Haiti's Préval vows to tackle poverty

René Préval, who was declared Haiti’s new President on Thursday, has pledged to tackle the Caribbean country’s rampant poverty and seek a national dialogue, though he was yet to announce a clear programme.

During his electoral campaign, Préval had asked voters to judge him on his performance during his 1996 to 2001 presidency, when he built schools, roads and public squares.

Like his former ally Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resigned the presidency and fled the country in 2004, Préval enjoys widespread support among the poor, who make up 77% of the 8,5-million population.

He has said that he would launch a national programme to combat poverty and social marginalisation.

“If those who have, begin to invest in the education of the weakest among us, they would be grateful,” he said in a recent Agence France-Presse interview.

“Children must be taken off the streets. Weapons must be taken from the hands of children and replaced with pens and books,” he said.

“That is how we will harmonise relations between the rich and the poor,” he said, calling for “social and economic reconciliation”.

“The rich are cloistered in their walled villas and the poor are crammed into slums and own nothing. The gap is too big,” he said.

He has called for “national dialogue and permanent consultation”.

Préval (63) has also said he wants to set up modern democratic institutions, strengthen the state of law and battle corruption.

On the economic front, Préval plans to promote agricultural reforms and investments to boost production in the countryside.

He also wants to reform judicial institutions, and boost the capacity of the ill-equipped and understaffed police force which is currently struggling to battle organised crime and political violence.
There are about 5 000 police officers for a population of 8,5-million.

Préval has acknowledged the United Nations Stabilisation Mission for Haiti (Minustah) will need to remain in Haiti for a while.

The international force was deployed in 2004 after Aristide fled the country amid mounting turmoil, and now comprises 6 500 military and 2 000 police. Minustah’s mandate was extended this week for another six months.

“There are too many military in this mission. We need more police,” Préval said.

He has said he would launch a national disarmament programme. Aid agencies say there are 210 000 illegal weapons alone in Port-au-Prince, where 270 hijackings were reported in December and January, and where gun battles were frequent.

Chronology

  • 1804: Haiti gains independence from France.

  • 1915-1934: The United States marine corps occupies Haiti.

  • 1957: Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier wins elections. He eventually turned his administration into a brutal dictatorship.

  • 1971: Francois Duvalier dies, his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier takes over the dictatorship.

  • 1986: Popular protests end the dictatorship. Duvalier flees to France.

  • 1986-1990: Military rule with brief attempts at civilian democracy.

  • December 16, 1990: Leftist Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide is elected president by a landslide.

  • September 30, 1991: Aristide is toppled. His army chief Raul Cedras takes over as the head of a military junta.

  • October 15, 1994: Aristide returns with US military assistance, resumes his mandate.

  • February 6, 1995: Aristide disbands the army.

  • December 17, 1995: René Préval is elected to replace Aristide.

  • November 25, 2000: Aristide is elected again, with 91,7% of the vote, amid claims of irregularities and a widespread boycott of the vote.

  • February 7, 2001 - Aristide succeeds Préval.

  • December 17, 2001: Gunmen attack the National Palace, in what appears to be a failed coup attemp.

  • February 5, 2004: Armed rebels take control of the Gonaives police station. Within days the insurgency has become a major force.

  • February 23, 2004: US marines are deployed to Haiti.

  • February 28, 2004: The White House urges Aristide to resign.

  • February 29, 2004: Aristide steps down and leaves Haiti for eventual exile in South Africa.

  • March 8, 2004: Supreme court chief Boniface Alexandre is named interim president.

  • March 9, 2004: Gerard Latortue is named interim prime minister.

  • April 30, 2004: The United Nations Security Council votes to approve a UN “stabilisation” force.

  • February 7, 2006: Presidential and legislative elections are held after being postponed four times.

  • February 14, 2006: Frontrunner Préval blames “massive fraud or gross errors” for partial results that put him short of the majority he needs to avoid a runoff presidential election.

  • February 16, 2006: Préval is declared the winner after changes in the way blank ballots are counted and following five days of protests by his supporters. - AFP

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