15.4 C
New York
Saturday, September 23, 2023

New Haiti leader appeals for peace

By Manuel Roig-Franzia,PORT-AU-PRINCE — President René Préval pleaded with Haitians to bring peace to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country as he was inaugurated yesterday during a ceremony that drew thousands to the whitewashed National Palace and marked the return of democratic rule in Haiti.Crowds sang ”Préval, Préval, we’ve been waiting for you” at each stop in the four-hour event, which his supporters hope will set Haiti on a new course two years after the violent ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.Signs of the chaotic situation inherited by Préval — a soft-spoken agronomist who once owned a bakery in Port-au-Prince — were everywhere: As he prepared to be inaugurated, inmates at a central Port-au-Prince jail known for holding political prisoners protested, occupying a rooftop and chanting ”we want justice.”The power briefly went out during a Catholic Mass Préval attended as part of the ceremony; Port-au-Prince was without electricity for much of the week before the inauguration and has persistent supply problems.Later, at the National Palace, a crowd of invited guests and passers-by overwhelmed security guards, pushing past metal detectors and streaming across the gated compound. They arrived at the palace after traversing streets guarded by heavily armed United Nations soldiers and tanks.Known for his brevity, Préval spoke for less than 10 minutes, prescribing a one-word solution for a nation plagued by political turmoil: ”peace.””The answer is simple, the answer is clear: We have to build peace,” Préval said, drawing cheers. ”If we don’t talk to each other, we’re going to fight each other.”Préval, who served as Haiti’s president from 1996 to 2001, took his second oath of office after being draped with a red and blue sash at the national parliament building.In a symbolically charged moment, he left the building at the side of outgoing president Boniface Alexander, who headed the US-backed interim government put in place after Aristide fled into exile.The democratic succession was only the second in Haiti’s tumultuous 202-year history. Préval’s inauguration in 1996 was the first.Préval faces huge challenges trying to bring order to a nation that the nonprofit International Crisis Group calls ”a perennial candidate for failed state status.”Préval has kept expectations low and has asked for the patience of Haitians, particularly the poor who turned out in large numbers to elect him Feb. 7.During a recent visit to the United Nations, he asked the donor nations that have kept Haiti solvent to make a 25-year commitment. An international donor conference is set for July.Préval was declared winner of the presidential election after an internationally brokered agreement ended days of fiery protests and averted a runoff.Since then, he has traveled extensively, including visits to Venezuela and Cuba, which have strained relations with the United States. He secured a preferential oil deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; a Venezuelan oil freighter sat off shore prepared to make the first delivery yesterday.The United States was represented by Governor Jeb Bush, Republican of Florida, which has the largest Haitian American population in the country.Note: This article was first published in the Boston Globe.

Related Articles

Latest Articles