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Jean-Bertrand Aristide (born July 15, 1953), nicknamed Titide, is the President of Haiti (1991, 1994 - 1996, 2001 - present). He began his current term in office on February 7, 2001 after disputed elections. Formerly a Catholic priest, he became the first democratically elected leader of Haiti in 1991, five years after the fall of the Duvalier regime.
Aristide was 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. After 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.
Taking office on February 7, 1991, Aristide quickly made 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 civilian police force. In the Assemblée Nationale elections of June 1995, a multi-party coalition, the Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL) won a convincing victory.
Aristide's first term ended in February 1996, and the constitution did not allow him to serve consecutive terms. René Préval, a prominent ally of Aristide and Prime Minister since 1991 under Aristide, ran during the 1995 presidential election and 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 of 2000 for almost the entire Assemblée Nationale drew voter turnout of more than 60%. The FL won a sweeping victory, but the methods used by the Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) in counting the votes were rejected by opposition parties, which united as the Convergence Democratique (CD) and demanded that the elections be ignored.
Aristide won the presidential election in November of 2000 with 91.8% of the vote. Most of the opposition parties boycotted this election, claiming that they had no fair chance. On February 7, 2001, Aristide was sworn in for his second term as President of Haiti. 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 Cherestal resigned in January 2002, as the economy continued to slump.
In January 2004, pent-up frustration at Aristide's failure to stamp out corruption and revive a moribund economy resulted in mass protests in many cities, especially Port-au-Prince, where violent clashes resulted in several deaths. Despite mounting pressure, Aristide refused the opposition's demands that he resign before the end of his term in February 2006. On February 5, 2004, a rebel group called the "Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front" seized control of Haiti's fourth-largest city, Gonaives, marking the beginning of a major revolt against Aristide.