One day after Aristide won the 1990 elections, Duvalier's private militia the Tontons Macoutes marred celebrations with violence, killing many civilians. This was only the beginning of violence, heightened when Roger Lafontant attempted a political coup a month before Aristide's inauguration. Aristide supporters took to the streets, killing anyone they suspected of working with the Macoutes . The army soon came to remove Lafontant and restore Trouillot's power. Upon taking office, having already suffered at least three attempts on his life, Aristide vowed an end to the Macoutes system and a restoration of peace.
When Aristide first assumed the presidency, Haiti suffered from excessive poverty, rampant unemployment, and a weak economy. Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries, with more than two-thirds of its inhabitants living in poverty. Aristide planned to combat poverty with initiatives to help the country's poorest people learn how to support themselves. However, before any major progress could be made, Aristide was overthrown in a military coup.
After being restored to power in 1994, Haiti was in economic ruin and socially unstable due to the violent coup. Aristide remained committed to serving justice and creating a stable democratic government. At this time, he dismantled the Haitian army and created a civilian police force. Upon completion of his term, Aristide founded the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. In 1997, he registered a new government party called the Fanmi Lavalas. His dedication to nonviolence and justice has earned him many awards, including the Martin Luther King International Statesman and Ecumenical Award and the Oscar Romero Award.
Assuming the presidency again in 2001, poverty and political and economic instability were still primary issues. He ran on the campaign slogan, "Peace in the mind, peace in the belly" and intends to keep his promises to his long-suffering people. Aristide invited opposition leaders to hold positions in his cabinet and has made efforts to reinstate foreign aid, which has been stalled until Aristide can prove his commitment to creating and maintaining true democracy.
On 17 December 2001, former police and members of the Haitian military that was disbanded in 1994 attempted to take the presidential palace by force, using guns and grenades. Police foiled the coup attempt, retaking the palace after a three-hour gun battle. Following the attempted coup, Aristide supporters set fire to the headquarters of Convergence Democratique, a group of 15 political parties that does not recognize the Aristide government. The coup attempt was only one example of anti-government sentiment. Opposition protests intensified at the end of 2002, but were met by violent counter-demonstrations by Aristide supporters. Opposition groups called for Aristide's resignation, including students, business leaders, and human rights groups. As well, there was growing unrest within Aristide's own party, with claims he failed to keep promises to provide basic services such as sanitation and electricity. Aristide dismissed the idea that he lost the support of the people, or that his government was unstable, but he called for new elections to be held in 2003. However, Haiti failed to meet its 30 March 2003 deadline for political leaders to prepare the country for elections. At the time, pressure from the international community was being put on Aristide to approach the opposition in an attempt to solve the country's political crisis, which began in May 2000 when Aristide's Lavalas party swept legislative elections deemed by the opposition to have been fraudulent.