2011. He was also Prime Minister from February 1991 to October 11, 1991. Préval was the first elected head of state in Haitian history to peacefully receive power from a predecessor in office, the first elected head of state in Haitian history since independence to serve a full term in office, the first to be elected to non-successive full terms in office, and the first former Prime Minister to be elected President. His presidencies were marked by domestic tumult and attempts at economic stabilization, with his latter presidency being marred through the destruction wrought by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Early life and career
Préval was born in Port-au-Prince and was raised in his father's hometown of Marmelade, a village town in the Artibonite department. He studied agronomy at the College of Gembloux and the University of Leuven in Belgium and also studied geothermal sciences at the University of Pisa in Pisa, Italy. He left Haiti with his family in 1963.
Préval's father, an agronomist also, had risen to the position of Minister of Agriculture in the government of Général Paul Magloire, the predecessor of Duvalier. Leaving Haiti because his political past presented him as a potential opponent, Preval's father found work with UN agencies in Africa.
After spending five years in Brooklyn, New York, occasionally working as a restaurant waiter, Préval returned to Haiti and obtained a position with the National Institute for Mineral Resources. Préval was very much involved in the agricultural workings of society. After a few years, he opened a bakery in Port-au-Prince with some business partners. While operating his company, he continued to be active in political circles and charity work, such as providing bread to the orphanage of Salesian Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with whom he developed a close relationship.
After the election of Aristide as president in 1990, Préval served as his Prime Minister from February 13 to October 11, 1991, going into exile following the September 30, 1991 military coup.
On December 6, 2009, Preval married Elisabeth Débrosse Delatour — one of his economic advisors and widow of Leslie Delatour, the former governor of Haiti's central bank. Preval's first and second marriages, to Guerda Benoit and Solange Lafontant respectively, both ended in divorce.
In 1996, Préval was elected as president for a five-year term, with 88% of the popular vote. Upon his 1996 inauguration, Préval became the second democratically elected head of state in the country's 200-year history. In 2001, he became the first elected (and second overall) President of Haiti to leave office as a result of the natural expiration of an uninterrupted term, the first being General Nissage Saget, president from 1869 to 1874.
As president, Préval instituted a number of economic reforms, most notably the privatization of various government companies. By the end of Préval's term, the unemployment rate (though still quite high) had fallen to its lowest level since the fall of François Duvalier. Préval also instituted an aggressive program of agrarian reform in Haiti's countryside. His presidency, however, was also marked by fierce political clashes with a parliament dominated by opposition party members (OPL) and an increasingly vocal Fanmi Lavalas which opposed the structural adjustment and privatization program of Préval's government.
As president, Préval was a strong supporter of investigations and trials related to human rights violations committed by military and police personnel.
Préval dissolved the parliament in 1999 and ruled by decree for the duration of the final year of his presidency.
René Préval and U.S. President George W. Bush in the Oval Office
Préval ran again as the Lespwa candidate in the presidential election of 2006. The election took place after nearly two years of international peacekeeping, which some described as an unelected dictatorship. Partial election results, released on February 9, indicated that he had won with about 60% of the vote, but as further results were released, his share of the vote slipped to 48.7% – thus making a run-off necessary. Several days of popular demonstrations in favour of Préval followed in Port-au-Prince and other cities in Haiti. On February 14, Préval claimed that there had been fraud among the vote counts, and demanded that he be declared the winner outright of the first round. Protesters paralyzed the capital with burning barricades and stormed a luxury hotel — Hotel Montana, located in the affluent suburb of Pétion-Ville — to demand results from Haiti's nearly week-old election as ex-President Rene Preval fell further below the 50% needed to win the presidency. On February 16, 2006, Préval was declared the winner of the presidential election by the Provisional Electoral Council with 51.15% of the vote, after the exclusion of "blank" ballots from the count.
He was sworn in on May 14, following Haiti's legislative run-off vote in April; he could not be sworn in until a sitting Parliament was in place. When he was sworn in, Préval emphasized the importance of unity, saying that division was Haiti's "main problem" and that Haitians had to "work together". On May 17, he nominated Jacques-Édouard Alexis, who had served as Prime Minister during Préval's first term, as Prime Minister again. After taking office, Préval immediately signed an oil deal with Venezuela and traveled to the United States, Cuba, and France.
Préval drew much of his support from Haiti's poorest people; he was especially widely supported in the poorest neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. However, many of the poor demanded that the former President Aristide be allowed to return and that civil enterprise workers fired by the Latortue government be reinstated. This caused increasing tension in the slums of Port-au-Prince. Préval promised to build a massive road system which would boost trade and transportation around the country.
Since Preval's induction, the economy has been on a sizeable increase.
Latin American integration
Haiti under Préval has been cooperating diplomatically and fraternally with countries of Latin America. Haiti's Latin American alliance provides the country with much of its needed aid. The slowly stabilizing country has seemingly benefited in a rather solid economic partnership with Venezuela. This recent friendship between Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and the Haitian president has resulted in various economic agreements. Four power plants (a 40-megawatt, a 30-megawatt, and two 15-megawatts) are set to be built in Haiti. An oil refinery is also scheduled to be installed, with a production capacity of 10,000 barrels (1,600 m3) of oil per day. Venezuela's aid to Haiti is founded upon a historic act where the newly independent Haiti welcomed and tended to Simón Bolívar and provided military power to aid Bolivar's cause in liberating Latin America.
Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and other Cuban diplomats such as Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernandez have thanked Haiti for consistently voting in the United Nations General Assembly against the United States embargo against Cuba.
Préval's diplomatic relations with fellow Latin American nations have opened up many economic opportunities for Haiti. Préval has met with many Latin American leaders such as Fidel Castro, Evo Morales of Bolivia (with an economic situation similar to Haiti's), Martín Torrijos of Panama, and Leonel Fernández of the neighboring Dominican Republic. Relations with Dominican Republic have strengthened largely due to Préval's willingness to end volatile temperaments and to the two presidents' focus on cooperation. The Dominican Republic was Préval's first foreign visitation. Préval then visited the United States, where he was congratulated by US President Bush for his reelection. Préval had claimed that asides the Dominican Republic, the US should be his first diplomatic visit in office, putting it ahead of his eventual diplomatic visits to Venezuela, Cuba and France. The US considered Préval's meeting with Bush a good sign of excellent US-Haitian relations under his administration.
April 2008 riots
In early April 2008, riots broke out over the high cost of food; since 2007, prices for a number of essential foods, including rice, had risen by about 50%. As the riots continued, rioters attacked the presidential palace on April 8 but were driven away by UN soldiers. On April 9, Préval called for calm; he said that high food prices were a problem around the world, but that the problem would not be solved by destroying stores, and he said that he had "ordered Haitian police and UN soldiers to put an end to the looting". Despite demands for all taxes on food imports to be lifted, Préval said that he could not do so because the money was greatly needed; he pledged to increase food production in Haiti so that the country would not be so dependent on imports, but this fell short of what many protesters demanded. On April 12, the Senate voted to remove Prime Minister Alexis from office, and Préval announced that the price per 23 of rice would be reduced from $51 to $43. According to Préval, the rice would be subsidized with international aid, and the private sector was willing to reduce the price by $3. He also said that he was going to seek Venezuelan assistance in improving the economic situation.
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U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Haitian President René Préval in the Oval Office, January 15, 2010
Main article: 2010 Haiti earthquake
On January 12, Port-au-Prince was hit by an earthquake. Initial reports indicated that diplomats were unable to contact President Préval and they feared he might be trapped beneath the rubble of the building. However, later reports – including ones quoting the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph – said that the President and First Lady Elisabeth Delatour Préval had escaped unharmed and had been moved to a safe location on the island. The couple were about to enter their home when the earthquake struck. Préval and his wife were able to step away from the building before the house collapsed, escaping injury.
Much of the Haitian government, including President Préval, relocated to a police barracks near Toussaint Louverture International Airport. The death toll was in excess of 300,000. (Source wikipedia)