The Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola - also known as Haiti, Quisqueya, and Bohio (of which the Republic of Haiti occupies the western third and the Dominican Republic the remainder in the modern era) - as a base in the early 16th century from which to establish European domination of the so-called "New World".
Haiti in the 16th century
Native extinction and colonial rule
Haiti's indigenous Arawak (or Taíno) population suffered near-extinction in the decades after Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492, in possibly the worst case of the widespread depopulation which followed the first European contact with the Americas.
The demographic collapse of the period has been attributed by many to genocide on the part of Haiti's Spanish conquerors. The Catholic priest and contempory historian Bartolome de Las Casas wrote in his multi-volume History of the Indies (1527-61):
- There were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived in 1508], including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?
It is thought by many historians today that Las Casas's figures for the pre-contact levels of the Arawak population were an exaggeration and that a figure of slightly over a million original inhabitants is more likely, though others have argued for figures of up to eight million.
The exceptional Arawak mortality can be attributed at least in part to acts of slaughter, unrelenting forced labour, harsh punishments for disobedience to slave conditions, and the putting down of Indian resistance to enslavement and cruel treatment. Mass suicides also took place to escape subjection to Spanish overlords. By the 1540s very few Arawaks survived on the island.
Whatever the initial figures, however, some claim that the experience of much of Spanish-ruled America suggests that while brutality and maltreatment - and the disruption of traditional societies and systems of production - took a severe toll, the loss was largely the result of the unintended introduction of Old World diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles and typhus) to which the inhabitants of the colonies had no resistance.
By the beginning of the 1600s, Spain had vacated the western third of the island. Trying to cut down on its colonists' trade with Dutch merchants that violated Madrid's mercantilistic policies, Spanish officials ordered them to the eastern part of the island, where they could be better observed by officials in the capital city of Santo Domingo.
Haiti in the 17th and 18th centuries
This collapse of the original population led to an eventual repopulation with African slaves to work the island's sugar plantations, although slave imports were relatively small until the late 17th century.
French buccaneers later used the western portion of the island as a point from which to harass English and Spanish ships. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Saint-Domingue, as the French portion of the island was known, the "pearl of the Antilles" - one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire. Saint-Domingue produced about 40 percent of all the sugar and 60 percent of all the coffee consumed in Europe by the 1780s. This single colony, roughly the size of Maryland or Belgium, produced more sugar and coffee than all of Britain's West Indian colonies, combined.
During this period, an estimated 790,000 African slaves were brought to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations (accounting in 1783-1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade), though inability to maintain slave numbers without constant re-supply from Africa meant that at its end the population numbered only some 434,000, ruled by some 31,000 whites.
Saint-Domingue also had the largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, a group also known as the gens de couleur. In the A royal census of 1789 counted roughly 25,000 such persons. Typically these people were the descendants of the enslaved women that French colonists took as mistresses. Though many free people of color were former slaves, most members of this class appear not to have been free blacks, but rather people of mixed European and African ancestry.
Impact of the French Revolution
The outbreak of revolution in France in the summer of 1789 had a powerful effect on the colony. While rich and poor whites disagreed over how new revolutionary laws would apply to Saint-Domingue, outright civil war broke out in 1790 and 1791 when the free men of color claimed they too were French citizens under the terms of the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The Great Slave Rebellion of 1791
On August 22, 1791, slaves in the northern region of the colony staged a massive revolt that would eventually be known as the Haitian Revolution. Eventually the rebellion spread throughout the entire colony. The rebel slaves emerged as a powerful military force, eventually coming under the leadership of Haitian heroes Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. Master by 1800 of almost the whole island, Toussaint was invited to negotiate a settlement in 1802, but was seized and deported to France, where he died in captivity (1803)
Haiti in the 19th century
The indigenous army, now led by Dessalines, defeated Charles Leclerc and the army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte in November 1803, and declared the former colony's independence from France, reclaiming its indigenous name of Haiti. The impending defeat of the French in Haiti is thought to have contributed to Napoleon's decision to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803. Poles from the Polish Legions fought in Napoleon's army. Some of them refused to fight against blacks, and the rest treated them much better than the French did; also, a few Poles (around 100) actually joined the rebels. Moreover, one of the Polish generals - Wladyslaw Franciszek Jablonowski - was mulatto. Therefore Poles were allowed to stay and were spared the fate of other whites (About 400 of the 5280 Poles chose this option. Of the remainder, 700 returned to France and many were - after capitulation - forced to serve in British units.) 160 Poles were later given permission to leave Haiti and were sent to France at Haitian expense . Today, descendants of those Poles who stayed are living in Casale and Fond Des Blancs.
Constitution of 1805
Upon assuming power, General Dessalines authorized the Constitution of 1805. This constitution, in terms of social freedoms, called for: 1. Freedom of Religion (Under Toussaint Catholicism had been declared the official state religion). 2. Declared all citizens of Haiti, regardless of skin color, to be known as "Black" -- including the Poles and Germans.This was an attempt to eliminate the multi-tiered racial hierarchy which had developed in Haiti, with pure blood Europeans at the top, various levels of light to brown skin in the middle, and dark skinned "Kongo" from Africa at the bottom. An old Caribbean rhyme capture the sentiments of the code:
- If you're white, you're alright.
- If you're brown, stick around.
- If you're black, turn back.
French people who stayed in Haiti after the Independence Movement, despite early promises to the contrary, were slaughtered under Dessalines orders. In fact, the term "Zombi" comes from this era. A particuarly brutal mulatto, Jean Zombi, aiding in the murder of Frenchmen and women, forced men to strip naked before having their stomachs cut. Dessalines himself was horrified at Zombi's brutality.
In Haitian folklore, the combination of Jean Zombi's violent actions and fear of becoming a slave once more, became the monster "Zombi" -- a being controlled by another, and capable of horrific actions.
Struggle for Identity
Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries, the independent nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere's first regional meeting of independent nations, in Panama in 1826, and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.
Dessalines proclaimed himself emperor as Jacques I, but his increasingly oppressive rule provoked his assassination (1806), and the country's division between the rival regimes of Christophe in the north and Alexandre Pétion in the south. In 1811 Christophe proclaimed himself king, reigning as Henri I, but after his suicide in 1820 Haiti was reunited under Pétion's successor Jean Pierre Boyer, president until 1843. In fear of invasion by the French, lack of recognition from the international community, and the threat of the French reinstatement of slavery, Haitian officials signed on to France's demand for a venal indemnity fee. The indemnity would be paid in recognition of Haiti’s independence, but would prove to be a tyrannical mechanism that evidently eroded the health of the economy, not mention the well-being of a slave nation. Thus, King Charles X agreed to be paid 150 million francs and consented to the reduction of import and export taxes. The indemnity imposed by France's colonial oppression (150 million francs), is equal to half a billion US dollars by the most conservative estimate, without attempting to calculate the interest and inflation.
When Santo Domingo - the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola - declared its independence in 1821, Haitian soldiers invaded the country and annexed it, as part of Boyer's attempts to keep control of the government. Boyer ran on a policy of aristocratic rule modeled on the policies of the French "citizen-king," Louis-Philippe.
An earthquake and an economic crisis ended Boyer's rule in 1843. A revolt led by Rivière Hérard overthrew Boyer and established a brief parliamentary rule under the Constitution of 1843. A peasant revolt in the south led by Jean-Jacques Acaau, who saw Hérard's rule as elitist, succeeded in wresting control of the government and deposed Hérard after only five months in office. Philippe Guerrier succeeded him as part of a caretaker government, but he died in office in 1845. The State Council appointed Jean-Louis Pierrot president on 16 April, the day after Guerrier died, but he was overthrown in 1846 by Jean-Baptiste Riché, who died in 1847.
General Faustin Soulouque was elected President of Haiti on 1 March 1847, and put an end to the chaos that followed Boyer's deposition. Soulouque, a slave who had fought in the rebellion of 1791, had wide public appeal - wide enough, in fact, that he was able to crown himself Emperor of Haiti in 1852 as Faustin I.
Soulouque's iron rule succeeded in uniting Haiti, which to that point had been sharply divided along north-south lines. Soulouque also succeeded in uniting his opposition, which did not bode well for Soulouque's political future, but created an excellent foundation for future Haitian political development. His iron rule of Haiti came to an abrupt end in 1858 when he was deposed by General Fabre Geffrard, styled the Duke of Tabara.
An Era of Development
Fabre Geffrard was elected president in 1859 after Emperor Faustin was driven into exile, and in the following years he encouraged a policy of national reconciliation that worked surprisingly well. In 1860, Geffrard's government reached an agreement with the Vatican, re-introducing official Roman Catholic institutions and practices to the nation. French Teaching orders returned to Haiti, where they organized schools, many for the elite, which taught French, the humanities, and Western culture. Parishes were started in Urban areas especially, and Haitians soon began to be allowed to enter the seminary and other religious vocations. Bishops remained French until the regime of Francois Duvalier. Geffrard's military government surrendered authority in 1867, the same year that the Constitution of 1867 was promulgated.
Although the governments of Sylvaine Salnave and Nissage Saget did not end peacefully, they were not denoted by the level of violence that characterized the 1847-1852 period. A more workable constitution was introduced under Michel Domingue in 1874 that resulted in a long period of democratic peace and development for Haiti. The debt to France was repaid in 1879 after forty years of anxiety and renegotiation, and Michel Domingue's government peacefully transferred power to Lysius Salomon, one of Haiti's more able leaders. Monetary reform and a cultural renaissance ensued with a flowering of Haitian art.
The last two decades of the nineteenth century were also marked by the development of Haitian historical and political intellectualism. The classical tradition in Haiti had always been distinguished by a strong interest in history, and major works of history in the French language, important outside Haiti itself, were published in 1847 and 1865. Haitian intellectuals engaged in a valiant war of letters against a tide of racism and social Darwinism that emerged in the late nineteenth century, led by Louis-Joseph Janvier and Antenor Firmin.
Apart from the collapse of Salomon's government in 1889, the Constitution of 1867 saw peaceful and progressive transitions in government that did much to improve the economy and stability of the Haitian nation and the condition of its people. Peaceful successions in 1896 and 1902 restored the faith of the Haitian people in legal institutions and frameworks. The development of industrial sugar and rum industries near Port-au-Prince made Haiti, for a while, a model for economic growth in Latin American countries.
Haiti in the 20th century
1915-1934: U.S. Occupation
The United States military occupation of July 28, 1915, followed after the mob execution of Haiti's leader, but was largely justified to the public as a consolidation of American control in the face of a possible German invasion of the Island, an unfounded claim playing on hysteria related to World War I.
The conquest and 19-year long occupation of the country by the American Army (to August 1934) was a fateful chapter in Haitian history. During this time, the island was directly administered by the U.S. Marine Corps, Haiti's distinctive system of classical education was largely destroyed, and a generation of soldiers (who were to provide the support for Haiti's subsequent despots) were schooled in cruelty by a force that killed over 3,000 Haitians in its first five years in power, and made extensive use of "corvee labor" (a polite phrase for short-term slavery, accompanied by all the features of race-slavery in the American tradition, including the use of chains, whip-bearing overseers, and the immediate punishment of death for any labourers who attempted to flee their unpaid, involuntary servitude).
Charlemagne Péralte, the most popular leader of the opposition to the American occupation, was murdered by an American marine who disguised himself as one of Péralte's followers. In a final act of brutality reminiscent of the lynchings of the American Ku Klux Klan, Péralte's corpse was strung up and exhibited in a public square on All Saints' Day --an event remembered by the Haitian people as a "crucifixion".
1957-1986: Duvalier regime
The election to the presidency of François Duvalier (1957) led to the emergence of a repressive and corrupt regime combining violence against political opponents with exploitation of the traditional religious practices commonly known as "voodoo": proclaiming himself president for life in 1964, "Papa Doc" on his death (April 22, 1971) bequeathed power to his son Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc").
1986-1991: Provisional governments
From February 7, 1986 - when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended - until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected, bicameral parliament, an elected president that serves as head of state, and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers, and supreme court appointed by the president with parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provides for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.
The 1991 coup
In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Shortly after the election, the Tontons Macoute committed a series of gruesome murders. The murders were intended as a message to Haitians that violence was still the ruling force in the country.
Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown on September 30 in a violent coup led by Dr. Roger Lafontant and the Tontons Macoute. Attempts to block the coup were made by Aristide supporters were thwarted. The coup was supported by elements of the military and by many of the country's economic elite.
Following the coup, Aristide began what became a 3-year period of exile. An estimated 3,000-5,000 Haitians were killed during the period of military rule. The coup created a large-scale exodus of boat people. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued refugees from the previous 10 years combined.
For three years an unconstitutional military regime governed Haiti. Various OAS and UN initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government, including the Governors Island Agreement of July 3, 1993, failed when the military refused to uphold its end of the agreements. The authorities chose to ignore the impact of international sanctions imposed after the coup allowing Haiti's already weak economy to collapse and the country's infrastructure to deteriorate from neglect.
1994: Foreign military intervention
On 31 July 1994, as repression mounted in Haiti and a UN/OAS civilian human rights monitoring mission (MICIVIH) was expelled from the country, the UN Security Council adopted UN Security Council Resolution 940. UNSC Resolution 940 authorized member states to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure of Haiti's military leadership and to restore Haiti's constitutionally elected government to power.
In the weeks that followed, the United States took the lead in forming a multinational force (MNF) to carry out the UN's mandate by means of a military intervention. In mid-September, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force, President Bill Clinton dispatched a negotiating team led by former President Jimmy Carter to persuade the authorities to step aside and allow for the return of constitutional rule. With intervening troops already airborne, General Raoul Cédras and other top leaders agreed to step down and accept the unopposed intervention of the MNF.
On 19 September 1994, the first contingents of what became a 21,000 international force touched down in Haiti to oversee the end of military rule and the restoration of the constitutional government. By early October, the three military leaders -- Cédras, General Philippe Biamby, and Police Chief Lt. Colonel Michel François -- had departed Haiti. President Aristide and other elected officials returned on 15 October.
Under the watchful eyes of international peacekeepers, restored Haitian authorities organized nationwide local and parliamentary elections in June 1995. A pro-Aristide, multi-party coalition called the Lavalas Political Organization (Organisation Politique Lavalas, OPL) swept into power at all levels. With his term ending in February 1996 and barred by the constitution from succeeding himself, President Aristide agreed to step aside and support a presidential election in December 1995. René Préval, a prominent Aristide political ally, who had been Aristide's Prime Minister in 1991, took 88% of the vote, and was sworn in to a 5-year term on 7 February 1996 during what was Haiti's first-ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.
1996: Political gridlock
In late 1996, former President Aristide broke from the OPL and created a new political party, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas, FL). The OPL, holding the majority of the parliament, renamed itself the Struggling People's Party (Organisation du Peuple en Lutte), maintaining the OPL acronym. Elections in April 1997 for the renewal of one-third of the Senate and creation of commune-level assemblies and town delegations provided the first opportunity for the former political allies to compete for elected office. Although preliminary results indicated victories for FL candidates in most races, the elections, which drew only about 5% of registered voters, were plagued with allegations of fraud and not certified by most international observers as free and fair.
Under pressure, the Préval government refused to accept the results, but did little to remedy the situation. Partisan rancor from the election dispute led to deep divisions within Parliament and between the legislative and executive branches, resulting in almost total governmental gridlock. In June 1997, Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned. Two successors proposed by President Préval thereafter were rejected by the legislature. Eventually, in December 1998, Jacques-Édouard Alexis was confirmed as Prime Minister.
During this gridlock period, the government was unable to organize the local and parliamentary elections due in late 1998. In early January 1999, President Préval dismissed legislators whose terms had expired - the entire Chamber of Deputies and all but nine members of the Senate - and converted local elected officials into state employees. The President and Prime Minister then ruled by decree, establishing a cabinet composed almost entirely of FL partisans. Under pressure from a new political coalition called the Democratic Consultation Group (ESPACE), the government allocated three seats of the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Electoral Provisoire, CEP) to opposition groups and mandated the CEP to organize the overdue elections for the end of 1999.
Haiti in the 21st century
2000: The electoral crisis
Following several delays, the first round of elections for local councils, municipal governments, town delegates, the Chamber of Deputies, and two-thirds of the Senate took place on 21 May 2000. The election drew the participation of a multitude of candidates from a wide array of political parties and a voter turnout of more than 60%.
Controversy mired the good start, however, when the CEP used a disputed methodology to determine the winners of the Senate races, thus avoiding run-off elections and giving the FL a virtual sweep in the first round. The flawed vote count, combined with the lack of CEP follow-up of investigations of alleged irregularities and fraud, undercut the credibility of that body, whose President fled Haiti and two members eventually resigned rather than accede to government pressure to release the erroneous results.
Alleged electoral manipulation and subsequent intransigence of the Haitian authorities in the face of international pressure led by the OAS to implement corrective measures, led to sharp foreign criticism of the Government of Haiti. On 28 August 2000, Haiti's new parliament, including 10 Senators accorded victory under the disputed vote count, was convened.
Concurrently, most opposition parties regrouped in a tactical alliance that eventually became the Democratic Convergence (Convergence Democratique, CD). The Convergence demanded that the May elections were so fraudulent that they should be annulled and held again under a new CEP, but only after then President Préval had stood down and been replaced by a provisional government. In the meantime, the opposition announced it would boycott the November presidential and senatorial elections.
A number of diplomatic missions by the OAS, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the United States had sought to delay Parliament's seating until the electoral issues could be resolved. When these efforts failed and Parliament was seated, Haiti's main bilateral donors announced the end of "business as usual." They moved to re-channel Haitian assistance away from the government, and announced that they would not support or send observers to the November elections.
In the absence of a solution and in keeping with the timetable established by the Haitian Constitution, elections for President and nine Senators took place on 26 November 2000. All major opposition parties boycotted these elections in which voter participation was very low. Jean-Bertrand Aristide emerged as the victor of these elections and the candidates of his Fanmi Lavalas swept all nine contested Senate seats.
On 14 December 2000 the Democratic Convergence announced it would create a provisional government that would assume "office" on 7 February - the day of president-elect Aristide's inauguration. The primary objective of this "government" would be to organize new elections. To forestall a more serious crisis, a United States diplomatic mission in late December obtained Aristide's agreement to an eight-point plan that among others things would revise the May elections and create a new electoral council.
In early February 2001, a group of prominent Haitians, known as the Commission of Facilitation of the Civil Society Initiative and a representative of the OAS brought together for face-to-face negotiations representatives of the Fanmi Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence. The talks collapsed on 6 February on the eve of the presidential inauguration. The Family Lavalas would not moved beyond its eight-point commitment of December. The Democratic Convergence insisted on the annulment of the 21 May and the 6 November 2000 elections as well as on broad power-sharing arrangements for the Convergence in the government.
On 7 February 2001, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was sworn in as the new Haitian president. That same day, the Democratic Convergence swore in Gerard Gourgue "Provisional President of the Government of Consensus and National Union." As of the date of this report, there have been no further direct talks between the Fanmi Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence.
International military presence
Since the transition of the 21,000 strong MNF into a peacekeeping force on 31 March 1995, the presence of international military forces that helped end military rule was gradually ended. Initially, the U.S.-led UN peacekeeping force numbered 6,000 troops, but that number was scaled back progressively over the next 4 years as a series of UN technical missions succeeded the peacekeeping force. By January 2000, all U.S. troops stationed in Haiti had departed, though between February and September, 2000, U.S. military civil engineering and medical training missions visited Haiti for 6-week periods under the auspices of the U.S. Army Southern Command's "New Horizons" program.
In March 2000, the UN peacekeeping mission reconstituted itself as a peace building mission, the International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH). MICAH consisted of some 80 non-uniformed UN technical advisors providing advice and material assistance in policing, justice, and human rights to the Haitian Government. MICAH's mandate ended on February 7, 2001, coincidentally with the end of the Préval administration.
2004: Revolt against Aristide
Revolt against Aristide: Aristide succeeded Préval in February 2001 elections. Opponents claimed the elections were not fair. They also claimed his administration didn't rein in corruption. Aristide came under criticism for failing to improve the still moribund economy as well.
Due to the objections of the opposition, elections were not held as scheduled in late 2003, and consequently the terms of most legislators expired in January, forcing Aristide to rule by decree. In December 2003, under increasing pressure, Aristide promised new elections within six months. He refused demands from the opposition that he step down immediately.
On February 5, 2004, a revolt broke out in the city of Gonaïves. The main instigator was a militant gang called the Cannibal Army (which renamed itself the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti) that had once supported Aristide, only to turn against him when its leader was shot dead in September 2003, allegedly on Aristide's orders. The rebels took control of Gonaïves and drove the ill-equipped police from the city. The rebellion began to spread, joined by exiled former soldiers and militia leaders (such as Louis-Jodel Chamblain) who had crossed over from the Dominican Republic.
On February 22, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti's second-largest city, was taken by the rebels. On the same day a mediation team consisting of diplomats from the United States, France, Canada and the Bahamas presented a plan, which was meant to reduce Aristide's power (while allowing him to remain in office until the constitutional end of his term) in favour of a newly appointed government that would include the opposition. Although Aristide accepted the plan, it was rejected by the opposition, which continued to demand nothing less than the president's resignation.
As rebels began marching south towards Port-au-Prince, Aristide departed from Haiti on February 29. There is controversy over whether or not he was forced by the US to leave the country; Aristide claims that he was essentially kidnapped by the US, while US State Secretary Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney maintain that he resigned. The government was taken over by supreme court chief Boniface Alexandre.
Caricom, which had been backing the peace deal, accused the United States, France, and the International community of failing in Haiti because they have allowed a democratically elected leader to be forced out of office by force. Jamaican Prime Minister Percival James Patterson said that the incident set a bad example to the world, and demonstrated hypocrisy on the part of the United States, which some suspected would be happy to see a relatively left leaning president removed from power, in a possible precedent for events in Venezuela or Cuba, although it claimed to act in the interests of democracy.
The American government claims that the crisis was of Mr. Aristide's making and that he was not acting in the best interests of his country; his removal was necessary for future stability in the island nation.
2004: Hurricane Jeanne
In mid-September 2004, Haiti was soaked by the flooding rains of Hurricane Jeanne. While Jeanne was only a tropical storm at the time with weak winds, the rains caused large mudslides and coastal flooding which killed more than 1,500 people and left 200,000 starving and homeless.
The UN and other nations dispatched several hundred troops in addition to those already stationed in Haiti to provide disaster relief assistance. Looting and desperation caused by hunger resulted in turmoil at food distribution centers.