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Jean Bertrand Aristide had a lot of support from the Haitian people as Haiti's President. He was supported and dearly loved by his people. He is still loved, but things have changed quite a bit and he now faces many challenges.  --To keep the support of Haiti's poor majority; patch up relations with the international community.  --To secure aid for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; and fix an impasse with the opposition. To keep alive the talks to find common ground with the opposition.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born on July 15, 1953 in the coastal town of Port-Salut, Haiti. At an early age he, his sister and mother moved to the capital city of Port-au-Prince. He attended schools run by the Salesian Fathers of Haiti and graduated from College Notre Dame in the historic town of Cap-Haitian in 1974.Aristide went to do novitiate studies at the Salesian seminary in La Vega in the neighboring Dominican Republic. A year later Aristide returned to Haiti to continue post graduate studies in philosophy at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame and post graduate studies in psychology at the State University of Haiti.

After completing his studies in Haiti in 1979 Aristide traveled to Rome and then to Israel where he spent two years studying biblical theology.
On July 3, 1983 Aristide returned home for his ordination by Haitian Bishop Willy Romélus. He was appointed curate of St. Joseph's church, a poor parish on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. As a parish priest, Aristide shared in the lives and struggles of his parishioners and quickly became their spokesperson.

He later moved to St. Jean Bosco, a church on the edge of La Saline, one of the largest slums of Port-au-Prince. Aristide known affectionately as "Titid" to his parishioners quickly became a leading spokesperson of "ti legliz," the progressive wing of the Catholic church in Haiti. Aristide's message of hope, his unique ability to communicate with the Haitian people in Creole, and his affirmation of the human dignity of each person - summed up in the Haitian proverb he often cited "tout moun se moun," every human being is a human being, regularly attracted thousands of participants to mass. Aristide was an outspoken critic of the Duvalier regime, and of the social system which condemned 85% of the population to abject poverty. He rose to national prominence through the broadcasts of his sermons on the Catholic station, Radio Soleil.

Shortly after Duvalier's fall in April of 1986 Aristide led a memorial march to notorious Fort Dimanche prison in memory of the 30,000 Haitians who lost their lives there under Duvalier. The Haitian military opened fire on the crowd of praying demonstrators but Aristide continued a live broadcast on Radio Soleil during the massacre, confirming his reputation as a fearless opponent of the regime.

Aristide became a target of repression by the military governments that held power after Duvalier's fall. He survived at least 9 attempts on his life. On September 11, 1988 St. Jean Bosco was attacked by a group of armed thugs while Aristide was giving mass. Dozens of congregants were murdered and the church was burned to the ground, destroying the symbolic heart of the ti legliz movement. A week later, partly due to the general revulsion at this act of brutality, the military junta fell. Aristide was expelled from the Salesian order on the grounds that he had crossed the border between religion and politics.

Though his church had been burned down Aristide's popularity among the Haitian poor only grew. He continued to play a leading role in the movement for democracy through the difficult and dangerous years of 1989 and 1990. He also dedicated more of his time to La Fanmi Selavi (the Family is life), a home for street children he founded in 1986.

In the fall of 1990 Haiti prepared for presidential elections that many feared would end in violence as they did in 1987 when voters were massacred at the voting poles. On the final day of registration Aristide announced his candidacy for the presidency. The announcement electrified the country and after a six week campaign that Aristide dubbed "Lavalas" or a cleansing flood, he was elected president in Haiti's first free and fair election with an overwhelming 67% of the vote. On the eve of his inauguration violence struck again as arsonists set fire to La Fanmi Selavi, killing four children.

During Aristide's seven months in office his government pursued a program of change based of the principles of participation, transparence and justice.

The Lavalas government began the difficult tasks of cleaning out a corrupt civil service, enforcing tax codes, fighting drug trafficking, and delivering services to its citizens. There was relative security, with military violence and criminal activity sharply reduced. Human rights organizations reported a dramatic drop in violations, the flow of refugees came to a halt, and not a single extrajudicial execution was attributed to the government during this period. The international community applauded the numerous reforms undertaken and donors pledged funds to the new government.

All of this ended on September 30, 1991, when the Haitian military violently overthrew the democratic government. Aristide was forced into exile, and the military unleashed an unprecedented campaign of terror and violence taking the lives of more than 5000 Haitian over the next three years, hundreds of thousands were forced into hiding, and tens of thousands more fled their homeland by boat. The coup targeted peasant organizations, members of the ti legliz, journalists, students, political activists, and neighborhoods that were strongholds of support for Aristide. Despite this repression the majority of Haitians continued to support Aristide and to nonviolently resist the military regime.

President Aristide first went to Venezuela and then spent two and half years of exile in Washington DC. Throughout his 1,111 days in exile he was recognized internationally as the legitimate President of Haiti. President Aristide worked nonstop, pursuing numerous diplomatic initiatives aimed at resolving the crisis and challenging the international community to work with the Haitian people to restore democracy to Haiti. Traveling throughout Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the United States speaking against the violence and repression that reigned in Haiti he urged international support for Haiti's cause and maintained close contact with the large Haitian diaspora.

On October 15, 1994, President Aristide triumphantly returned to Haiti where he completed the last sixteen months of his presidential term. He returned to a country traumatized by the violence of the coup period and economically devastated. His commitment to justice, and his calls for peaceful rebuilding of the nation enabled the country to regain political stability and take the first steps towards economic recovery. His most significant act as President was to dismantle the Haitian military. His government created Haiti's first civilian police force. With the support of the United Nations legislative elections were held and in February 1996 Haiti witnessed its first peaceful transition from one democratically elected president to the next.

After completing his five year term as President, Aristide founded the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. Under Aristide's leadership the Foundation is dedicated to deepening the roots of Haiti's democracy by opening avenues of participation to all Haitians. The foundation has three major program areas: sponsoring forums and public dialogues on issues such as justice, land reform, and the economic future of the nation; supporting literacy programs in Haiti; and fostering community-based economic initiatives.

President Aristide has been honored and recognized worldwide for his commitment to nonviolence, peace and justice. A partial list of awards he has received includes the Oscar Romero Award, the Martin Luther King International Statesman and Ecumenical Award, and the Aix-la-Chappelle Peace Prize.

In January 1996 Aristide married Mildred Trouillot, a Haitian-American lawyer who served as a legal advisor to the government of Haiti while Aristide was in exile and after his return to Haiti in 1994. They have two daughters.

President Aristide has authored several books including: Why (1978); Raise the Table (1986); 100 Verses of Dechoukaj (1986); The Truth in Truth (1989); In the Parish of the Poor (1990); Aristide: An Autobiography (1992); Theology and and Politics (1993); Dignity (1995); and Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization (2000). He is fluent in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, English and in his native Creole and French. Aristide is an accomplished musician and composer, he plays the guitar, saxophone, organ, drums, clarinet and piano.
source: Embassy of the Republic of Haiti, Washington D.C.




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