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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Haiti: Former president René Garcia Préval dies

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News reports out of Port-au-Prince confirmed the death of former Haitian president René Préval. According to a spokesperson from the Haitian government, the former president died at his residence in Laboule, an upscale suburb nestled along the foothills of Morne La Selle, just few miles north of Prot-au-Prince. He was 74. His sister first reported the news shortly after Préval went into cardiac arrest, sources said.

An agronomist by trade, Préval came to the public eye after he became Aristide’s hand-picked Prime Minister in 1990 following a landslide election that catapulted Aristide to the presidency. Préval then was used by Aristide to stage a coup against his estranged friends from the Convergence Democratic Movement, mainly Gérard Pierre Charles with whom Aristide, selfish politician, did not see eye-to-eye.

Aristide was overthrown in a bloody coup nine months later. Préval fled into exile, but returned with Aristide in 1994. In 1995, Préval, Aristide protégé, ran and won presidential election with 88% of the vote. At the surface, Préval became legitimate president; but he was quite submissive to Aristide’s ambitions. So much so, according to close associates, foreign dignitaries visiting Haiti, were compelled to visit Aristide, for his role as the “true” Head-of-State was an open secret.

In a dull, dualistic political dismay, Aristide returned to power in 2002, but overthrown in 2004, bundled to South Africa in a second coup reportedly sanctioned by both Paris and Washington, leaving a political vacuum that Préval had succeeded in filling in 2006. He remained president until his term ended in 2011.

Though Préval had managed to conceive the reputation as “an honest and efficient administrator,” his aloof and inoffensive demeanor irritated the Haitian left which accused him of being a traitor, betraying the cause for social justice in favor of his petty bourgeois aspirations.

By the end of his term in 2011, Préval became an insignificant figure, shunned by his own Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, and was forced to take up a small office at the Port-au-Prince International Airport, away from Bill Clinton, Bellerive, lumpen bourgeois from the seaside businesses and others who by then became the power brokers through whom all foreign assistance must be channeled following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country and killed more than half million Haitians.

The Haitian poor were extremely angry, blaming Préval for failing to rise to his role as duly elected president and for the abandonment of an endangered people. It is fair to say, however, René Garcia Préval was nonetheless a patriot who understood the limit of his power as president and the clout of those who truly decide for Haiti.

Born on January 17, 1943 in Marmelade, a northern town of Haiti. Préval earned a degree in agronomy from Gembloux Agricultural University of Belgium. He lived for five years in New York in the 1970s. Then, he flirted with progressive groups like En-Avant and others. He returned to Haiti in 1975 and worked at the National Institute for Mineral Resources. He later became active in humanitarian work, including at an orphanage in Port-au-Prince run by Aristide, who was then a Roman Catholic priest.

Préval survived by his wife Elisabeth Delatour and his two children.

Note: Our Port-au-Prince correspondent Yves Duchêne contributed to this report.

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