History, Recent Developments
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, peacekeeping troops, Haitian government, Preval, Aristide
In December 1995 Aristideís close friend and handpicked successor Rene Preval was elected president of Haiti in a landslide victory. Preval had been Aristideís prime minister at the time of the 1991 coup. Although Aristide was constitutionally forbidden to run for a second consecutive presidential term, many Haitians argued that he should have been able to make up for the three years he spent in exile by serving another three years in office. Uncertainty surrounding the transfer of power, including statements by Aristide hinting that he might not step down, led the United States to pressure Aristide to reaffirm his pledge to a smooth transfer of power.
After a wave of violence and political assassinations, president-elect Preval asked the UN in January 1996 to keep between 1,000 and 1,500 UN troops in Haiti for an additional six months. The 5,800-member UN force had been scheduled to leave at the end of February. Preval was inaugurated as president of Haiti in February. In his last official act as president, Aristide restored Haitiís diplomatic relations with Cuba, which had been broken off in 1961 under diplomatic pressure from the United States. Rosny Smarth, an agronomist and member of the ruling Lavalas Platform, was selected as Haitiís new prime minister in March 1996, becoming the countryís third prime minister in less than a year.
Nearly all of the U.S. combat units left Haiti at the end of April 1996, just as the United States froze about half of its economic aid to the country until the Haitian government could show progress in solving a series of murders of public figures. Haitian officials complained that the United States was asking too much of the countryís recently assembled and inexperienced police force, and that U.S. intelligence agencies were not cooperating with the criminal investigations.
Smarth announced his resignation as prime minister in June 1997, after several months of strikes and protests against government austerity measures. Smarth had been criticized by Aristide and others for following economic policies that aimed to reduce government spending and privatize state-owned industries. Austerity measures were required by international lending agencies as a condition for Haiti to continue receiving needed foreign aid. Smarthís critics contended that the poverty of Haiti requires government action to relieve the suffering of the poorest members of society. Most UN peacekeeping troops left Haiti in December 1997.
Following Smarthís resignation, government reached a standstill that lasted into 1999, as Haitiís Senate refused to approve candidates nominated for prime minister by Preval. Haitiís government remained in a state of disarray as a legislature divided into political factions was unable to approve government budgets or authorize the distribution of foreign aid. In March 1999 Preval appointed a new government by decree, with former education minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis as prime minister. The small remainder of U.S. troops posted in Haiti left the island in January 2000.
In parliamentary elections held in May 2000, the Lavalas Platform won a majority of seats in both houses. However, members of Haitiís election council claimed that the method used to count the votes was flawed. When a runoff vote was held in July, the opposition parties boycotted the election, and the Lavalas Platform again won. In the November presidential election, which was also boycotted by the opposition, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was reelected president. However, the international community questioned the legitimacy of both elections.
Aristide was sworn in as president of Haiti in February 2001. In response to his taking office, the opposition parties who had boycotted his election continued to demand that new elections be held.
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