CTV.ca News Staff
A prison riot just 800 metres away almost overshadowed the inauguration of Haitian President Rene Preval.
“It’s very intense,” said CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, reporting from Port-au-Prince on Sunday. “This is a prison that can hold about 800 people. Instead there are 2000 inmates. There’s so much unrest because only about 40 of them have actually been charged with anything.”
Inmates paraded what appeared to be two dead bodies from the prison’s walls and called for amnesties for political prisoners jailed during the uprising against the last president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Outside, relatives screamed for calm.
UN soldiers fired tear gas into the compound.
LaFlamme said there was a heavy security presence outside the prison, and UN peacekeepers and police had surrounded the facility.
Upon being sworn in, Preval called on his citizens to make peace so Haiti, the Western hemisphere’s poorest country, could emerge from its misery.
“Please help me, help the country, help yourself,” he said.
About 300 foreign dignitaries were there to watch the ceremony, including Canada’s Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, who was born in Haiti. Canada has provided $190 million in aid in the past two years and has 125 RCMP officers there helping train the Haitian police.
Some other notables present included Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and American actor Danny Glover.
Preval’s inauguration marks Haiti’s return to democratic rule two years after a bloody revolt culminated with the exile of Aristide, a former ally of Preval. Aristide now lives in South Africa.
Aristide supporters gathered outside the ceremony. They held up his portrait and calling for his return from exile. They chanted “Aristide’s blood is our blood!” and “We want him back!”
Preval has said that Aristide or any other Haitian citizen can enter the country, although he wouldn’t say if he would welcome the ex-president’s return.
The U.S., a significant financial supporter of Haiti, has made it clear that it opposes Aristide’s return.
Preval has a minority government. While the poor like him, the wealthy elite do not.
The 63-year-old agronomist, who served as president from 1996-2001, has pledged to unite Haitian society and restore peace.
“Today, we have to sit down together and make peace between us in order to emerge as a country without foreign troops,” Preval told the crowd, garnering widespread applause. “Haitian people, the solutions to our problems are in our hands… we don’t need anyone’s help.”
Experts say that Preval’s political skills will determine whether the one-time French colony can move toward stability or remain dysfunctional.
“We’re hoping he’ll do what he says he will,” said Charles Henri Baker, a businessman and the third-place presidential finisher. “If so, Haiti will be off to a good start.”
With a report from CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme