Divide and Founder: The Préval Presidency (1996–2001)
René Préval’s inauguration on February 7, 1996 was a historic event. Haiti had known a few peaceful transfers of power in the twentieth century—the last one in 1971 when Bébé Doc replaced Papa Doc—but 1996 marked the first transition from one democratically elected president to another in Haitian history. The new president was a fifty-three-year-old man of high ideals and education. Préval had lived in Belgium and in the United States after his family left Haiti to flee Papa Doc’s repressive rule; there, he had learned perfect French and English in addition to his native Creole; he then came back to Haiti in the 1980s to open a bakery business. Contrary to many other Haitians of affluent birth, he was also a compassionate man who helped Aristide run the Lafanmi Selavi shelters. An agronomist by training, he promised to modernize the agricultural sector that employed a majority of Haitians but was traditionally neglected by the oligarchy of Port-au-Prince. He had extensive government experience, having served as Aristide’s prime minister in 1991, then as his confident during their years in exile, before heading the patronage machine that rewarded loyal Aristide supporters with jobs. His close association with Aristide earned him the nickname of marassa after the twin brothers of the Voodoo pantheon and prompted Haitian voters to grant him an electoral majority greater even than that of Aristide in 1990.
KeywordsGross Domestic Product Human Development Index Political Violence Gross Domestic Product Growth Legislative Election
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