Who is Jean-Bertrand Aristide?
Famous as the first elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is a staunch supporter of democracy. When he ended the dictatorship in Haiti, which had taken a toll on the country, he became the people’s favorite as their new leader. Under him the country’s failing economy started reviving and most importantly he brought the army under civilian control . Though he could not remain in power for long, owing to constant coups led by his opponents, he gave Haiti the promise of a better future. He was sent to exile more than once, but on his return in 2011, he continued his unfinished revolutionary works. Despite four failed assassination attempts on him, Aristide remains unaffected and continues to work for the poor and the downtrodden. A priest turned politician, he is staunch exponent of the liberation theology which believes in liberating people from all forms of injustice and sufferings. Since, Haiti has been suffering under poverty since ages Aristide strived hard to rescue his people by giving several benefits and facilities which were unavailable to them before. He says “for me the people remain at the very core of our struggle” and this is the reason he wants that people should be given the choice of electing their leader. To know more about this political figure and proponent of democracy in Haiti, read his biography below.
Childhood & Early Life
Aristide was born in a poor family and was only three months old when his father died. His mother took him to Port-au-Prince the capital city of Haiti, so that he and his sister could have a better future.
He went to the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic Institute in 1958, where he was taught by priests.
He attended the College Notre Dame in Cap-Ha�tien, from where he graduated with honors in 1974.
After his graduation, he studied philosophy at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame and also attended the State University of Haiti to study psychology. In 1979, the State University of Haiti bestowed him a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
The same year he travelled to many countries including Israel, Egypt, Britain, and Canada. Here, he undertook biblical studies and learnt some foreign languages such as, French, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Italian, German, and Portuguese.
In 1982, he returned to his homeland to be ordained as a priest.
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Saddened and deeply affected by the poverty and harassment which Haiti faced under the dictatorship of Presidents, Fran�ois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, Aristide decided to act against them.
He began condemning the Duvaliers openly which instigated resentment among the people against the regime. In retaliation, the regime exiled for three years in Montreal. By the time he came back in 1985, the popular opposition to the regime had grown manifolds.
A while later, he headed a movement called the "ti legliz movement” and in September 1985 he was ordained in the St. Jean Bosco church in a poor locality of Port-au-Prince.
Here, he preached sermons pertaining to the dictatorship of the Duvaliers and also organized several youth masses to encourage the young men and women of Haiti to fight for justice.
Four attempts to assassinate him were carried out, the most popular one being the St Jean Bosco massacre undertaken on 11 September 1988. As the young priest prepared to address the Sunday mass, nearly 100 men from the Haitian paramilitary stormed into the church and killed 13 people and wounded 77.
Following the incident, Aristide was asked to leave the country. However, thousands of citizens opposed his exile and thronged the airport obstructing his path. Consequently, he was banished from the Salesian Order of priesthood for leading people into “violence and hatred”.
In the 1990 general elections, he declared his candidature for presidency and began campaigning. He named his party “Front National pour le Changement et la D�mocratie” (FNCD).
He won the election with 67% of the votes to become the first elected president of Haiti. Sadly, in just eight months after taking over the office, he was removed from power following a coup d'�tat.
He was forced to resign on 29 September 1991 and was exiled after some days. Soon after, the paramilitary forces started to spread terror among the supporters of Aristide and a death squad named Front for the Advancement and Progress of Ha�ti (FRAPH) was founded by Emmanuel Constant.
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The FRAPH killed the majority of the exiled President’s supporters in a bid to end his popularity.
Meanwhile, Aristide was at Venezuela gathering international support and was supported by the UN. The UN imposed orders on Haiti to refrain from exporting most of its goods, impacting the country’s economy badly.
Both the UN and the USA helped him return to Haiti, so that he could complete his presidential term. The US deployed over twenty-three thousand armed forces in Haiti to ensure the safe return of the President. He completed the remaining twenty-seven months of his term before the next elections in 1995.
In 1996, he formed a party called the ‘Fanmi Lavalas’ which won 2000 legislative elections. It also had a strong hold on the Provincial Election Commission which enabled him to win the presidential elections of 2000.
Not long after his ascendance to presidency again, opposition political parties and anti- Aristides hatched a plan and overthrew him. He was exiled once again in 2004 to Central African Republic first, and then to South Africa.
While in exile, he received a fellowship at the University of South Africa and on 25 April 2007 he earned a doctorate in African languages.
Protests for the return of Aristide had already begun in Haiti and on 18 March 2011 he reached Haiti. After his return, he began campaigning for his party ‘Fanmi Lavalas’ once again.
During his presidency, he introduced many reforms, especially in the health and education sectors. He increased the health facilities for the public and also worked towards increasing the literacy rate.
Human trafficking was prohibited and the Haitian army was also disbanded under his leadership. The minimum wage was increased and agricultural sector was paid special attention.
He built 195 new primary schools and 104 secondary schools and between 2001 and 2004 during his tenure, there was a significant rise in the number of children going to schools. The adult literacy program introduced by him was also influential in increasing the overall literacy rate of the country.
Personal Life & Legacy
On January 20, 1996, he married Mildred Trouillot, an American lawyer. Their first daughter Christine Aristide was born in November 1996 and their second daughter Michaelle Aristide was born in 1998.
This revolutionary who was also a priest became the President of Haiti in 1990 in the nation’s first free election.