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Archive for Monday, May 15, 2006

New Haitian president appeals for unity, peace

May 15, 2006

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— Rene Preval was sworn in Sunday as Haiti's president for the second time, restoring legitimacy to the troubled nation's government after more than two years of anarchy and violence that followed the flight of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to escape an armed rebellion.

A soft-spoken agronomist and the only president ever to serve out his full term, Preval, who previously served from 1996 to 2001, inherits a nation occupied by foreign peacekeepers, in economic shambles and deeply conflicted over the legacy and future of Aristide.

In a ceremony at the Parliament that hasn't functioned properly in five years, the red-and-blue presidential sash was bestowed on Preval, who then appealed in a 15-minute speech for national unity and social peace to pull Haiti out of its misery.

"Only we Haitians can solve our main problem, which is division. We have to work together. Foreigners can't do that for us," he said.

While the inauguration was attended by 300 Haitian and foreign dignitaries including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, average Haitians thronged the streets, their ears bent to radios to follow the fanfare. Thousands amassed outside the National Palace to cheer as the presidential party arrived for a reception and another brief address by Preval to those gathered on the manicured lawn or listening from behind the wrought-iron fences.

Less than a mile away, U.N. troops and Haitian police were called to quell a prison revolt that erupted with heavy gunfire just hours before the inauguration, a reminder of the troubled path ahead for the new leader.


Haitians listen to loudspeakers broadcasting the inaugural speech of new President Rene Preval in front of the National Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Preval, the only president in Haiti's history to finish a five-year term, was sworn in Sunday to again lead the impoverished nation in its latest attempt at democracy after decades of armed uprisings, lawlessness and foreign intervention.

Haitians listen to loudspeakers broadcasting the inaugural speech of new President Rene Preval in front of the National Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Preval, the only president in Haiti's history to finish a five-year term, was sworn in Sunday to again lead the impoverished nation in its latest attempt at democracy after decades of armed uprisings, lawlessness and foreign intervention.

Preval, 63, won the Feb. 7 vote in the first round despite competition from more than 30 other contenders. He was seen as torchbearer of Aristide's unfulfilled aim of empowering the poor in a country of 8.5 million where wealth has long been controlled by a few dozen families. Preval served as Aristide's prime minister, as well as presidential place-holder from 1996 to 2001 when Aristide was ineligible to serve because of a constitutional prohibition against successive terms.

But some who voted for Preval did so in the expectation that he would bring back Aristide, currently languishing in a state guest house in South Africa.

Preval has said only that the constitution allows any Haitian to return to his homeland, stopping short of urging the return of his controversial predecessor. In February, Preval intimated to journalists that Aristide should keep in mind that criminal charges have been raised against him by the U.S.-backed interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue put in power after Aristide left.

Many here and in foreign capitals believe Aristide would undermine Preval's authority and likely reignite the violence among gangs armed by Aristide's Lavalas movement.

The European-educated son of an affluent agrarian family, Preval has already made overtures to some in the industrial elite who were vehement opponents of Aristide and have made clear they do not want the radical proponent of liberation theology back in the country.

With his Lespwa movement falling short of a majority in parliament, Preval will have to build alliances with political rivals to push through the legislation needed to begin extracting Haiti from its economic morass. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has an unemployment rate of about 70 percent and environmental disasters have ravaged food production.

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