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History, Aristide’s Return

President Aristide, legislative races, Senate seats, military takeover, mayoral elections

The UN lifted its embargo in late September and President Aristide returned to Haiti on October 15, 1994. In November he named his former commerce minister, Smarck Michel, as the new prime minister. In keeping with Roman Catholic regulations that priests not hold public office, Aristide submitted his request to leave the priesthood that same month.

Aristide’s return raised the hopes of many Haitians for peace, reconciliation, and economic revival. Haiti’s economy, never very stable, was weakened to the point of collapse by the military takeover and subsequent international embargo. Much of Haiti’s infrastructure—including port facilities, bridges, and roadways—had deteriorated. Millions of dollars in international aid was earmarked for the improvement and stabilization of Haiti, including the disbanding of the nation’s police and military and the recruiting, training, and deployment of new members. As part of the effort, Aristide ordered the forced retirement of 43 senior army officers in February 1995, including all of the generals and lieutenants who had served under the military government that overthrew Aristide in 1991. In early 1995 U.S. forces left Haiti, and a UN peacekeeping contingent took over.

Haiti staged general elections in June 1995 in which more than 10,000 candidates ran for 18 of 27 Senate seats, all 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 134 mayoral posts, and positions in 565 local councils. The elections were an important test for the fledgling civilian government and about half of the country’s 3.5 million registered voters cast ballots. International election observers and news outlets reported that the elections were peaceful, but also marked by chaos, confusion, and widespread violations of election procedures, including unopened ballots, poor ballot distribution, and lack of information for voters. Makeup elections were held in August for people unable to vote in June, or for those areas where votes had not been counted because of administrative problems. The Lavalas Platform, a three-party coalition endorsed by Aristide, dominated both elections, winning more than two-thirds of the legislative races and three-fourths of the mayoral elections. Most other parties refused to accept the results of the June elections, however, and boycotted the makeup elections.

In October 1995 Prime Minister Michel resigned after clashes with Aristide and other government officials over Michel’s support for economic reforms backed by the United States, including the privatization of state-owned companies such as electric and telephone utilities, banks, and the country’s main port. The next month the United States suspended $4.5 million in economic aid, citing delays by Aristide’s government in implementing the economic reforms.

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