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Rene Preval, Spanish Island, Hispaniola, Arawak, agricultural economist

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>  Colonization

>  Revolt

>  Haitian Slave Revolt

>  Independence

>  Occupation by the United States

>  Post-Occupation Developments

>  The Duvalier Regime

>  After Duvalier

>  The Cedras-Francois Dictatorship

>  U.S. Intervention and Aristide’s Return

>  Return and Overthrow of Aristide

The Arawak, the original inhabitants of the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, called the island Ayti, meaning “land of mountains.” When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, he named the island La Isla Espanola (Spanish for “The Spanish Island”) in honor of his Spanish sponsors. The name later evolved into the modern name of the island, Hispaniola. After Native Americans destroyed an early Spanish settlement near Cap-Haitien, the Spanish settled the eastern half of the island and left the west unsettled.

Preval’s Presidency

In December 1995 Aristide’s close friend and handpicked successor, Rene Preval, was elected president of Haiti. Preval had been Aristide’s prime minister at the time of the 1991 coup. Aristide was constitutionally forbidden to run for a second term until five years had elapsed. Preval selected Rosny Smarth, an agricultural economist, as prime minister. Smarth tried to reduce government spending and privatize state-owned industries, as required by international lending agencies. Teachers, some of whom had not been paid in two years, went on strike to demand their wages, as did hospital interns and other government workers. After several months of violent strikes and protests, Smarth resigned in 1997.

Following Smarth’s resignation, Haiti’s government reached a standstill that lasted into 1999. The legislature refused to approve any candidates Preval nominated for prime minister. In 1999 Preval appointed a new government by decree.

Return of Preval

In February 2006 Haiti held presidential elections. The two leading candidates were former Haitian presidents Leslie Manigat, who held office for four months in 1988, and Rene Preval, who was president from 1996 to 2001, in between Aristide’s two terms. As in the previous presidential election, the voting was marred by allegations of fraud and misconduct. Preval eventually emerged as the victor, collecting just more than 51 percent of the vote, although not before election officials threw out about 85,000 blank ballots, an action that negated a potential runoff vote. As president, Preval faces the daunting task of repairing the political, economic, and social foundations of the impoverished country.

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