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Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Jean-Bertrand Aristide with Bill Clinton in 1994.

In office
February 7, 1991 – September 30, 1991
Prime Minister René Préval
Preceded by Ertha Pascal-Trouillot
Succeeded by Raoul Cédras
In office
October 12, 1994 – February 7, 1996
Prime Minister Smarck Michel
Claudette Werleigh
Preceded by Émile Jonassaint
Succeeded by René Préval
In office
February 7, 2001 – February 29, 2004
Prime Minister Jean Marie Chérestal
Yvon Neptune
Preceded by René Préval
Succeeded by Boniface Alexandre

Born July 15, 1953 (1953-07-15)
Port-Salut, Haiti
Political party Lavalas
Religion Roman Catholic

Jean-Bertrand Aristide (born July 15, 1953) is a Haitian politician and former Roman Catholic priest, who served as Haiti's first democratically elected president.[1][2] He was briefly President of Haiti in 1991, prior to a September 1991 military coup, and was President again from 1994 to 1996 and from 2001 to 2004. He was then ousted in a February 2004 rebellion, in which former soldiers participated. He accused the U.S. of orchestrating a coup against him,[3] and was forced into exile, eventually settling in South Africa.


Early life, Education and Church Career

Aristide was born into poverty in Port Salut in 1953, and his father was killed when he was a small child. He was taken in by Catholic priests of the Salesian order.[4] Aristide was educated at the College Notre Dame in Cap-Haïtien, graduating with honors in 1974. He then took a course of novitiate studies in La Vega, Dominican Republic 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 traveled in Europe, studying in Italy, Greece[1] and Israel. Aristide returned to Haiti in 1983 for his ordination as a Salesian priest.[5]

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 Kreyòl nickname "Titide" or "Titid." An exponent of liberation theology,[6] he became a leading figure in the more radical wing of the Catholic faith in Haiti (the ti legliz — from the Kréyòl for "little church"), and broadcast his sermons on the national Catholic radio station.[5] In a January 1988 interview with National Catholic Reporter, Aristide said,"The solution is revolution, first in the spirit of the Gospel; Jesus could not accept people going hungry. It is a conflict between classes, rich and poor. My role is to preach and organize...." [7] Father Aristide was expelled from his Salesian order in 1988,[5] at which time the Salesians said the priest's political activities were an "incitement to hatred and violence" and out of line with his role as a clergyman.[7] In 1994 Aristide left the priesthood.[8] This action enabled him the following year to marry Mildred Trouillot, a US citizen, with whom he now has two daughters.[8] Aristide survived several assassination attempts while preaching liberation theology in Haiti.[4]

First presidency

Following the violence at the abortive national elections of 1987, the 1990 elections were approached with caution. Aristide announced his candidacy for the presidency and following a six-week campaign, during which he dubbed his followers the "Front National pour le Changement et la Démocratie" (National Front for Change and Democracy), or "FNCD", the "little priest" was elected President in 1990 with 67% of the vote. He was Haiti's first democratically elected president. However, shortly thereafter he was overthrown by a bloody military coup. He broke from FNCD and created the OPL (Organisation Politique "Lavalas") - "the flood" or "torrent" in Kréyòl.

1991 Coup d'état

On September 1991, after his own government – led by Prime Minister René Préval – failed a non-confidence vote by the FNCD-controlled parliament, Aristide attempted to rule alone. The army performed a coup against him. He was deposed on September 29, 1991, and, in accordance with the requirements of Article 149 of the Haitian Constitution, Superior Court Justice Joseph Nérette was installed as Président Provisoire to serve until elections were held within 90 days of Aristide's resignation. However, real power was held by army commander Raoul Cédras.[9] The elections were scheduled, but were canceled. Aristide and other sources claim that both the coup and the election cancellation were the result of pressure from the American government.[10][11][12] High ranking members of the Haitian National Intelligence Service (S.I.N.), which had been set up and financed in the 80's by the Central Intelligence Agency as part of the war on drugs, were involved in the coup, and were reportedly still receiving funding and training from the C.I.A. for intelligence-gathering activities at the time of the coup, but this funding reportedly ended after the coup.[13] A New York Times investigation found no evidence of C.I.A. involvement in the coup.[13] However, press reports about possible C.I.A. involvement in Haitian politics before the coup sparked Congressional hearings in the United States.[14]

A campaign of terror against Aristide supporters was started by Emmanuel Constant after Aristide was forced out. In 1993, Constant, who had been on the C.I.A.'s payroll as an informant since 1992, organized the FRAPH, which targeted and killed Aristide supporters.[15][16][17]

Aristide spent his exile first in Venezuela and then in the United States, working hard to develop international support. A United Nations trade embargo during Aristide's exile, intended to force the coup leaders to step down, was a strong blow to Haiti's already weak economy.[18] President George H.W. Bush granted an exemption from the embargo to many U.S. companies doing business in Haiti, and President Bill Clinton extended this exemption.[19][20]


Under U.S. and international pressure, the military regime backed down and U.S. troops were deployed in the country by President Bill Clinton. On October 15, 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti to complete his term in office.[21] Aristide disbanded the Haitian army, and established a civilian police force.

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, prior to new elections, should serve the three years he had lost in exile, or whether his term in office should instead be counted strictly according to the date of his inauguration; it was decided that the latter should be the case. René Préval, a prominent ally of Aristide and Prime Minister in 1991 under Aristide, ran during the 1995 presidential election and took 88% of the vote. There was about 25% participation in these elections.[22]

Second presidency

In late 1996, Aristide broke from the OPL over what he called its "distance from the people"[6] 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. The Fanmi Lavalas won the 2000 legislative election, but the opposition leaders claimed that a number of the seats were invalid. Aristide then was elected later that year in an election boycotted by most opposition political parties. Although the U.S. government claimed that the election turnout was hardly over 10 percent, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party were elected by a clear majority. The opposition, as well as members of the international community, contested the results and accused the government of manipulating the election.[23] Aristide's party controlled the Provisional Election Commission, which declared the official results when counting had barely even begun, and the opposition accused the party, then Aristide (not yet elected at the time) of ignoring the constitutional requirement to hold a run-off.[24] At the time, however, CNN Election Watch reported a turnout of 60% with over 92% voting for Aristide.[25] Only later did allegations surface mentioning the above figure of a 10% voter turnout.[26]

Aristide called for France, the former colonizer of the country, to pay $21 billion in restitution to Haiti.[27]

2004 rebellion

In February 2004, the assassination of Amiot Metayer sparked a violent rebellion that culminated in Aristide's removal from office. Amiot's brother, Buteur Metayer, blamed Aristide for the assassination, and used this as an excuse to form the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti.[28] Joined by other groups [29] the rebels quickly took control of the North, and eventually laid siege to, and then invaded, the capital. Under disputed circumstances, Aristide was flown out of the country by the U.S. on February 28, 2004.

Earlier in February, Aristide's lawyer had claimed that the U.S. was arming anti-Aristide troops.[30] Aristide later stated that France and the U.S. had a role in what he termed "a kidnapping" that took him from Haiti to South Africa via the Central African Republic.[31] However, authorities said his temporary asylum there had been negotiated by the United States, France and Gabon.[32] On March 1, 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), along with Aristide family friend Randall Robinson, reported Aristide had told them that he had been forced to resign and had been abducted from the country by the United States and that he had been held hostage by an armed military guard.[33]

After Aristide was removed from Haiti, looters raided his villa.[34] Most barricades were lifted the day after Aristide left as the shooting had stopped; order was maintained by Haitian police, along with armed rebels and local vigilante groups.[35] Almost immediately after the Aristides were transported from Haiti, Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, dispatched a Member of Parliament, Sharon Hay Webster, to the Central African Republic. The leadership of that country agreed that Aristide and his family could go to Jamaica. The Aristides were in the island for several months until the Jamaican government gained acceptance by the Republic of South Africa for the family to relocate there.

Aristide has accused the U.S. of deposing him.[3][36] The CARICOM, an organization of Caribbean countries that included Haiti, called for a United Nations investigation into Aristide's removal, but were reportedly pressured by the U.S. and France to drop their request. Some observers suggest the rebellion and removal of Aristide were covertly orchestrated by these two countries.[37][38] In a 2006 interview, Aristide said the U.S. went back on their word regarding compromises he made with them over privatization of enterprises to ensure that part of the profits would go to the Haitian people and then "relied on a disinformation campaign" to discredit him.[39]


Under Aristide's leadership, his party implemented many major reforms. These included greatly increasing access to health care and education for the general population; increasing adult literacy and protections for those accused of crimes; improving training for judges, prohibiting human trafficking, disbanding the Haitian military (which primarily had been used against the Haitian people), establishing improved human rights and political freedoms; doubling the minimum wage; instituting land reform and assistance to small farmers;, providing boat construction training to fishermen; establishing a food distribution network to provide low cost food to the poor at below market prices, building low-cost housing, and attempting to reduce the level of government corruption.[40]

Criticism and Accusations


Accusations of widespread human rights abuses

Human Rights Watch accused the Haitian police force under President Aristide, and his political supporters, of attacks on opposition rallies. They also said that the emergence of armed rebel groups seeking to overthrow Aristide reflected "the failure of the country’s democratic institutions and procedures."[41] A statement was attributed to Aristide in which he endorsed the practice of "necklacing" opposition activists, i.e., placing a gasoline-soaked tire around the neck and setting it ablaze. Aristide was quoted as saying on August 27, 1991, "What a beautiful tool! ... It smells good. And wherever you go, you want to smell it."[42] However, there is some suspicion that Aristide's speech was edited to make it sound as if he advocated "necklacing" his opponents, when he was actually urging his supporters not to use violence.[43]

The OAS/UN International Civilian Mission in Haiti, known as MICIVIH (its French acronym) found that the human-rights situation in Haiti improved dramatically following Aristide's return to power in 1994.[44] Amnesty International reported that Haiti was "descending into a severe humanitarian and human rights crisis" after Aristide's departure in 2004.[45]

Accusations of drug trafficking

Drug trafficking was allegedly a major source of money. Canadian police arrested Oriel Jean, Aristide's security chief and one of the most trusted friends, for money laundering.[46] Beaudoin Ketant, a notorious international drug trafficker, Aristide's close partner, and his daughter's godfather, confessed that Aristide "turned the country into a narco-country. It's a one-man show. You either pay (Aristide) or you die." Aristide denied the allegation, and the U.S. has not charged him directly with involvment in the drug trade.[47]

Accusations of corruption

Haitian investigators claimed to have discovered extensive embezzlement and money laundering by Aristide's administration, in which millions of dollars of public funds were allegedly lost to sophisticated financial transactions.[48] Aristide has forcefully denied these accusations.[49] The Haitian government filed a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit in the U.S. in Miami, Florida, in November 2005, alleging that Aristide and his associates took hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the long distance company IDT, and that IDT diverted into a secret offshore bank account controlled by Aristide payments that should have gone to the Haitian company Teleco. The lawsuit was suspended by the Haitian government on June 30, 2006.[50][51]

Accusations of embezzlement of telecom revenues

According to a report by Christopher Caldwell in the July 1994 American Spectator, Aristide stole Haiti's telecom revenues while in the United States. Caldwell claims that, between 1991 and 1994, Aristide ordered that the proceeds from Haiti's international phone traffic, handled by the Latin American division of AT&T, be moved to a numbered offshore bank account in Panama.[52]

Some officials have been indicted by an US court.[53] Companies that allegedly made deals with Aristide included IDT, Fusion Telecommunications, and Skytel; critics claim the two first companies had political links. AT&T reportedly declined to wire money to "Mont Salem".[54][55][56][57]

Red carpet welcome in South Africa

Aristide, his family, and bodyguards were welcomed to South Africa by several cabinet ministers, 20 senior diplomats, and a guard of honour.[58][59] Receiving a salary from and provided staff by the South African government,[60] Aristide lives with his family in a government villa in Pretoria.[61] In South Africa, Aristide became an honorary research fellow at the University of South Africa, learned Zulu, and on April 25, 2007, received a doctorate in African Languages.[62]

Possible return to Haiti

After René Préval, a former ally of Aristide, was elected president of Haiti, he said it would be possible for Aristide to return to Haiti.[63][64]

On December 21, 2007, a speech by Aristide marking the new year and Haiti's Independence Day was broadcast, the fourth such speech since his exile; in the speech he criticized the 2006 presidential election in which Préval was elected, describing it as a "selection," in which "the knife of treason was planted" in the back of the Haitian people.[65]

Since the election, some high ranking members of Lavalas have been targets for violence.[66][67] Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a leading human rights organizer in Haiti and a member of Lavalas, disappeared in August 2007.[68] His whereabouts remains unknown and a news article states,"Like many protesters, Wilson Mesilien, coordinator of the pro-Aristide September 30 Foundation wore a T-shirt demanding the return of foundation leader Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a human rights activist and critic of both UN and U.S. involvement in Haiti."[69]

On December 16, 2009, several thousand protesters marched through Port-au-Prince calling for Aristide's return to Haiti, and protesting the exclusion of Aristide's populist Fanmi Lavalas party from upcoming elections.[70]

On January 12, 2010, Aristide sent his condolences to victims of the earthquake in Haiti just a few hours after it occurred, and stated that he wishes to return to help rebuild the country.[71][72]

Anti-globalization comments

In 2000 Aristide published an anti-globalization book The Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization. The book made accusations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


  1. ^ "Military ousts Haiti's leader, claims power President Aristide en route to France; fighting kills 26". The Boston Globe. October 1, 1991. 
  2. ^ "Haiti: The impact of the 1991 coup". International Journal of Refugee Law. June 1992. 
  3. ^ a b "Aristide says U.S. deposed him in 'coup d'etat'". CNN. March 2, 2004. 
  4. ^ a b "Aristide no stranger to struggle". Associated Press. February 16, 2004. Retrieved 30 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b cPeacemaking Journeys - Jean-Bertrand Aristide
  6. ^ a b An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide Hallward, Peter.
  7. ^ a b Portrait of a Folk-Hero: Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide
  8. ^ a b Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Tumultuous Career
  9. ^ "Leader Of Haiti Ousted Military Takes Over After Seizing Aristide" (reprint). St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 1991-10-01. 
  10. ^ Peter Hallward (February 22, 2007). "An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide". London Review of Books. 
  11. ^ Marc Weisbrot (December 13, 2005). "U.S. Is Still Undermining Haiti". ZNet. 
  12. ^ Vincent Browne (January 17, 2010). "Haiti’s never-ending tragedy has American roots". The Sunday Business Post Online. 
  13. ^ a b "C.I.A. Formed Haitian Unit Later Tied to Narcotics Trade". New York Times. November 14, 1993. 
  14. ^ Jim Mann (November 2, 1993). "Congress to Probe CIA-Haiti Ties". Los Angeles Times. 
  15. ^ Jim Mann (November 2, 1993). "Congress to Probe CIA-Haiti Ties: Reports say agency financed some leaders involved in coup". Los Angeles Times. 
  16. ^ Rupert Cornwell (October 7, 1994). "CIA 'helped to set up terror group' in Haiti". The Independent. 
  17. ^ Mark Weisbrot (November 22, 2005). "Undermining Haiti". The Nation. 
  18. ^ Victoria Graham (August 27, 1993). "U.N. Ready To End Haiti Sanctions". The Seattle Times. 
  19. ^ Sydney P. Freedberg, Rachel L. Swarns (November 3, 1994). "Poorly Enforced Sanctions Botch U.S. Embargo Of Haiti". The Seattle Times. 
  20. ^ Carl Hartman (February 18, 1994). "Americans Step Up Business With Haiti Despite Sanctions". The Seattle Times. 
  21. ^ Manegold (AP), Catherine S. (October 16, 1994). "For Aristide's Followers, Every Step Is a Dance, Every Cheer a Song". Mission to Haiti: The Scene (New York Times). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  22. ^Haiti Overview from
  23. ^ "MINUSTAH Background". United Nations. Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  24. ^ Dailey, Peter (March 13, 2003). "Haiti: The Fall of the House of Aristide". New York Review of Books ( 50 (4). Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  25. ^ "Election watch Haiti". CNN. November 26, 2000. 
  26. ^ Dick Bernard (March 3, 2006). "Anatomy of an Official Lie". 
  27. ^ Rhodes-Pitts, Sharifa (January 4, 2004). "A call for $21 billion from France aims to lift Haiti's bicentennial blues". Boston Globe. Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  28. ^ Klarreich, Kathie (February 23, 2004). "Letter From Haiti: A Battle of Cannibals And Monsters". Time Magazine.,9171,993414,00.html. 
  29. ^ Steven, Dudley (February 15, 2004). "Disparate forces behind the violent opposition in Haiti". Boston Globe. 
  30. ^ Amy Goodman, and Jeremy Scahill (February 25, 2004). "Haiti’s Lawyer: U.S. Is Arming Anti-Aristide Paramilitaries". Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  31. ^ Paul Farmer (April 15, 2004). "Who removed Aristide?". London Review of Books. 
  32. ^ Associated Press (March 1, 2004). "Aristide arrives for African exile". CNN International. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  33. ^ "Rep Maxine Waters: Aristide Says ‘I Was Kidnapped’". Democracy Now. Retrieved 2006-07-21. 
  34. ^ Associated Press (March 1, 2004). "Looters pick through Aristide's villa: Letters about the CIA, FBI left behind". CNN. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  35. ^ Reuters (March 1, 2004). "Haitians emerge to work, or party". CNN. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  36. ^ Jim Lobe (March 12, 2004). "Role in Haiti Events Backfiring on Washington". Inter Press Service. 
  37. ^ Thalif Deen (April 13, 2004). "U.S., France Block UN Probe of Aristide Ouster". Inter Press Service. 
  38. ^ Mark Weisbrot (November 22, 2005). "Undermining Haiti". The Nation. 
  39. ^ An Interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide Aristide's interview was conducted in French, in Pretoria, on 20 July 2006; originally published in London Review of Books, Feb 19, 2007
  40. ^ Stephen Lendman (December 16, 2005). "Achievements Under Aristide, Now Lost". ZNet. 
  41. ^ "Haiti: Aristide Should Uphold Rule of Law". Human Rights Watch. February 13, 2004. 
  42. ^ Associated Press (02-17-2004). "Haiti's Aristide prepares for a fight". USA Today. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  43. ^ Lisa Pease (February 1, 2010). "America's Sad History with Haiti, Part 2". Consortium News. 
  44. ^ "Three Years of Defending Human Rights". United Nations. September 1995. 
  45. ^ "Haiti Human Rights". Amnesty International. 
  46. ^ "Taint of drugs reaching Haiti's upper echelons". St. Petersburg Times. April 3, 2004. 
  47. ^ "Haiti's drug money scourge". BBC. March 19, 2004. 
  48. ^ "Probe of Aristide administration finds evidence of embezzlement". Dominican Today. October 31, 2005. 
  49. ^ "Aristide says he plans to return to Haiti". USA Today. May 30, 2004. 
  50. ^ "Govt Corruption Suit Stalls for Lack of Funds". Inter Press Service. October 26, 2006. 
  51. ^ "Haiti Report for July 13, 2006". InI. July 13, 2006. 
  52. ^ "Aristide Development". American Spectator Vol. 027 Issue 007 (July 1, 1994)
  53. ^ "Indictments in Alleged Aristide Corruption Case". Press release. Haiti Democracy Project. 2009-12-08. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  54. ^ O'Grady, Mary Anastasia (July 28, 2008). "Aristide's American Profiteers". Opinion (Wall Street Journal). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  55. ^ O'Grady, Mary Anastasia (June 3, 2005). "Aristide's Past Deserves More Intense Scrutiny". Opinion (Wall Street Journal). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  56. ^ O'Grady, Mary Anastania (February 12, 2007). "The Haiti File". Opinion (Wall Street Journal). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  57. ^ Vardi, Nathan (December 10, 2009). "Will Bribery Probe Hit IDT? Company dealt with indicted Haitian telco official" (in Forbes. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  58. ^ Munnion, Christopher (June 1, 2004). "Mbeki rolls out the red carpet for exile Aristide". Telegraph Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  59. ^ Momberg, Eleanor (June 1, 2004). "Warm welcome for Aristide". Independent Online (IOL). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  60. ^ Political Bureau (June 25, 2009). "Ex president living it up in SA". Independent Online (IOL). Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  61. ^ "Haiti's exiled former president vows to return". Guardian News and Media. January 15, 2010. 
  62. ^ "Exiled Aristide gets SA doctorate",, April 26, 2007.
  63. ^ "Haiti 'to allow' Aristide return". BBC. February 23, 2006. 
  64. ^ "Thousands demand Aristide return". BBC. July 16, 2006. 
  65. ^ "Exiled former Haitian president stirs supporters with speech", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), December 22, 2007.
  66. ^ "Dr. Maryse Narcisse Kidnapped in Haiti" Dr. Maryse Narcisse – a member of the National Commission of the Fanmi Lavalas Party – was kidnapped in Octerber 2007, and later freed after a ransom was paid.
  67. ^ Amnesty International Index: AMR 36/008/2007 — Wilson Mésilien, the successor to Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, had to go into hiding following death threats.
  68. ^ Fondasyon Mapou and the Haitian Priorities Project (August 14, 2007). "We are urging for the safe return of Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine". Press release. Toronto Haiti Action Committee. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  69. ^ Katz, Jonathan M.; AP (February 29, 2008). "Thousands march in Haiti on anniversary of Aristide's departure". Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  70. ^ "Aristide supporters protest election ban in Haiti". Reuters. December 17, 2009. 
  71. ^ "Haiti's exiled former president vows to return". Guardian News and Media. January 15, 2010. 
  72. ^

External links

Preceded by
Ertha Pascal-Trouillot
President of Haiti
Succeeded by
Raoul Cédras
Preceded by
Marc Bazin
President of Haiti
Succeeded by
Émile Jonassaint
Preceded by
Émile Jonassaint
President of Haiti
Succeeded by
René Préval
Preceded by
René Préval
President of Haiti
Succeeded by
Boniface Alexandre


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