Jean-Bertrand Aristide

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Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2019

Jean-Bertrand Aristide (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ bɛʁtʁɑ̃ aʁistid]; born 15 July 1953) is a former Salesian priest and politician who became Haiti's first democratically elected president. As a priest, he taught liberation theology and, as a president, he attempted to normalize Afro-Creole culture in Haiti. He returned to returned to the country in 2011 after seven years in exile.


  • We feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death...We cannot wait to be with our sisters and brothers in Haiti. We share the anguish of all Haitians in the diaspora who are desperate to reach family and loved ones...It is a tragedy that defies expression, a tragedy that compels all people to the highest levels of human compassion and solidarity
  • The fact is, there was a political abduction...This unfortunately has paved the way for occupation and we launch an appeal for peaceful resistance...I'm choosing my words carefully: for a peaceful resistance...I am the elected president and I remain the elected president. I am pleading for the restoration of democracy
    • speaking at press conference while exiled in the Central African Republic, quoted here (8 Mar 2004)
  • Reparation!...What beautiful schools, universities and hospitals we will be able to build for our children!...How much food we will have in abundance!
  • Days come and go...Today is Oct. 15, 1994, the day the sun of democracy has risen and will never set. Today is the day for justice to open its eyes and never close. Today is the day for security for all of us, morning, noon and night...We too have a dream," said Aristide, after quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "Today, in our beloved Haiti, the dream of democracy has become reality. This restoration of democracy brings reconciliation for all, and respect for every single citizen."
  • We have to swear 70 times 7 times that never, never, never, will one drop of blood fall in Haiti...We all want peace. Let all weapons be silent. To all of those who question their dreams, remember Oct. 15. To all of those who are discouraged in the pursuit of their dreams, remember Oct. 15."
  • The exceptional resilience demonstrated by the Haitian people during and after the deadly earthquake reflects the intelligence and determination of parents, especially mothers, to keep their children alive and to give them a better future, and the eagerness of youth to learn – all this despite economic challenges, social barriers, political crisis, and psychological trauma. Even though their basic needs have increased exponentially, their readiness to learn is manifest. This natural thirst for education is the foundation for a successful learning process: what is freely learned is best learned. Of course, learning is strengthened and solidified when it occurs in a safe, secure and normal environment. Hence our responsibility to promote social cohesion, democratic growth, sustainable development, self-determination; in short, the goals set forth for this new millennium. All of which represent steps towards a return to a better environment.
  • What we have learned in one long year of mourning after Haiti's earthquake is that an exogenous plan of reconstruction – one that is profit-driven, exclusionary, conceived of and implemented by non-Haitians – cannot reconstruct Haiti. It is the solemn obligation of all Haitians to join in the reconstruction and to have a voice in the direction of the nation.
  • As I have not ceased to say since 29 February 2004, from exile in Central Africa, Jamaica and now South Africa, I will return to Haiti to the field I know best and love: education. We can only agree with the words of the great Nelson Mandela, that indeed education is a powerful weapon for changing the world.

Interview (March 08, 2004)

  • I didn’t leave Haiti because I wanted to leave Haiti. They forced me to leave Haiti. It was a kidnapping, which they call coup d’etat or [inaudible] …forced resignation for me. It wasn’t a resignation. It was a kidnapping and under the cover of coup d’etat...I did not resign. I exchanged words through conversations, we exchanged notes. I gave a written note before I went to the press at the time. And instead of taking me where they said they were taking me in front of the Haitian press, the foreign press, to talk to the people, to explain what is going on, to call for peace. They used that note as a letter of resignation, and I say, they are lying...We talked with them somehow in a nice, diplomatic way to avoid bloodshed, we played the best we could in a respectful way, in a legal and diplomatic way. Because they that told me that they were going to have bloodshed. Thousands of people were going to be killed, including myself. As I said, it was not for me, because I never cared about me, my life, my security. First of all, I care about the security and lives of other people. I was elected to protect the life of every single citizen. So, that night I did my best to avoid bloodshed and when they took me, putting me in their plane, that was their plan. My strategy was then all I could [do] to avoid bloodshed.
  • Peace means for us, in this time, education and investment in health care. In my country, after 200 years of independence — we are the first black independent country in the world–but we still have only one-point-five Haitian doctors for its 11,000 Haitians. We created a university, we founded a university with the faculty of medicine that has 247 students. Once U.S. soldiers arrived in Haiti after the kidnapping, what did they do? They closed the faculty of medicine and they are now in the classrooms. This is what they call peace. This is the opposite of peace. Peace means investing in human beings, investing in health care, respect for human rights, not violations for human rights, no violations for the rights of those who voted for an elected President, and this is what it means. It means that, for humans in the world, today this is their day, [inaudible] men in the world, all together, we can all work hard to restore peace and constitutional order to Haiti.
  • What do we mean, meaning democracy. What do we mean, we need to invest in human beings. Therefore, to go back, we should not send wrong signals as they did. They went to Iraq. We see how is the situation in Iraq. They went to Haiti. We see how is the situation in Haiti. Pretending they are imposing democracy with people killing people. Why don’t they change their approach to let democracy and the constitutional order flourish slowly, but surely. After imposing a criminal embargo on us being, from the cultural point of view, very rich from a historic point of view very rich but from an economic point of view, very poor because we are the poorest country in the western hemisphere, after imposing their economic embargo upon us, because the people wanted one man, one vote, so equality among us. Then they use drug dealers, they use people who are already convicted, pretending to lead the rebellion, while they went to Haiti killing people in Gonaives, killing people in Cap Hatian and killing people in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. And now they continue in the face of the entire world, blessing impunity supporting those killers. My god, I have said it’s really ugly that image they project in the face of the world. Now it’s time for them to change, to respect them but we will also respect the truth. That’s why respectfully, we are telling them the truth. I said, when someone is wrong, the wrong way to behave is to continue to be wrong. The right way to behave is a move from wrong to being right. Now, it’s time to move from being wrong on their side to become right by supporting the constitutional order.
  • (Do you still consider yourself President of Haiti?) JBA: Yes, because the people voted for me. They are still fighting in a peaceful way for their elected President. I cannot betray them. That’s why I do my best to respect their will...(Do you want to return immediately to Haiti?) A: If I can go today, I would go today. If it’s tomorrow, tomorrow. Whenever time comes, I will say yes, because my people, they elected me.
  • I will continue to believe that we must invest in human beings. We must invest in education and health care. This is what will bring peace. Because peace is not an empty word. It has to be full. Investing in education and health care, bring the real peace to the country, and what they call peace is not the real peace. It is violence. It is kidnapping. What we call peace through education is telling the world that we are right.
  • I say it, and I say it again, the Haitian people are a non-violent people. They voted for democracy. They will continue to fight in a peaceful way for democracy, and I will continue to be faithful to them doing the same. The peaceful approach, fighting peacefully for the restoration of the constitutional order.
  • (What do you think people can do in the United States?) JBA: I think they can continue to mobilize human resources to help bring peace for Haiti—democracy for Haiti. This is what the Haitian people want: Peace and democracy.

Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization (2000)



  • The people write to me with the hope that I can solve their problems. But since neither the problems nor the solutions begin and end in Haiti, I feel I should forward some of the contents outside of Haiti.
  • On behalf of the Haitian people, I extend again our profound gratitude to all of our friends outside Haiti who have supported our struggle through the years, and particularly to all of those who mobilized, pressured and worked to make the restoration of democracy in 1994 a reality.
  • Through this letter we would like to open a window for you, a window through which you may see something that touches your own life.
  • When I see my people there is a question that always arises. How can they survive with so little? How do they create hope where there is no hope? How do they create a way where there is no way? This way that the poor are creating, where there is apparently no way, is what we call the third way.

"The Challenge of 2004"

  • Part of this challenge involves dramatically changing global spending priorities, which are so grotesquely skewed. It is estimated that only 10% of development aid goes towards meeting primary human needs (education, health care, clean water, and sanitation). This amount represents less than what the industrialized world spends on athletic shoes each year. It would take six billion dollars a year, for three years, in addition to what is already spent, to put every child in the world in school. Does this seem like a lot? It represents less than 1% of world military spending.
  • one thing is certain, to get there we will have to take risks. We will have to assume them. And to assume risks requires faith If you cannot cross the visible to what you cannot yet see, you will be stuck in doubts, pessimism, and defeatism. Faith arms you to believe and to assume risks.
  • What will 2004 look like to them? I see for them a country with 85% literacy, rather than 85% illiteracy. Cooperatives flourish in villages and in the informal sectors of the cities. Water is flowing through the fields of the countryside-where food enough for all of Haiti's people is growing. Creole pigs are seen more and more in the countryside, the descendents of those few that the peasants hid away and saved from extermination. Seedlings are beginning to take root on the mountainsides. The seedlings have a chance at survival because the people are no longer in misery, but are already on the road to poverty with dignity. There are primary schools and health clinics in every municipality of Haiti. The schoolbooks are not just half-price-they are free, in accordance with Article 32.1 of our constitution which promises a free education to every Haitian child. The children and young people are actively engaged in the changes sweeping their country. Radyo Timoun can be heard throughout the country, and people begin to feel it is normal for children to have a voice in national issues. The bayakou and the bouretye still labor, but the weight of social exclusion has been lifted. The restaveks are eating at the table with everyone else. This is our challenge for the new century; this is the challenge of 2004. We assume it. We are living it right now.
  • You and I together, fingers of the same hand, are called to build a more human world in this new century, to bring the thumb and the little finger closer together, so the hand may be strong and whole. I am certain that we can and that we will.

Quotes about

  • since 1990, in both elections and in huge popular demonstrations, Haitians have expressed their desire to be led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide – a sensible, conscientious humanitarian, and democratic reformer and a supporter of the liberation theology movement. He has been overthrown as leader and exiled twice by pro-US local elites because the US fears his influence might initiate a regional domino effect; this explains why Aristide continues to be demeaned by conservative sources in the US.
  • (What’s your assessment of Aristide?) ED: That’s a tricky one. My view still is that he was voted in power. I can’t really gauge how much change there’s been since 1990. I know he has his supporters and detractors. I will quote Brecht: “I’m on the side of the people.” Whatever the people decide about him, I will follow. Life’s hard in Haiti right now. And the hardest thing is that the future does not lie with one person. A lot of the focus is often put on him. He can’t save Haiti. No one individual can. He can’t pull the strings and make everything better. It all becomes a personality cult: Can one person save Haiti? (I sense your reticence in talking about Aristide.) ED: I do have trouble talking about him because I just don’t know. I can’t read the situation very well. I can’t say, like some do, that he’s all bad, or like some other people, that he’s all good.
  • Aristide is a pivotal political and religious figure in the history of the world.
  • The US continued to prevent Aristide from returning for the next seven years. Just last week, President Barack Obama called South African President Jacob Zuma to express "deep concerns" about Aristide's potential return, and to pressure Zuma to block the trip. Zuma, to his credit, ignored the warning. US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal a concerted drive, over years, to hamper the return of Aristide to Haiti, including diplomatically punishing any country that helped Aristide, including threatening to block a UN security council seat for South Africa. After landing in Port-au-Prince, Aristide wasted no time. He addressed the people of Haiti from the airport. His remarks touched on a key point of the current elections there: that his political party, the most popular party in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas, is banned, excluded from the elections. He said: "The problem is exclusion, and the solution is inclusion. The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the majority … because everybody is a person." Looking out on the country he hadn't seen in seven years, he concluded: "Haiti, Haiti, the further I am from you, the less I breathe. Haiti, I love you, and I will love you always. Always."
  • It was only 10 years ago that President Clinton celebrated Aristide's return to power as "the triumph of freedom over fear". So it seems worth asking: what changed? Aristide is certainly no saint, but even if the worst of the allegations against him are true, they pale next to the rap sheets of the convicted killers, drug smugglers and arms traders who ousted him...A few weeks ago I visited Aristide in Pretoria, South Africa, where he lives in forced exile. I asked him what was really behind his dramatic falling-out with Washington. He offered an explanation rarely heard in discussions of Haitian politics - actually, he offered three: "Privatisation, privatisation and privatisation." The dispute dates back to a series of meetings in early 1994, a pivotal moment in Haiti's history that Aristide has rarely discussed. Haitians were living under the barbaric rule of Raoul Cédras, who overthrew Aristide in a 1991 US-backed coup. Aristide was in Washington and, despite popular calls for his return, there was no way he could face down the junta without military back-up. Increasingly embarrassed by Cédras's abuses, the Clinton administration offered Aristide a deal: US troops would take him back to Haiti - but only after he agreed to a sweeping economic programme with the stated goal to "substantially transform the nature of the Haitian state". Aristide agreed to pay the debts accumulated under the kleptocratic Duvalier dictatorships, slash the civil service, open up Haiti to "free trade" and cut import tariffs on rice and corn. It was a lousy deal but, Aristide says, he had little choice. "I was out of my country and my country was the poorest in the western hemisphere, so what kind of power did I have at that time?" But Washington's negotiators made one demand that Aristide could not accept: the immediate sell-off of Haiti's state-owned enterprises, including phones and electricity. Aristide argued that unregulated privatisation would transform state monopolies into private oligarchies, increasing the riches of Haiti's elite and stripping the poor of their national wealth. He says the proposal simply didn't add up: "Being honest means saying two plus two equals four. They wanted us to sing two plus two equals five." Aristide proposed a compromise: Rather than sell off the firms outright, he would "democratise" them. He defined this as writing anti-trust legislation, ensuring that proceeds from the sales were redistributed to the poor and allowing workers to become shareholders. Washington backed down, and the final text of the agreement called for the "democratisation" of state companies. But when Aristide announced that no sales could take place until parliament had approved the new laws, Washington cried foul. Aristide says he realised then that what was being attempted was an "economic coup". "The hidden agenda was to tie my hands once I was back and make me give for nothing all the state public enterprises." He threatened to arrest anyone who went ahead with privatisations. "Washington was very angry at me. They said I didn't respect my word, when they were the ones who didn't respect our common economic policy." The US cut off more than $500m in promised loans and aid, starving his government, and poured millions into the coffers of opposition groups, culminating ultimately in the February 2004 armed coup. And the war continues...
  • of the morally transcendent leaders of our time.
    • Jonathan Kozol blurb to Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization (2000)
  • The couple were married at Mr. Aristide's modest home -- he has refused to live in the presidential palace -- in a ceremony attended by about 500 family members, friends and foreign dignitaries, including American military officers and Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser. The couple exchanged vows at a table in the garden, the A.P. reported. The bride wore a simple coral-colored suit, the groom a dark blue one. The simplicity was reflected by the lack of a bridal gown or a bouquet; there was not even a wedding cake.
  • a historic figure in a historic land."
    • Amy Wilentz used as blurb for Aristide: An Autobiography
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