René Préval, Haiti’s President During 2010 Earthquake, Dead at 74

Former Haitian President René Préval, who led the country during Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, died Friday at the age of 74.

The government did not give a cause of death, but local media quoted family members who said Préval died of a heart attack.

Préval served two terms as president, from 1996-2001 and between 2006 and 2011. He was Haiti’s first president to win a democratic election, serve a full term and then peacefully hand over power to a successor. He was also the first president to serve two full terms without being arrested, exiled or killed.

In a Twitter post, President Jovenel Moise called Préval a “dignified son of Haiti.”

Former President Michel Martelly told reporters outside the hospital in Port-au-Prince where Préval died that “Haiti has lost his beautiful ideas.”

U.S. diplomats in Haiti offered their condolences: “The U.S. Embassy honors the legacy of President Préval, a major figure in contemporary Haitian history who shepherded his country through tragic times and good times.”

Préval was a soft-spoken agronomist and champion of the poor and had a reputation as an honest administrator.  

A defining moment of his second presidential term was the massive earthquake in January 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people and caused enormous damage to the impoverished Caribbean nation. The president oversaw the beginning of efforts to rebuild his shattered country, but also faced criticism for a lack of leadership during the crisis.

René Préval worked in humanitarian aid as a young man and studied agronomy in Belgium. He lived in New York for several years during the 1970s before returning to Haiti to work for the National Institute for Mineral Resources.

He was prime minister under Haiti’s first democratically elected president, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, for a portion of 1991, until Aristide was deposed by a military coup.

The late president leaves behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren.

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