Haiti is a country situated on the western third of the island of Hispaniola and the smaller islands of La Gonâve, La Tortue (Tortuga), Grande Caye, and Ile a Vache in the Caribbean Sea, east of Cuba; the Dominican Republic shares Hispaniola with Haiti. Its total land area is 10,714 square miles (27,750 square km) and its capital is Port-au-Prince on the main island of Hispaniola.
A former French colony, it was the first country in the Americas after the United States to declare its independence. In spite of its longevity, it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Main article: History of Haiti
1492-1804: Years following colonization
The Hispaniola's indigenous Arawak (or Taíno) population suffered near-extinction in the decades after Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492. The island was eventually repopulated by the late 17th century with African slaves to work the sugar plantations.
In 1697 Spain ceded the western third of the Hispaniola - which was then called Saint-Domingue - to France. It became one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire. On August 22, 1791, the slave population revolted, which led to a war of attrition against the French. They defeated an army sent by Napoléon Bonaparte and declared independence on January 1, 1804.
Haiti then established the world's first Black republic, making a commitment to end all slavery everywhere along with helping Venezuela, Peru and Colombia to achieve independence under such revolutionary leaders as Bolívar and Miranda. Toussaint L'Ouverture abolished slavery in the neighboring Dominican republic. Threatened by this attack on slavery and colonialism, the United States and Western Europe instated sanctions against Haiti. In addition to this economic blow, in 1825 France demanded "reparations" to former slaveholders, amounting to 90 million gold francs (equivalent to $21.7 billion today). Haiti continued to make payments to France until the 1950s.
Haiti has since become the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has been plagued by political violence and corrupt dictators for most of its history.
1915: U.S. Occupation
American President Woodrow Wilson sent the first sailors and marines to Port-au-Prince on July 28, 1915. Within six weeks, representatives from the United States controlled Haitian customs houses and administrative institutions. For the next nineteen years, Haiti's powerful neighbor to the north guided and governed the country. During this period the legal government of Haiti was (both technically and effectively) the U.S. Marine Corps. The specific order from the Navy to the invasion commander, Admiral William B. Caperton , was to "protect American and foreign" interests.
Representatives from the United States wielded veto power over all governmental decisions in Haiti, and Marine Corps commanders served as administrators in the provinces. Local institutions, however, continued to be run by Haitians, as was required under policies put in place during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.
Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave, the mulatto president of the Senate, agreed to accept the presidency of Haiti after several other candidates had refused on principle.
With a figurehead installed in the National Palace and other institutions maintained in form if not in function, Admiral Caperton declared martial law, a condition that persisted until 1929.
In 1917 President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature after its members refused to approve a constitution purportedly authored by United States Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. A referendum subsequently approved the new constitution (by a vote of 98,225 to 768), however, in 1918. Generally a liberal document, the constitution allowed foreigners to purchase land. Dessalines had forbidden land ownership by foreigners, and since 1804 most Haitians had viewed foreign ownership as anathema.
The occupation by the United States had several effects on Haiti. An early period of unrest culminated in a 1918 rebellion by up to 40,000 former cacos and other disgruntled people. The scale of the uprising overwhelmed the Gendarmerie, but marine reinforcements helped put down the revolt at the estimated cost of 2,000 Haitian lives. Thereafter, order prevailed to a degree that most Haitians had never witnessed. The order, however, was imposed largely by white foreigners with deep-seated racial prejudices and a disdain for the notion of self-determination by inhabitants of less-developed nations. These attitudes particularly dismayed the mulatto elite, who had heretofore believed in their innate superiority over the black masses. The whites from North America, however, did not distinguish among Haitians, regardless of their skin tone, level of education, or sophistication. This intolerance caused indignation, resentment, and eventually a racial pride that was reflected in the work of a new generation of Haitian historians, ethnologists, writers, artists, and others, many of whom later became active in politics and government. Still, as Haitians united in their reaction to the racism of the occupying forces, the mulatto elite managed to dominate the country's bureaucracy and to strengthen its role in national affairs.
The occupation greatly improved some of Haiti's infrastructure. Roads were improved and expanded through the use of forced-labour gangs. This violent form of "corvee labour", with chain-gangs and armed guards permitted to shoot anyone who fled compulsory service, was widely regarded as tantamount to slavery. The education system was re-designed from the ground up; however, this involved the destruction of the pre-existing system of "Liberal Arts" education inherited (and adapted) from the French. It is to be observed that the U.S. Marine corps was even less successful in creating a system of education for Haitians than the contemporary government of the U.S. was in providing access to education for its own Black population. Also, due to its emphasis on vocational training, the American system that replaced the French was despised by the elite. Thus, among the two major infrastructural programs carried out by the government of occupation, the use of forced labour enraged the lower classes of rural Haiti, and the educational "reform" enraged the urban elite.
1922: Louis Borno
In 1922 Louis Borno replaced Dartiguenave, who was forced out of office for temporizing over the approval of a debt consolidation loan. Borno ruled without the benefit of a legislature (dissolved in 1917 under Dartiguenave) until elections were again permitted in 1930. The legislature, after several ballots, elected mulatto Sténio Vincent to the presidency.
The occupation of Haiti continued after World War I, despite the embarrassment that it caused Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace conference in 1919 and the scrutiny of a congressional inquiry in 1922. By 1930 President Herbert Hoover had become concerned about the effects of the occupation, particularly after a December 1929 incident in Les Cayes in which marines killed at least ten Haitian peasants during a march to protest local economic conditions. Hoover appointed two commissions to study the situation. A former governor general of the Philippines, W. Cameron Forbes , headed the more prominent of the two. The Forbes Commission praised the material improvements that the United States administration had wrought, but it criticized the exclusion of Haitians from positions of real authority in the government and the constabulary, which had come to be known as the Garde d'Haïti . In more general terms, the commission further asserted that "the social forces that created [instability] still remain--poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government."
1932: U.S. Withdrawal
The Hoover administration did not implement fully the recommendations of the Forbes Commission, but United States withdrawal was under way by 1932, when Hoover lost the presidency to Roosevelt, the presumed author of the most recent Haitian constitution. On a visit to Cap Haïtien in July 1934, Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of marines departed in mid-August, after a formal transfer of authority to the Garde. As in other countries occupied by the United States in the early twentieth century, the local (U.S.-trained) military was often the only cohesive and effective institution left in the wake of withdrawal. This sowed the seeds for a sequence of military-backed dictatorships, all attached to American patronage, which would define the next 50 years of Haiti's history.
The Rise of Duvalier
A medical doctor, François Duvalier was not allowed to establish his own practice due to racist customs in Haiti (he was black). After securing employment with an American medical project that was fighting widespread tuberculosis, Duvalier had the opportunity to see the poverty that existed in the countryside.
This fueled his interest in politics, and despite the fact that the Haitian government was predominantly mulatto, Duvalier was able to gain a following and joined forces with powerful union leader Daniel Fignole. Together they formed the popular Mouvement Ouvriers Paysans (MOP) party. They continued to gain public support and waited for their moment to seize the power.
Both men wanted to take the top job of President, therefore the party was split and in 1957 Fignole became president of Haiti. His position lasted only 18 days, however, because Duvalier was able to overthrow him and began what was to become a 29-year dynasty.
1957-1986: Duvaliers and Aborted freeport
Duvalier, also known as "Papa Doc," became president in 1957 and dictator in 1964. He was known for his army of sunglasses-clad volunteers, the Tonton Macoute. In 1967 proposals were made to construct a freeport on the Haitain island of Tortuga by a consortium formed in the United States by Don Pierson of Eastland, Texas.
These plans reached maturity in 1971 when a 99-year contract was entered into by François Duvalier on behalf of the Haitian government. Although construction of infastructure and a new international airport was commenced, two other events brought about the sudden demise of the whole venture. When François Duvalier suddenly died in 1971 his son Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc") took over at the age of 19. In 1974 it became known that the freeport had entered into a multimillion dollar contract with the Gulf Oil corporation to advance development on the island. This news prompted "Baby Doc" to expropriate the venture for himself, which in turn caused its sudden collapse.
When Jean-Claude Duvalier was deposed in 1986, the entire country remained in poverty lacking international commercial development.
1986: After Duvalier Regime
Over three decades of dictatorship were followed by military rule which ended in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. Most of his term was usurped by a military coup d'etat, but he was able to return to office in 1994 and oversee the installation of a close associate to the presidency in 1996.
2000-2004: Crisis and the post-Aristide era
In April2000, Haiti its legislative and local elections as a prelude to the national elections. The OAS and the international community condemed the results of the election as fradulent. In the months leading up to the Presidential elections, numerous negotiations failed to produce a settlement. Therefore, most opposition groups boycotted the Presidential elections. Aristide easily won this election, but due to the earlier dispute, the opposition parties never accepted his victory as legitimate.
Arisitide took office on February 7, 2001 amid great fanfare, unfortunately the political impasse and international reluctance to finance his government led to stagnation and economic decline. By 2003, the country was deeply divided between the pro-Aristide and anti-Aristide camps.This finally led to an armed conflict when on February 5, 2004, 200 years after the Haitian Revolution, when an armed rebel group calling itself the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front took control of the Gonaïves police station. This rebellion then spread throughout the central Artibonite province by February 17 and was joined by opponents of the government who had been in exile in the Dominican Republic.
At 5:30AM on February 29, 2004, President Aristide left Haiti on a white US jet with an American flag on the tail wing. He alleges he was kidnapped from Haiti by a group of Haitians, 20 US soldiers, and 19 American employees of a private American security company called the Steele Foundation. There were also wives and a one year old baby on board. The US (including Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and Colin Powell) have consistently maintained that Aristide left Haiti willingly. But in an interview that Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio conducted with Aristide's bodyguard, Franz Gabriel, the bodyguard contradicted the US version of events, stating that he thought it was in fact a kidnapping. According to Gabriel, he and Aristide were mislead on the morning of Sunday, the twenty-ninth by Luis Moreno, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince into believing that they were going to a press conference at the US embassy. Instead the convoy turned into the airport rather than continuing onto the embassy. Once at the airport he said they witnessed the white jet land, and amidst a group of battle-ready US soldiers they were whisked onto the plane. At no time, according to Gabriel, were they told the destination of their flight. Gabriel also recalled that the soldiers quickly changed into civilian clothes once on board the plane. And at no point during the flight were either Aristide or Gabriel consulted with or spoken to about what was happening. After making an unannounced stop in Antigua the plane landed in the Central African Republic, seemingly a strange choice given the diplomatic and political isolation of CAR.
Pursuant to Haiti's constitution, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court , Boniface Alexandre, took over as interim president.
Using the pretext that Aristide had freely left his own country, a delegation of Aristide's friends and supporters, among them Congresswoman Maxine Waters and TransAfrica founder Randal Robinson , as well as the journalist Amy Goodman, flew to CAR to return him to the Caribbean. Leaving CAR did not prove easy for Aristide and his departure from CAR was at first opposed by the US ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, who said that Aristide and his wife Mildred should not be allowed to return within 150 miles of Haiti -- Jamaica being 130 miles away. But the delegation did prevail, and Aristide was flown to Kingston, Jamaica.
Aristide and his family now live in exile in South Africa, and he maintains that he is the President of Haiti, and that he will return to Haiti some day.
While in exile Aristide has granted few interviews. But, in a rare interview Aristide granted to the Afro-French journalist Claude Ribbe (2/21/2005), marking the anniversary of his removal from power, Aristide revealed that he was pressured by two French emissaries to leave the country or risk being killed. Aristide went on in the interview to identify the emisaries as Veronique de Villepin, sister of the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, and Régis Debray, the French Foreign Minister's appointee. (To see the interview with Ribbe, go to: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article8151.htm)
Sources: Democracynow.org, February 25, 2005 show marking anniversary of Aristides departure. And the March 16, 2004 Press Release from Congresswoman Maxine Waters: http://www.house.gov/waters/pr040316.htm
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. Since September 30th, 2004, at the 13th anniversary of the coup d'etat against Aristide, his supporters mainly located at the slum of Bel-Air have launched Operation Baghdad against the interim government and caused the death of more than 70 civilians, on both sides.
Main article: Politics of Haiti
Haiti is a presidential republic with an elected president and National Assembly. However, some claim it to be an authoritarian government in practice. On 29 February 2004, a rebellion culminated in the defacto resignation of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and it is unknown if the current political structure will remain.
The constitution was introduced in 1987 and is modeled on those of the United States and France. Having been either completely or partially suspended for some years, it was fully reinstated in 1994.
Main article: Departments of Haiti
Haiti is divided into nine departments (subdivisions):
Main article: Geography of Haiti
Haiti's terrain consists mainly of rugged mountains with small coastal plains and river valleys. The east and central part is a large elevated plateau.
The biggest city is the capital Port-au-Prince with 2 million inhabitants, followed by Cap-Haïtien with 600,000.
Main article: Economy of Haiti
Haiti remains the least-developed country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Comparative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other low-income developing countries (particularly in the hemisphere) since the 1980s. Haiti now ranks 150th of 175 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index.
About 80% of the population lives in abject poverty, making it the second poorest country in the world. Nearly 70% of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming and employs about two-thirds of the economically active work force. The country has experienced little job creation since President René Préval took office in February 1996, although the informal economy is growing. Failure to reach agreements with international sponsors have denied Haiti badly needed budget and development assistance.
Main article: Demographics of Haiti
Although Haiti averages about 270 people per square kilometer, its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of African descent. The rest of the population is mostly mulatto, or mixed Caucasian-African ancestry. A few are of European or Levantine heritage. About two thirds of the population live in rural areas.
French is one of two official languages, but it is spoken by only about 10% of the people. Nearly all Haitians speak Krèyol(Creole), the country's other official language. English is increasingly spoken among the young and in the business sector.
Roman Catholicism is the state religion, which the majority professes. Some have converted to Protestantism. Many Haitians also practice voodoo traditions, seeing no conflict with their Christian faith.
Main articles: Culture of Haiti, Music of Haiti