Jean Bertrand Aristide was born on July 15, 1953 in the town of Port-Salut; a picturesque coastal town in the South Department of Haiti. With his mother, he moved to Port-au-Prince at the age of only 3 months old, after the death of his father. As a young boy, Aristide attended a Catholic school in the city of Cap-Haitien, run by priests from the Salesian Order. After high school, he went to the Notre Dame College, where he would graduate with honors. He was only 21 at the time. Aristide then went to the Dominican Republic, to take courses in theology, in the hope of becoming a Catholic priest. He returned to Haiti after his graduation and continues to further his education; at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame he studied philosophy and, at the State University of Haiti, he received a bachelor in psychology.
The Salesian Order later sent him to Britain, Canada, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Israel for biblical studies; during the course of his travel he also became a polyglot. Besides Speaking the two official languages of Haiti: French and Creole; he also became fluent in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew and Portuguese. And very recently, he received a PhD from the State University of Central Africa for his studies in Zulu; the National language of the aforementioned country. After his extensive studies abroad, Jean Bertrand Aristide finally returned to Haiti, where he would be ordained as a priest, in 1982. Being well traveled and very educated, the contrast between his poor homeland and the various countries he had visited during the course of his studies, had an enormous impact on him; the misery and injustice endured by the poor under the dictatorships of the Duvalier's, also had a deep impression on the young Aristide. Enormous human rights violations were common, corruption was everywhere and, the state militias, officially known as MVSN (Milice de Volontaires de la Securite Nationale) Militia of National Security Volunteers; better known as the Tonton Macoutes; terrorized the population. Ordinary Haitians and opponents of the government were tortured, imprisoned, and murdered in the most gruesome ways, while the allies of the regime, lived in abundance, peace and protection from the government.
Almost immediately after being appointed curate of a small parish, Aristide became an avid, outspoken critic of both the Duvalier regime, and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, in consideration of a 1966 concordat by the Vatican, which granted Francois Duvalier the absolute power to appoint Haiti's bishops. Aristide was also extremely critical of the US and Western power in general, for their continuous efforts to economically oppressed the poor in third world countries to grow their own economy. As Jean Bertrand Aristide expected, his sermons in which he constantly denounced the regime en place, did not go unnoticed. The most notable was his Easter sermon delivered at the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince: "A Call to Holiness". Where Aristide proclaimed: "The path of those Haitians, who reject the regime, is the path of righteousness and love.... Blessed are those who heroically say no to impunity, no to vengeance, no to abuse and yes to justice."
Under fear and pressure, the Provincial Delegate of the Salesian Order sent Aristide into a three year exile in Montreal, Canada.
Mostly inspired by Aristide preaching’s, by 1985, a very popular opposition to the Duvalier regime was in full blast; Aristide then left Canada, returned to Haiti and continued to preach. Desired to integrate young people into the church, he took initiatives to organize the youths by sponsoring weekly youth masses. He then founded the “Lafanmi se Lavi" (Family is Life) orphanage, targeting homeless children in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
Gradually, Aristide became a national figure as a defender of the poor against the oppressive Duvalier regime. He inevitably became a target for attacks. He survived at least six assassination attempts; the most notable, was after the fall of Duvalier in 1986. Although Duvalier was gone, his vicious militia and faithful followers were still instigating fear on the population. On September 11, 1988, during a Sunday mass at the Saint Jean Bosco church, attended by over 1000 people, where Aristide was preaching, a group of armed men stormed the church, and started shooting randomly at people. Fleeing attendees were met outside with machetes by more tonton macoutes surrounding the church. The attack led to at least 50 deaths and 80 wounded, and then the church was burned down. Aristide survived, but went into hiding. Subsequently, Aristide got expelled from the Salesian Order for advocating revolution. The Vatican called his preaching: "Incitement to hatred and violence... Out of line with his role as a clergyman" He was ordered by the church to leave the country. Tens of thousands of Haitians took the streets, protesting against another exile; they blocked his entry to the Airport.
First presidency and coup d'état
For the 1990 elections, with overwhelmed support from the population and the US, Aristide announced his candidacy under the banner of his new created party. FNCD “Front Nationale pour le Changement et la Democratie." (National Front for Change and Democracy.) It was the very first time in Haiti's history, that the people would be allowed to participate in the choosing of their government. Jean Bertrand Aristide won the election with 67.5% of the vote, thus becoming Haiti's first democratically elected President. He took the oath of office on February 7th, 1991.
Jean Bertrand Aristide became the embodiment of hope; the hope that would put an end to the long period encompassing the dictatorships of the Duvalier's, followed by five years of political instability under five different regimes.
Aristide marked the beginning of a new era, an era of democracy and economic and social progress. However on September 30th, 1991, just 8 months into his presidency, President Aristide was overthrown by a military coup d’état, headed by Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras, who was appointed as the Army commander in Chief by Aristide in June.
The result of Aristide's coup d’état was his attempt to carry out reforms that was met with great opposition by the military and the elite business class of the country. Some of the new President plan was to:
-Bring the military under civilian control.
- Initiate investigation of human rights violations.
-Bring to trial, several tonton macoutes who were still living in the country.
- Ban several businessmen, and past government officials from traveling, until the examination of their financial situations.
The United Nation and the OAS vehemently condemned the coup d’état and its perpetrators and demanded adherence to the constitution and respect for the legitimate Government, the physical safety of the President and the rights of the Haitian people; and called for the reinstatement of Jean Bertrand Aristide, but The Haitian Constitution explicitly demands that the Chief of the Country's Supreme Court replace the President in case of a vacancy, until new elections are held in no more than 90 days. Joseph Nerette, the chief justice at the time was installed as the Provisional President of Haiti, in accordance to the Constitution. However, Joseph Nerette was just a figure, as real power was held by Raoul Cédras, just as ruthless as the Duvalier's. The international community rejects both the new government and the idea of a possible election. An international embargo was placed on the already impoverished nation, still struggling to recover from the 30 years of absolute corruption and terror of the Duvalier's regimes. The embargo undoubtedly intended to help restore democracy, and a great number of Haitian in the diaspora supported it, in the hope that the rebels will give up and Aristide will come back to power. But that wasn't the case; the real victims of the embargo were the Haitian people. As many as 1,000 children aged 5 or younger died each month; 100.000 new cases of moderate to severe malnutrition, and medicine availability became practically nonexistent. The human toll from the embargo became far greater from either the violence or the human rights abuses. Hunger, despair, disease were beyond management, by neither Haitians nor non-profit humanitarian groups. Hundreds of thousands Haitians flew to the neighboring Dominican Republic; tens of thousands crowded in unseaworthy boats, in the hope of reaching the United States, or other Island countries; over 30.000 Haitian refugees were detained at the Guantanamo Naval base in Cuba.
While in exile in Venezuela, Jean Bertrand Aristide and many other sources, accused the United States for orchestrating and financing the coup d’état trough the CIA. The US denied the accusation and said that there was no evidence to suggests that the CIA backed the coup, however many evidence of CIA involvement in Haitian politics came to light, sparking a Congressional Hearing in the United States that resulted in an enormous scandal.
It was found that the United States through the CIA, created a Haitian Intelligence Agency after the fall of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986; the agency, staffed solely by officers from the Haitian Army were heavily involved in drug trafficking and political violence and oppression. The first Presidential Election after the fall of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1987 was cancelled after the massacre of over 300 people, by a group of men on Election Day; led by one of the member of the Haitian Intelligence Agency. Jimmy Carter Wrote:
"Citizens who were lined up to vote were mowed down by fusillades of terrorists’ bullets.
Military leaders, who had either orchestrated or condoned the murders, moved in to cancel the election and retain control of the government. "
Despite having perfect knowledge of this, the CIA continued the founding of the intelligence agency, with up to $1 million annually. Between 1986 and 1991, it was found that the Haitian Intelligence Agency used their CIA training to spy on Aristide's opponents and had murdered up to 5000 members of democratic movements. One of the most notorious members of the agency, Emmanuel Constant; founder of a Haitian death squad group: FRAPH was on the payroll of the CIA as an informant and spy, for $500 a month. During the Congressional Hearing, then Senator Christopher J. Dodd said:
"A lot of the information we're getting is from the very same people who in front of the world are brutally murdering people."
Return to power (1994)
On July 31st, 1994, the United Nations Security Council resolution 940 was adopted, with the goal to help restore democracy in Haiti. The Council authorized the United States to lead a multinational force, under unified command and control to restore the legitimately elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
The operation included a peacekeeping force of more than 20.000 military personnel, from all five branches of the US Armed forces. Another 5000 non US forces from 24 nations also assisted in the mission.
Aristide had no choice but to accept the strange condition, as the US threatened to withdraw support.
One of Aristide economic plans was to help the rice farmers of l'Artibonite modernize their archaic cultivating system for a more modern one that would help boost Haiti's national production, thus becoming less dependent on importation. Rice, the main staple food in Haitian society, at the time was over 90% being imported. Marc Bazin plan called for more construction of US manufacturers' owned sweatshops, which paid employees only 30 cents an hour.
The following year in 1995, a USAID report came out:
This trade policy implemented by the Clinton administration allow the flooding of Haitian markets with hundreds of tons of cheap US rice, the farmers unable to compete the largest economy in the world, less than two hours away, were obliged to abandon their cultivation in favor of jobs that pays 20 cent an hour. Haiti went from self sufficient and an exporter Rice to other countries in the Caribbean to the world's 3rd largest rice importer, behind only China and Japan; respectively the world's 2nd and third largest economy. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The fist action of President Aristide, was the disbandment of the Haitian Army, which had been the tormentor of the Haitian people, almost since its creation. He established a civilian police force.
Aristide first term as President ended and, the constitution of Haiti which does not allow two consecutive mandates, barred him from being a candidate in the next Presidential election. René Garcia Préval, who served as Aristide's Prime minister won the election, with an astonishing 80% of the votes. International agencies that oversaw the election, admitted that there was no evidence of fraud.
In November 2000, Jean Bertrand Aristide succeeded René Garcia Préval, as the next President of Haiti, winning the election by a landslide. He got elected under his newly formed party. " Fanmi Lavalas" (The Avalanche Family).
One of Aristide first acts during his second term, and what will ultimately be the cause of another Coup, was his called for France to pay Haiti $21 billion in restitution for the 90 million francs, the newly independent Republic of Haiti had paid to France in return for diplomatic recognition. The demand was delivered to Haiti in 1834, under the government of Jean Pierre Boyer; by 12 french warships armed with 500 Canons. Over-matched, Haiti was forced to take out a 30 million franc loan from France to pay the first part of the indemnity, then continued to verse large sum annually to its former colony until the amount was paid in full. Due to inflation, the 90 million franc, absolutely equaled the calculation of Aristide in 2000. France would have ever been able to pay such large sums back to its former colony.
The French viewed Aristide demand's as a farce. French officials were insulted and angered, when the point was pressed in diplomatic and legal circles that actually viewed a legal merit in Haiti's demand. Despite growing call from many in the international community for Aristide to drop the demand, a resilient Aristide kept the pressure. In Haiti, dozens of add were running in the media, and "$21 billion" along the word "restitution" was seen all over the place in Haiti. On January 1st, 2004, during a speech for the Celebration of Haiti 200 years Independence, Aristide announced that he would replace a 21-gun salute with a list of 21 things he had done in spite of the embargo, and 21 things that he would do after the restitution was made.
Just like in his first presidency, some of Aristide's plans such as higher taxes on the top 1% elite of the country, higher minimum wages for the poor, which was only 30 cents at the time; again, angered the elite class of the country. An opposition led and financed by the tiny rich class of Haiti started. While Aristide still enjoyed a popularity of nearly 70% many outrageous claim against him started to face. Some of them were ridiculous but believed by many in Haiti and in the international media. He was thought to be an accomplice to (if not directly responsible for) every crime - drugs trafficking, political assassinations and the dead dogs in the street. Could this be the man who received the 1996 UNESCO prize for human rights education?
As the opposition grew, western powers such as the United States, Canada and France played leading roles in forcing hundreds of millions of dollars to be cut off to Haiti, while bolstering the opposition with money, arms and munitions.
- The US had blocked the health loans that the Inter-American Development Bank had long since approve for its work. Most of this loan were meant to counter act and aid epidemic that was devastating the country. Despite the bismal available resources, Mildred Trouillot, President Aristide's wife was the chairman of a governmental AIDS task and under her lead, the country rate of HIV infected individuals had dropped significantly.
First lady Mildred Aristide made AIDS care in Haiti as good as anywhere else in the world. In 2001, Mildred Aristide led a Haitian delegation of public and private sector representative to the United Nations Special General Assembly on AIDS. It was during that meeting that the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was instituted. Following on the UN meeting, the government of Haiti, in early 2002, submitted a proposal for funding to the newly established Global Fund. The proposal was developed by the Haitian Government Ministry of Health and a number of nongovernmental organizations, including Partner's in Health, a group headed by Dr Paul Farmer, the Harvard Medical School professor associated with Université Populaire. In compliance with the Global Fund requirements, Haiti's National AIDS commission made itself over into a Country Coordination Mechanism (CCM), and by late 2002 it won approval from the fund for its proposal as well as high marks for its work. Laurie Garret noted in a NYTimes op-ed piece: " As chaotic as it is, Haiti surpassed its 2006 target after only a year of Global Fund support."
Information about AIDS prevention were integrated into classroom materials in the country's high school, a system was set up to expedite the movement of AIDS medicines through the Haitian customs for swift delivery to the ill. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba on February 6, 1996 facilitated the later deployment across Haiti of five hundred Cuban health care workers-doctors, nurses and lab technicians. Haitian doctors went to Cuba to be trained and Cuban doctors came to Haiti to teach at the Université Populaire. The country's insufficient blood supply for example, had long been a major problem. In 2003, Mildred Aristide started a campaign to promote an awareness among Haitians of the need to donate blood, she emphasized publicly that blood giving in a poor country like Haiti had to be viewed as a community obligation.
" Haiti faces the worst HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Western Hemisphere. Across this small island nation an estimated three hundred thousand people-six percent of the adult population-live with HIV/AIDS. Last year, approximately thirty thousand Haitians died of the disease, the leading cause of death among sexually active adults and young people. Although Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Hemisphere, the comprehensive rural health service it offers in its Central Plateau stand as exemplary models of HIV/AIDS care and treatment for other low-to-middle-income countries around the world" Global Fund website.
Besides the direct funding obstruction mounted by the Bush administration, the US went unusually out of its way to crush this poor, defenseless nation. In 2003, no one could remember an occasion where the United States and its allies had mounted a more comprehensive campaign to cripple a small, poor country than they had in the case of democratic Haiti. In the summer of 2003, the Global Fund invited Mrs Aristide to address a major conference on AIDS it was holding in France, but was forced to dis-invite her after the French government blocked her participation in the conference.
In December 2003, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin sent his sister to Port-au-Prince to tell Jean Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected President, that it was time for him to step down.
In February of 2004, Buteur Metayer, blame Aristide for the assassination of his brother, who was believed to be a gang member; joined the opposition and formed a rebellious group " The National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation and Reconstruction of Haiti" joined by other groups, the rebels armed by the US, as it would later be discovered during a US Congressional hearings; quickly took control of Northern Haiti, and threatened to take over the Capital.
On February 29th, 2004, Aristide was flown out of the Country, by the United States.
The very next day, Aristide issued a statement accusing the United States of deposing him. Aristide said that he was 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. According to Rep. Maxine Waters D- California: Jean Bertrand Aristide called her home at 6:30 in the morning to inform her that the coup d'etat has been completed. Jean Bertrand Aristide told her: The US Embassy in Haiti's chief of staff came his house to say that he would be killed " an a lot of Haitian would be killed" if he refused to resign immediately and said " he has to go now".