Ex-Haitian President Preval dies; first to peacefully hand over power

By Makini Brice

By Makini Brice

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Former Haitian President Rene Preval, 74, the first leader in Haiti's history to win a democratic election, serve a full term and peacefully hand power to a successor, has died, the government of the Caribbean nation said on Friday.

The cause of death for the two-time president was not made public.

A defining moment of his second presidency was in 2010 when an earthquake destroyed much of the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people.

"I was touched to learn of the death of former President Rene Preval," President Jovenel Moise said on Twitter, describing him as a "dignified son of Haiti."

Haiti's politics has been turbulent for much of its history since winning independence from France in 1804, punctuated by dictatorships, coups, invasions and natural disasters.

Preval a soft-spoken agronomist, won support from Haiti's poor majority when he first won the presidency in 1996, after a bout of instability that saw his ally, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, toppled in a coup, then brought back to power with the help of U.S. troops.

In both terms, Preval succeeded the charismatic Aristide, who was twice ousted in rebellions.

During his first term, Preval managed to build roads and public squares, worked with peasants on land reform, and unlike many of his predecessors was not accused of massive human rights violations, despotism or theft.

But high-profile improvements to the country’s faltering economy proved to be difficult, even before the debilitating earthquake.

The government came under attack for not properly managing the billions of aid that flowed into the country after the earthquake, although most of it was not channeled directly to the government of Haiti.

Nevertheless, Preval remained a potent political figure in Haiti even after leaving office.

In recent years, Haiti has peacefully transferred power between governments, although the most recent transition was delayed by a year and accompanied by protests.

His last major public appearance was at the inauguration of Moise last month, which ended the political quagmire after Preval’s own successor, Michel Martelly left office in 2016.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)