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7017: Jean-Bertrand Aristide biography (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

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 Romelus. 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 

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 

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.

Based on biographies contained in the Aristide Foundation for Democracy 
brochure and at eyesoftheheart.org