Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Political Figure

Born: 15 July 1953
Birthplace: Port-Salut, Haiti
Best known as: Beleaguered president of Haiti, 2001-2004

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected twice to the presidency of Haiti, in 1990 and in 2000, and was forced into exile mid-term both times, in 1991 and 2004. Born into poverty near Port-Salut, Aristide was educated by Catholic priests of the Salesian Order and, after studying in Haiti and abroad in Rome and Israel, was ordained as a priest in 1983. During the '80s Aristide became a national figure as a defender of the poor against the oppressive policies of the ruling Duvalier family. After the fall of the Duvalier regime in 1986, Aristide became more involved in politics, survived several assassination attempts and was eventually expelled from the Salesian Order for advocating revolution. With popular support and help from the United States, in 1991 Aristide took office as Haiti's first democratically elected president (elected in December of 1990). After he had served just seven months in office, however, a military coup sent him into exile, first in Venezuela and then in the United States.

He was restored to power in 1994 and served the rest of his term, stepping down after 1995's election, in accordance with Haiti's constitutional ban on consecutive terms. He won the 2000 election and took office again in 2001 (and survived a coup attempt that same year), but opponents of his Fanmi Lavalas Party held that his claim on the office was illegitimate and accused him of election fraud and corruption. Seen by supporters as a liberator and by detractors as a dictator, Aristide's second term as president was marked by the nation's persistent poverty and civil unrest. In January 2004 opposition forces began rioting across Haiti and in February surrounded the capital city, and Aristide left the country on 29 February. It's unclear whether he resigned the presidency voluntarily or was forced out.

Extra credit: Aristide officially left the priesthood in 1995 and married a U.S. citizen, Mildred Trouillot, in 1996. Together they have two daughters.

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