Former Haitian President René Préval has died, his wife Elisabeth Delatour Préval confirmed to the Miami Herald. He was 74.
Préval, who was president during Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, died at home in Laboule, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. His wife, who wasn’t with him, said she had spoken to him “three times” Friday morning. The cause of death has not been confirmed but friends close to him say it was likely the result of a heart attack.
“He was in excellent humor,” said Delatour Préval, who is traveling. “He asked, ‘When are you coming home?’ I refused to believe it. I cannot believe it.”
Préval served as president from 1996 to 2001, and again from 2006 to 2011. He is the only president in Haitian history to have served two full presidential terms and not be jailed, exiled or killed.
Jerry Tardieu, a member of the Lower House of Deputies, was also taken aback by the news. He had spent the morning with the former president, leaving Préval’s home at around 11 a.m. Préval wanted to discuss a law to protect national production.
“He was fine,” said Tardieu. “He looked no different than any other day. I am in shock.”
An agronomist by training, Préval devoted his years out of the presidency to turning bamboo into furniture to create jobs, and to boost national production of agricultural products. A savvy politician, he continued to be sought out by foreign diplomats in recent years as Haiti reeled from one political crisis to another.
Ten months after the election, Préval was forced into exile — first seeking refuge at the French Embassy and then the Mexican Embassy, both in Port-au-Prince, before eventually ending up in Washington — along with Aristide and other members of the administration.
Préval eventually broke ties with Aristide. But as a strict adherent to the Haitian Constitution, he believed that a Haitian could not be exiled from his own country. As a result, he agreed to allow Aristide’s passport to be renewed. The move cleared the way for Aristide’s 2011 return to Haiti after seven years in exile in South Africa.
“May his soul rest in peace and peace to our beloved Haiti,” Aristide said in a written statement sent to the Herald.
Leslie Voltaire, who was minister of education during Aristide’s first term, said the former priest-turned-president was saddened by the news of Préval’s passing. Voltaire knew Préval for more than 50 years.
“He was always in politics,” he said. “He dreamed of increasing national production and extending Cuban and Venezuelan cooperation.”
That relationship between Haiti and the two Spanish-speaking nations flourished under Préval. Cuba provided doctors to Haiti, and scholarships for Haitians to study in Cuba. Meanwhile, Haiti received much-needed cash for social programs from Venezuela’s discounted PetroCaribe oil program.
Bernard Fils-Aime, a businessman and close friend of Préval who often dined with him in Haiti and in Miami, said in the end, he remained true to himself.
“His legacy is a leadership style that put people together into finding solutions. It was never about him,” Fils-Aime said. “It was about getting in touch with all sectors, from the little guy to the most powerful, to find appropriate solutions for the country.
“That is what he was about— quiet, consensus-builder but misunderstood,” Fils-Aime said. “Misunderstood, because people feared his kind of power.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two daughters and two sons, and two grandchildren. (Miami Herald)