For Haitians, the violent overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004, was unfortunately nothing new. The world’s first republic to gain its independence (from France) through a slave revolt in 1804, Haiti has seen 32 coups in its 200-plus years, according to a Miami Herald article published the day of Aristide’s oust.
When Aristide became Haiti’s first democratically elected President in 1990, many had faith he would save his country from oppression and introduce real democracy.
But seven months after taking office, the former Catholic priest and member of the Lavalas party was ousted by a military coup and driven into exile in WashingtonD.C., The Miami Herald reported.
In 1994, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 U.S. troops to restore Aristide to power, and he served as President until 1996.
After being re-elected in 2000, this multilingual young leader quickly gained groups of armed supporters called chimeres who intimidated his critics, the daily reported.
Many began to accuse Aristide of abandoning his hopes for Haiti and replacing them with violence and abuse of power.
The fire of contempt between the President’s supporters and opponents was fed by a series of violent events including the murder of prominent radio journalist Brignol Lindor, a crime suspected to be politically motivated, and a rebel attack on the NationalPalace that left 10 dead.
Then, in 2001, corruption scandals began to make headlines, as Haitians denounced the government’s new fleet of SUVs despite the continuing struggle of the masses to stay alive.
Bloodshed escalated until rebels armed with modern assault weapons took over the northern city of Cap Haitien on Feb. 29, 2004, and threatened to advance toward the capital of Port-au-Prince.
That same day, Aristide was flown by the United States to the Central African Republic, where he lived in exile before moving to South Africa, where he remains today. U.N. peacekeeping troops were quickly stationed in Haiti.
Thousands are estimated to have fled Haiti during the violence leading up to the coup, seeking refuge in the United States, the Dominican Republic and other countries, including Costa Rica.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre assumed the presidency after Aristide’s departure, as Haiti’s Constitution mandates, and René Preval, of the L’Espwa party, was elected President last year and remains in office.