Rene Preval, the only elected president in Haiti's history to finish his
term, was sworn in Sunday to again lead the impoverished nation in its latest
attempt at democracy after decades of armed uprisings, lawlessness and foreign
Wearing the sash of
office, Haitian President Rene Preval waves in Port-au-Prince Sunday, May
14, 2006 after being sworn in as president.
Preval took the oath of office in a sweltering, packed Parliament chamber,
and the Senate leader placed on him the presidential sash of Haiti's national
colors ¡ª blue and red.
Afterward, he stood and waved as about 300 legislators and foreign
dignitaries, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Canadian Governor General
Michaelle Jean and the actor Danny Glover, gave him a standing ovation.
The inauguration was the final step in Haiti's return to democratic rule two
years after a bloody revolt ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and plunged
the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation into chaos.
In his inaugural address later outside the national palace, Preval urged
unity among Haiti's fractured society and a return to peace after the February
"We need to make peace through dialogue and talking to each other so we can
decide where we want to go together," said Preval. "If we don't talk, then we
will only fight and there will be no peace."
Thousands cheered Preval, pressing up against the green iron gates
surrounding the palace and waving Haitian flags as dozens of U.N. peacekeepers
stood guard. Others danced and sang as traditional bands snaked through the
crowd playing homemade horns and drums.
Preval urged Haitians to help maintain security so the country could create
jobs, build roads and hospitals and move forward "without the presence of
"Haitian people, the solution to our problems is in our hands," he said.
"Please help me, help the country, help yourself."
Preval, who previously governed Haiti in 1996-2001 and replaces a U.S.-backed
interim government appointed after the revolt, is a former Aristide ally and
champion of Haiti's poor.
The 63-year-old agronomist has pledged to unite the country's fractured
society and restore peace, but he faces big challenges, including a corrupt
state bureaucracy, a wrecked economy, roiling insecurity and the plight of
In his first official act, Preval signed an accord integrating Haiti into a
Venezuelan oil pact that supplies Caribbean countries with fuel under
preferential terms. In a joint statement with Preval, Venezuelan Vice President
Jose Vicente Rangel said Haiti would receive 100,000 barrels of oil on Monday as
its first shipment.
Hours before the inauguration, prisoners demanding their freedom rioted at
Haiti's national penitentiary, about a half-mile from the parliament building.
There was no official word on casualties, though scores of inmates massed on the
roof holding what appeared to be two dead bodies. Some prisoners unfurled a
banner that read "Justice." Gunfire was heard within its walls.
The U.N. envoy to Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, has said one of Preval's main
priorities should be fixing the country's broken justice system.
"In Haiti, impunity is almost total for many criminals who roam free while
the innocent and those wrongly accused of a crime stagnate in prisons," Valdes
wrote in an editorial published Saturday in the Canadian newspaper Le Devoir.
Jela Altius, a 31-year-old food vendor, said she wants Preval to improve
"We want to be able to go out at any time of day and not worry that something
is going to happen to us," Altius said.
Haiti's capital was gripped by a wave of kidnappings and killings after
Aristide's ouster, but officials say violent crime has dropped sharply since
Preval's victory in the Feb. 7 election.
Haiti's state-run electricity company ¡ª long derided for daily power
blackouts ¡ª bought 800,000 gallons of fuel to ensure residents had electricity
throughout the inaugural weekend.
Canada's governor general, Jean, who was born in Haiti and left the country
with her family at age 11 to escape persecution by dictator Francois "Papa Doc"
Duvalier, urged Haitians to work to maintain democracy.
"I think democracy has to prevail here, and I think it's so important to
bring that hopeful spirit back to Haitians," Jean told reporters