Throughout the 1990s the international community tried to establish democracy in Haiti. The country"s first elected chief executive, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftist Roman Catholic priest who seemed to promise a new era in Haiti, took office in Feb. 1991. The military, however, took control in a coup nine months later. A UN peacekeeping force, led by the U.S.—Operation Uphold Democracy—arrived in 1994. Aristide was restored to office and René Preval became his successor in 1996 elections. U.S. soldiers and UN peacekeepers left in 2000. Haiti"s government, however, remained ineffectual and its economy was in ruins. Haiti has the highest rates of AIDS, malnutrition, and infant mortality in the region.
In 2000, former president Aristide was reelected president in elections boycotted by the opposition and questioned by many foreign observers. The U.S. and other countries threatened Haiti with sanctions unless democratic procedures were strengthened. Aristide, once a charismatic champion of democracy, grew more authoritarian and seemed incapable of improving the lot of his people. Violent protests rocked the country in Jan. 2004, the month of Haiti"s bicentennial, with protesters demanding that Aristide resign. By February, a full-blown armed revolt was under way, and Aristide"s hold on power continued to slip. The protests, groups of armed rebels, and French and American pressure led to the ousting of Aristide on Feb. 29. Thereafter a U.S.-led international force of 2,300 entered the chaos-engulfed country to attempt to restore order, and an interim government took over. In September, Hurricane Jeanne ravaged Haiti, killing more than 2,400 people. Lawlessness and gang violence were widespread, and the interim government had no control over parts of the country, which were run by armed former soldiers.