes of some of his critics, had forgotten that the presidential sash brought a different set of responsibilities than the priests collar. He could no longer act unilaterally, but needed to involve the legislature and the small mercantile elite in his grand schemes for a new Haiti. Instead he alienated the Parliament, the army, and especially the elite, who drew his scorn. Some feared that the populist leader had been so conditioned by the murderousness of his past enemies that he was unprepared to listen to those who genuinelyand peacefullydisagreed with him.

Ousted from Office

In September of 1991, just a few days after he had delivered a triumphant address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Aristide was swept from office in a military coup. The deposed leader took refuge in the United States, meeting with President George Bush and later Bill Clinton in search of an alliance that would return him to the presidential palace. In the meantime, the new illegitimate government of Haitiheaded by armed forces chief Lt. General Raoul Cedrasconsolidated its power with new waves of violence and repression. Haitis problems spilled over onto American shores with the arrival of thousands of refugees demanding political asylum in the United States.

Aristide took his case to the American people, to the United States government, and to the United Nations, imploring other powerful nations to use economic sanctions against an increasingly isolated Haiti. By 1993 the international community responded with an oil and gasoline embargo and other sanctions against the country. The economic pressures brought Cedras to the negotiating table in the spring of 1993, and a provisional agreement was brokered that would return Aristide to power on October 30, 1993. As that deadline approached, however, the illegitimate rulers of Haiti sought waysby diplomacy and forceto scuttle the plans. The week before the deadline, armed civilians prevented a United States warship from docking at Port-au-Prince to facilitate Aristides return. Elsewhere in the city, foreigners were attacked by mobs. Aristide remained in exile, and expanded economic sanctions against Haiti produced widespread shortages and privation there.

An Uncertain Future

Some observers began to speculate that only an intervention by American armed forces would restore Aristide to power in Haiti. President Clinton was reluctant to pursue that option, and some United States senatorsinformed of Aristides possible mental instability and alleged human rights abusesopenly opposed the possibility. In the autumn of 1993, the U.S. Congress passed a referendum that would require the American president to seek congressional consent for any invasion of Haiti. Meanwhile, diplomatic avenuesexplored primarily by Aristide supporter and Haitian prime minister Robert Malvalhave not produced a resolution to the crisis as of late 1993.

Aristide has continued his crusade for the restoration of his presidency in full confidence that he will some day return to Port-au-Prince. The president-in-exile told Time: The U.S. Is the superpower of the world. You have people in Haiti who are defying the world by defying the U.S., and its important not to give a green light to people like this. Aristide stated that he would honor the wishes of his countrymen, even if it meant danger to his life. Its not a question of if I go back, but of when, he concluded in Time. I assume my responsibility. If the Haitian people want me to be there, it is my responsibility to say yes.

Selected writings

Aristide: An Autobiography (translated from the French by Linda Maloney), Orbis, 1992.

Sources

Books

Abbott, Elizabeth, Haiti (revised and updated edition), Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Anthony, Suzanne, Haiti (from the Places & Peoples of the World Series), Chelsea House, 1989.

Chambers, Frances, Haiti (World Biography Series No. 39), ABC-Clio, 1983.

Morse, Richard M., editor, Haitis Future: Views of Twelve Haitian Leaders (from the Wilson Center Perspectives Series), Wilson Center Press, 1988.

Periodicals

America, March 9, 1991, p. 260.

Current History, February 1992, p. 65.

Emerge, June 1993, p. 22.

Interview, October 1991, p. 89.

New Republic, October 28, 1991, p. 17.

Newsweek, March 8, 1993, p. 6; August 30, 1993, p. 43; October 25, 1993, p. 25; November 1, 1993, p. 34; December 6, 1993, p. 33.

New Yorker, October 21, 1991, p. 29.

New York Review of Books, March 26, 1992, p. 62.

New York Times, March 16, 1993, p. A13.

Time, April 26, 1993, p. 10; November 1, 1993, p. 27.

Isaac Rosen and Anne Janette Johnson

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"Aristide, Jean-Bertrand 1953–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/aristide-jean-bertrand-1953

Aristide, Jean-Bertrand

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Born: July 15, 1953
Douyon, Haiti

Haitian president

Aman of the people and loved by many in his home country, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first elected president of Haiti by a large margin in 1990. He was removed from power in a military takeover in 1991, however. Aristide lived abroad until 1994, then a U.S. military occupation of Haiti restored him to power. In 1995 his hand-picked successor was elected president. In 2000 Aristide won his second term.

Early years and education

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born on July 15, 1953, in Port-Salut, a small town along Haiti's southern coast. When Aristide was just three months old, his father passed away. His mother, who wanted to provide Jean and his sister with a better life, moved the family to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Jean studied under the priests of the Society of St. Francis de Sales (or the Salesian Order) of the Roman Catholic Church. The Salesian Order, with European and American houses and members, focused on the religious instruction of Haiti's poor and orphaned children. Aristide received his early education in their schools and later attended their seminary (an institute for training priests) in Haiti. In 1979 he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at the State University of Haiti. He was later sent to Israel, Egypt, Britain, and Canada for biblical studies. He learned to read and speak French, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Italian, German, and Portuguese in addition to his native Creole, which is spoken by 90 percent of Haitians.

Religion and politics

Aristide became a priest in 1982. In 1988, however, he was expelled from the Salesian Order for preaching too politically and for what Aristide called his "fidelity [faithfulness] to the poor." The Vatican (the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church) in Rome, Italy, and his local bishop had warned him to preach less radically, or less outside the mainstream, and to stop turning the members of his church against the Haitian state. From the time he became a priest, Aristide had condemned Haiti's lack of democracy. At the Church of St. Jean Bosco in the poorest part of Port-au-Prince he argued that only a religious and political cleansing could save the country.

For all but the first five years of Aristide's life, a harsh family dictatorship (a government in which power is controlled by one person or only a few people) led by François "Papa Doc" Duvalier (19071971) and his son, Jean-Paul "Baby Doc" Duvalier (1951), had ruled Haiti. Human rights violations were common. Ordinary Haitians lived in fear of a violent group known as the "tonton macoutes," who terrorized the population. The ruling family and the state were one and the same, and the Duvaliers preyed viciously on the people. Corruption was everywhere.

Aristide's opposition to the dictatorship grew out of his religious beliefs and his feelings for the suffering Haitian people. He may have thought that the Duvalier dictatorship was crumbling. After months of popular protest, some of which was inspired by Aristide's preachings, Baby Doc fled from Haiti to France in early 1986.

The military groups that succeeded Baby Doc in power also oppressed the poor. Aristide criticized the reigns of both General Prosper Avril and Lieutenant General Henri Namphy. In revenge the tonton macoutes attacked the Church of St. Jean Bosco in revenge, killing thirteen members of Aristide's congregation in 1988. Two weeks later Aristide was expelled from the Salesian Order. The Roman Catholic Church ordered Aristide to Rome, but that resulted in one of the largest street demonstrations in Haitian history. Tens of thousands of Haitians angrily blocking Aristide's departure by air.

Aristide had not lost his power, despite his expulsion from the order. After 1988 he continued to work with Port-au-Prince's desperately poor. He ran a shelter for children living on the street and opened a medical clinic.

A presidency interrupted

When the United Nations (UN), the United States, and the Organization of American States finally persuaded the military men of Haiti to hold elections, Aristide was not an expected candidate. The character of the race for the presidency changed dramatically, however, when Aristide decided to run only a few months before the election in December 1990. His pledge for justice for victims of dictatorship and violence struck a chord among the poor, nearly all of whom would be voting for the first time in the nation's first free election. He also spoke harshly against the United States, both as a supporter of the Duvaliers and as an exploiter of the world.

Aristide soundly defeated his competition for the presidency. He won 67 percent of the popular vote, but his Lavalas (Avalanche) Party, which had had little time to organize, took only a relatively small percentage of the seats in the Haitian parliament. Before military men led by General Raoul Cedras overthrew Aristide on September 30, 1991, the new president had alarmed the commercial and old-line ruling classes of Haiti. Aristide had preached violence against macoutes and had gone after people suspected of being secret Duvalierists. His constructive accomplishments in office had been few, not all that surprising given that his power in parliament was small.

The free world rallies

Aristide lived first in Venezuela and later in the United States. Soon after he was removed from power, the United States, the Organization of American States, and the UN embargoed, or stopped, Haitian exports and attempted to cease shipping oil and other imports. But those efforts were only partially successful. The Haitian people suffered from these economic policies much more than the military leaders.

All three groups then attempted to bargain a settlement between Aristide and Cedras. Several agreements fell apart when Aristide changed his mind. Others failed because the military leaders were endlessly suspicious of Aristide's real intentions.

In mid-1993 the administration of President Bill Clinton (1946) and the UN persuaded Aristide and Cedras to meet near New York. They were to make an agreement that would return Aristide to the Haitian presidency for the final twenty-seven months of his single, nonrenewable term, and to provide an amnesty, or group pardon, for the military. But powerful people in Haiti refused to put the agreement in place. President Clinton sent more than twenty-three thousand U.S. troops to Haiti. The task of this military mission was to ensure the safe and successful return of Aristide to power. The goal was accomplished, and Aristide completed his term. On December 17, 1995, a Haitian presidential election took place, and Rene Preval was elected to succeed Aristide.

Again the president

In 2000 Aristide's Lavalas Family Party won control of Haiti's Senate. On November 26 of that same year Aristide became a candidate for Haiti's national election. He faced four small-time candidates. The main opposition parties said they would not participate in the election, claiming Aristide wanted to return Haiti to a dictatorship. Many of his opponents thought that the parliamentary elections had not been fair, especially when Aristide won the presidential election. In his inaugural address, or first speech as new president, Aristide pledged to investigate the Senate elections. He also pledged to improve Haiti by, among other things, building more schools and bettering its healthcare system.

After the 2000 elections many foreign countries refused to give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Haiti until the disputes that arose as a result of the elections were settled. In December 2001 Aristide once again became the target of a group attempting to overthrow his government. But this time the attackers were defeated and Aristide remained in power. In 2002 Aristide promised to work at improving the political situation in Haiti.

For More Information

Aristide, Jean-Bertrand. In the Parish of the Poor. Edited by Amy Wilentz. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990.

Aristide, Jean-Bertrand, and Christophe Wargny. Aristide: An Autobiography. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993.

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Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

The Reverend Jean-Bertrand Aristide (born 1953) was elected president of Haiti by a landslide in 1990 but then was deposed by a military coup in 1991. A radical populist, acclaimed by the masses and feared by Haiti's power elite, he remained in exile until 1994 when a U.S. military occupation of Haiti restored him to power.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born on July 15, 1953, in Douyon, a small town along Haiti's southern arm. Orphaned as an infant, he was raised by priests of the Society of St. Francis de Sales of the Roman Catholic Church. The Salesian Order, with European and American houses and members, focused in Haiti on the spiritual instruction of poor and orphaned children. As a dependent of the Salesians, Aristide received his early education in their parochial schools and later attended their seminary in Haiti and the University of Haiti. He was sent to Israel, Egypt, Britain, and Canada for biblical and other learning.

Aristide was ordained a priest in 1982. He also earned a graduate degree in psychology at the University of Montreal. He learned to read and speak French, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Italian, German, and Portuguese in addition to his native Creole. Aristide wrote poetry and composed hymns on his guitar.

In 1988 Aristide was expelled from the Salesian order for preaching too politically and for what Aristide called his "fidelity to the poor." He had been warned by the Vatican and by his local bishop to preach less radically and to cease inflaming his parishioners against the Haitian state. From his ordination, Aristide had condemned Haiti's absence of democracy, arguing from his pulpit in the Church of St. Jean Bosco in the poorest part of Port-au-Prince that only a spiritual and political cleansing could save the country.

For all but the first five years of Aristide's life, Haiti had been ruled by the harsh family dictatorship of Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier and by Jean-Paul (Baby Doc) Duvalier, his son. Human rights violations were legion. Ordinary Haitians were ceaselessly intimidated by paramilitary thugs known as the tonton macoutes. The ruling family and the state were synonymous and preyed viciously on the people. Corruption was rife.

Aristide's antagonism to the dictatorship grew out of his religious convictions and his empathy with the sufferings of the Haitian people. He may have foreseen that the Duvalier dictatorship was crumbling; after months of popular protest, some of which was stimulated by Aristide's preachings, in early 1986 Baby Doc and his entourage fled Haiti for France.

The military juntas that succeeded Baby Doc also oppressed the poor. The regimes of both General Prosper Avril and Lieutenant General Henri Namphy were criticized from Aristide's pulpit. In retaliation, the tonton macoutes attacked the Church of St. Jean Bosco, killing 13 members of Aristide's congregation in 1988, two weeks before he was expelled from the Salesian order. The Roman Catholic Church ordered Aristide to Rome. But that "transfer" resulted in one of the largest street demonstrations in Haitian history, with tens of thousands of Haitians angrily blocking Aristide's departure by air.

Aristide had not been defrocked, despite his expulsion from the order. After 1988 he continued to work with the desperately poor of Port-au-Prince by running a halfway house for street children and by opening a medical clinic.

When the United Nations, the United States, and the Organization of American States finally persuaded the military men of Haiti to hold elections, Aristide was neither an early nor an expected candidate. The front runner was Marc Bazin, an experienced international civil servant, but there were many other well-known men of substance, as well as a leader of the macoutes, who also tendered their candidacies.

The character of the race for the presidency changed dramatically, however, when Aristide decided to run, only a few months before the poll in December 1990. His act was widely regarded as quixotic and sacrificial. But his messianic pledges of redemptive justice for victims of dictatorship and violence struck a responsive chord among the poor, nearly all of whom would be voting for the first time in the nation's only full and free election. He also spoke harshly against the United States, both as a supporter of the Duvaliers and as an exploitative force in the world.

A slight, wispy person, Aristide overwhelmingly vanquished his electoral foes. He won 67 percent of the popular vote, but his Lavalas (Avalanche) Party, which had had little time to organize, took only a comparatively small percentage of the seats in the Haitian parliament. Before Aristide was ousted by military men led by General Raoul Cedras on September 30, 1991, the new president had alarmed the commercial and old-line ruling classes of Haiti by preaching violence against macoutes and leading purges of persons suspected of being secret Duvalierists. His constructive accomplishments in office had been few, particularly since his hold on parliament had been ineffectual.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup the United States, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations embargoed Haitian exports and attempted to bar petroleum and other imports. But those efforts were only partially successful, and the masses suffered from economic sanctions much more than the military junta.

All three groups attempted to broker a settlement between Aristide, living first in Venezuela and later in the United States, and Cedras and his accomplices. Several agreements unraveled when Aristide changed his mind; others fell apart because the military leaders were endlessly suspicious of Aristide's real intentions.

In mid-1993 the Clinton administration and the United Nations persuaded Aristide and Cedras to meet near New York and to conclude an agreement that would return Aristide to the Haitian presidency for the final 27 months of his single, non-renewable term and provide an amnesty for the military. But Haiti's power elite refused to implement the agreement. President Clinton had over 23,000 U.S. troops sent to Haiti in what was termed "Restore Democracy." The task of this military mission was to ensure the safe and successful transition to reinstate Aristide to power. On December 17, 1995, the Haitian presidential election took place and Rene Preval was elected to succeed Aristide.

Further Reading

For a sense of what Haiti was like during Aristide's formative years, read Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (1989). Amy Wilentz also translated and edited Aristide's writings as In the Parish of the Poor (1990). Aristide's own Autobiography was translated from the French by Linda M. Maloney (1990). Aristide in exile is described by Catherine Manegold in "Innocent Abroad: Jean-Bertrand Aristide" in the New York Times Magazine (May 1, 1994). For Papa Doc and before, see Robert I. Rotberg, Haiti: The Politics of Squalor (1971). Only sketchy journalism describes the brief period of Aristide's ascendancy. □

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Aristide, Jean-Bertrand

Jean-Bertrand Aristide (zhän´ bĕrtränd´ ä´rēstēd´), 1953–, president of Haiti (1991, 1994–96, 2001–4). A radical Catholic priest who defended liberation theology, he worked among Haiti's poor and was part of a group of progressive priests who opposed the Duvalier dictatorship. He studied theology and sociology in Canada, England, Italy, and Israel, and was ordained in 1982. Expelled from his order in 1988 because of his revolutionary teachings, he became the candidate of a coalition of leftist parties in the 1990 presidential elections and was elected with an overwhelming majority. He was overthrown in a bloody military coup seven months after taking office, and went into exile in Venezuela and later the United States. Aristide was returned to power in 1994 with the aid of the U.S. army. He formally resigned from the priesthood in 1994 and married in 1996. In 1995, René Préval was elected to succeed Aristide, who was barred from running. Aristide was again elected president in 2000, but political unrest resulting from contested parliamentary election results (also in 2000) led to political unrest and, in 2004, an armed uprising. Under pressure from the United States and France, Aristide resigned and went into exile; he subsequently accused U.S. and French officials of coercion and kidnapping. He returned to Haiti in 2011.

See his autobiography (1992).

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