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Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Jean-Bertrand Aristide nicknamed Titide in Haiti (born July 15, 1953) is the president of Haiti, starting a second term in office on February 7 2001 after disputed elections. Formerly a Catholic priest, his first term from 1991 - 1996 made him the first democratic president of Haiti, following the fall of the Duvalier regime.

Born in Port-Salut, Haiti. He was educated at schools in Port-au-Prince and at the College Notre Dame, graduating in 1974. He then took a course of novitiate studies in La Vega before returning to Haiti to study philosophy at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame and psychology at the State University of Haiti. Completing his post-graduate studies in 1979 he travelled in Europe, studying in Italy and Israel.

Aristide returned to Haiti in 1983 for his ordination. He was appointed curate of a small parish in Port-au-Prince and then a larger one in the La Saline slums. He became a leading figure in the more radical wing of the Catholic faith in Haiti (the ti legliz), broadcasting his sermons on the national Catholic radio. The Duvalier regime tried repeatedly to silence him. Only the collapse of the regime in April 1986 saved him. Aristide was expelled from his Salesian order due to the political nature of his acts.

Following the violence at the abortive national elections of 1987, the 1990 polls were approached with caution. Aristide announced his candidacy for the presidency and following a six week campaign (Lavalas) the "little priest" was elected President with 67% of the vote.

Assuming office on February 7, 1991 Aristide's rule showed signal improvements in the quality of government. However his popularity did not extend to the army and on September 30, 1991 a military coup d'etat forced Aristide to flee. The coup created a large-scale exodus of boat people. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued refugees from the previous 10 years combined.

Aristide spent his exile in Venezuela and then in the USA, working hard to develop international support. The military junta did not last, the UN approved intervention and under the threat of a US led invasion the regime collapsed. On October 15, 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti to complete his term in office. The military rule had dealt a strong blow to Haiti's weak economy and much of Aristide's time was taken with economic measures. He also purged the Haitian army of many School of the Americas trained officers and established a civilain police force. In the Assemblée Nationale elections of June 1995, a multi-party coalition, the Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL) won a convincing victory.

In 1995 Aristide left the priesthood. In 1996 he married Midred Trouillot, an American citizen.

Aristide's first term ended in February 1996 and the constitution did not allow him to succeed himself. There were Presidential elections in December 1995. René Préval, a prominent ally of Aristide and Prime Minister since 1991 under Aristide, took 88% of the vote.

In late 1996, Aristide broke from the OPL and created a new political party, the Fanmi Lavalas (FL). The OPL, holding the majority of the Sénat and the Chambre des Députés, renamed itself the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte, maintaining the OPL acronym. Elections in April 1997 for the Sénat chamber of the Assemblée Nationale drew only about 5% of registered voters and were plagued with allegations of fraud, the Preval government refused to accept the results.

New elections in May, 2000 for almost the entire Assemblée Nationale drew voter turnout of more than 60%. But a discredited counting system used by the pro-Aristide Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) conspired to give the FL a sweeping victory. Opposition parties united as the Convergence Democratique (CD) and demanded the elections be ignored.

Despite pressure the rift widened, on February 7 2001, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was sworn in as the new Haitian president. That same day, the CD swore in Gerard Gourgue as head of a new provisonal government. Aristide agreed to reform the CEP, but he did not include any supporters of the opposition in the new body. Jean-Marie Cherestal was made the new Prime Minister in March 2001.

The CD rejected both changes and in response the Government tried to have Gourgue arrested. The economy suffered as political control stalled. Aristide made moves to placate the opposition - in June 2001 certain senators holding contested seats resigned - but talks between the FL and the CD repeatedly failed. There was an attempted coup in mid-December 2001 and Jean-Marie Cherestal resigned in January 2002, as the economy continued to slump.