BBC News
February 29, 2004

Profile: Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Jean-Bertrand Aristide's dramatic departure from Haiti is the second time the president has been forced into exile.

Mr Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected president in 200 years of independence, had defiantly insisted he would remain in office until his term officially expired in 2006.

But the sweeping rebellion which had largely encircled the capital - coming on top of years of complaints about his second election - proved too much, and he left the country on 29 February.

It is difficult to see how he can stage another comeback, with the United States and France turning against him.

But the former Roman Catholic priest once enjoyed great popular support as a champion of the poor.
In 1990, he won the decisive victory which swept him to power as Haiti's first democratically elected president.

Months later he was overthrown in a bloody military coup. He sought exile in the US where he campaigned against Haiti's new military rulers.

His efforts paid off and he was reinstated in 1994 when the military rulers were forced to step down under international pressure and with the help of 20,000 troops, most of them American.


Forbidden to stand for a second consecutive term in 1995, Mr Aristide was replaced by Rene Preval following presidential elections. But he stood in and won the 2000 poll, which was boycotted by opposition groups.

His Lavalas Party took more than 80% of the local and parliamentary seats, but international observers criticised the poll.

Mr Aristide's second term soon became mired in political, social and economic crises. The opposition refused to recognise the outcome of the 2000 elections. A coup attempt in July 2001 was blamed on former members of the military.

Opposition groups claimed that an apparent coup attempt in December of that year had been staged by the government to justify repressive measures.

Anti-government protests, which had been frequent and ongoing since the 2000 poll, escalated in late 2003 and turned increasingly violent.

Fighter for the poor

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born in 1953 and educated at a Roman Catholic school and seminary.

He was ordained in 1982 and became a strong supporter of liberation theology, which pressed the church to engage with social problems, including poverty and oppression. In 1986 he helped to establish a home for street children.

A stirring orator, he championed the poor, advocated democracy and campaigned against the dictatorship of Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier.
But his political stance and growing support angered Haiti's incumbent leaders, and he was the target of several assassination attempts in the 1980s.

His political activities were also unpopular with church officials. He was expelled from his religious order in 1988 and left the priesthood in 1994. He later married.

Mr Aristide promised to hold parliamentary elections in 2004 and to instigate a programme to help the poor.

But he singularly failed to address political divisions, and under his rule Haiti retained its status as the poorest nation in the Americas.

Mr Aristide stepped down a day after Washington questioned "his fitness to continue to govern" amid a crisis which, it said, was largely of his making.