History of Haiti

The recorded history of Haiti began on December 5, 1492 when Christopher Columbus found a large island in the region of the western Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea.

Following the arrival of Europeans, Haiti’s indigenous population suffered near-extinction. The high mortality in the colony can be attributed to murder, forced labor, repression, and being exposed to Old World diseases. However, a significant number of the Tainos survived and set up villages elsewhere, away from European settlements.

French buccaneers established a settlement on the island of Tortuga in 1625. They survived by pirating Spanish ships and hunting wild cattle. The first official settlement on Tortuga was established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV.

Under the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. By that time, planters outnumbered buccaneers and, with the encouragement of Louis XIV, they had begun to grow tobacco, indigo, cotton, and cacao on the fertile northern plain, thus prompting the importation of African slaves. Slave insurrections were frequent and some slaves escaped to the mountains where they were met by what would be one of the last generations of Taíno natives.

Prior to the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the economy of Saint-Domingue gradually expanded, with sugar and, later, coffee becoming important export crops. After the war, which disrupted maritime commerce, the colony underwent rapid expansion. In 1767, it exported 72 million pounds of raw sugar and 51 million pounds of refined sugar, one million pounds of indigo, and two million pounds of cotton. Saint-Domingue became known as the “Pearl of the Antilles” – one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire. By the 1780s, Saint-Domingue produced about 40 percent of all the sugar and 60 percent of all the coffee consumed in Europe. This single colony, roughly the size of Maryland, produced more sugar and coffee than all of Britain’s West Indian colonies combined.

The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves. African culture remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule, in particular the folk-religion of Vodou.
Thousands of slaves found freedom by fleeing into the mountains, forming communities and raiding isolated plantations. The most famous was Mackandal, a one-armed slave, originally from Guinea, who escaped in 1751. A Vodou Houngan (priest), he united many of the different maroon bands, and spent the next six years staging successful raids and evading capture by the French.

On January 1, 1804 leaders declared independence, reclaiming the indigenous Taíno name of Haiti (“Land of Mountains”) for the new nation. Most of the remaining French colonists fled ahead of the defeated French army, many migrating to Louisiana or Cuba.

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 nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere’s first regional meeting of independent nations, held in Panama in 1826.

By 1840, due to debt, Haiti had ceased to export sugar entirely, although large amounts continued to be grown for local consumption as taffia-a raw rum. However, Haiti continued to export coffee, which required little cultivation and grew semi-wild.

The last two decades of the 19th century were also marked by the development of a Haitian intellectual culture. Major works of history were published in 1847 and 1865. 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. Constitutional government restored the faith of the Haitian people in legal institutions. 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.

This period of relative stability and prosperity ended in 1911 when revolution broke out and the country slid once again into disorder and debt. From 1911 to 1915, there were six different Presidents, each of whom was killed or forced into exile.

The Marines and Gendarmerie initiated an extensive road-building program to enhance their military effectiveness and open the country to U.S investment. In 1915, Haiti had only three miles of road usable by automobile outside the towns. By 1918, more than 470 miles of road had been built or repaired through the corvée system, including a road linkingPort-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien.

The Great Depression decimated the prices of Haiti’s exports, and destroyed the tenuous gains of the previous decade. After a period of disorder, elections were held in September 1957, which saw Dr Francois Duvalier elected President. Duvalier soon established another dictatorship. His regime is regarded as one of the most repressive and corrupt of modern times, combining violence against political opponents with exploitation of Vodou to instil fear in the majority of the population. An estimated 30,000 Haitians were killed by his government. Duvalier’s policies, led to massive emigration of educated people, deepening Haiti’s economic and social problems. In 1964, Duvalier proclaimed himself “President for Life.” On Duvalier’s death in April 1971, power passed to his 19-year-old son Jean Claude Duvalier.

Much of the Duvaliers’ wealth, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, came from the Régie du Tabac (Tobacco Administration). Jean-Claude ‘s actions left the regime vulnerable to unanticipated crises including endemic poverty and the widely-publicized outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s. Widespread discontent in Haiti began in 1983, when Pope John Paul II condemned the regime during a visit, finally provoking a rebellion, and in February 1986, after months of disorder, the army forced Jean-Claude to resign and go into exile.

From 1986 to 1990, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In 1987, a new constitution was ratified, providing for an elected bicameral parliament, an elected president, and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers, and Supreme Court appointed by the president with parliament’s consent. The Constitution also provided for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government. At the first elections under the new constitution, in December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in elections that international observers deemed largely free and fair.

Aristide’s radical populist policies alarmed many of the country’s elite, and, in September 1991, he was overthrown in a violent coup that brought General Raoul Cédras to power. There was violent resistance to the coup, in which hundreds were killed, and Aristide was forced into exile. The coup created a large-scale exodus of refugees to the United States. The United States Coast Guard interdicted (in many cases, rescued) a total of 41,342 Haitians during 1991 and 1992. Most were denied entry to the United States and repatriated back to Haiti. The military regime governed Haiti until 1993.

In mid-September 1994, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force forOperation Uphold Democracy, 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, Cédras and other top leaders agreed to step down. In October Aristide was able to return. Elections were held in June 1995. Aristide’s coalition, the Lavalas (Waterfall) Political Organization, had a sweeping victory. When Aristide’s term ended in February 1996, René Préval, a prominent Aristide political ally, was elected President with 88% of the vote. This was Haiti’s first ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.

In late 1996, Aristide broke with Préval and formed a new political party, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas), which won elections in April 1997 for one-third of the Senate and local assemblies, but these results were not accepted by the government. The split between Aristide and Préval produced a dangerous political deadlock, and the government was unable to organize the local and parliamentary elections due in late 1998. In January 1999, Préval dismissed legislators whose terms had expired – the entire Chamber of Deputies and all but nine members of the Senate, and Préval then ruled by decree.

Elections for the Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate took place in May 2000. The election drew a voter turnout of more than 60%, and the Fanmi Lavalas won a virtual sweep. But the elections were flawed by irregularities and fraud, and the opposition parties, regrouped in the Democratic Convergence, demanded that the elections be annulled, that Préval stand down and be replaced by a provisional government. In the meantime, the opposition announced it would boycott the November presidential and senatorial elections. Haiti’s main aid donors threatened to cut off aid.

As a result of this impasse, the November 2000 elections were boycotted by the opposition, and Aristide was again elected president, with more than 90% of the vote, on a very low turnout. The opposition refused to accept the result or to recognise Aristide as president. Major disorders were prevented by the continuing presence of U.S. and other foreign forces, under U.N. auspices.

The continuing political deadlock between Aristide and the opposition prevented legislative elections being held as scheduled in late 2003, and consequently the terms of most legislators expired in January, forcing Aristide to rule by decree. InDecember 5, 2003, after Fanmi Lavalas supporter’s attack on the students at the State University,”Faculte des Sciences Humaines”, under increasing pressure, Aristide promised new elections within six months. He refused demands from the opposition that he step down immediately.

Anti-Aristide protests in January 2004 led to violent clashes in Port-au-Prince, causing several deaths. In February, a revolt broke out in the city of Gonaïves, which was soon under rebel control. The rebellion then began to spread, and Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city, was captured. A mediation team of diplomats presented a plan to reduce Aristide’s power while allowing him to remain in office until the end of his constitutional term. Although Aristide accepted the plan, it was rejected by the opposition.

On February 29, 2004, with rebel contingents marching towards Port-au-Prince, Aristide departed from Haiti. Aristide and his wife left Haiti on an American airplane, escorted by American diplomats and military personnel, and was flown directly to Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, where he stayed for the following two weeks, before seeking asylum in a less remote location.

After Aristide’s overthrow, the violence in Haiti continued, despite the presence of peacekeepers. Clashes between police and Fanmi Lavalas supporters were common, and peacekeeping forces were accused of conducting a massacre against the residents of Cité Soleil in July 2005. Many protests were organized to demand the return of Aristide. Several of the protests resulted in violence and deaths.

In the midst of the ongoing controversy and violence, however, the interim government planned legislative and executive elections. After being postponed several times, these were held in February 2006. The elections were won by René Préval, who had a strong following among the poor, with 51% of the votes. Préval took office in May 2006 as president of Haiti.

In the spring of 2008, Haitians demonstrated against rising food prices. In some instances, the few main roads on the island were blocked with burning tires and the airport at Port-au-Prince was closed.  Protests and demonstrations by Fanmi Lavalas continued in 2009.

On January 12, 2010, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake, magnitude 7.0 with a death toll estimated by the Haitian government at over 300,000, and by non-Haitian sources from 50,000 to 220,000. Aftershocks followed, including one of magnitude 5.9. The capital city, Port-au-Prince, was effectively leveled. A million Haitians were left homeless, and hundreds of thousands are starving.

The earthquake caused massive devastation, with most buildings crumbled, including Haiti’s presidential palace. The enormous death toll made it necessary to bury the dead in mass graves. Most bodies were unidentified and few pictures were taken, making it impossible for families to identify their loved ones. The spread of disease is a major secondary disaster. Many survivors were treated for injuries in emergency makeshift hospitals, but many more died of gangrene, malnutrition, and infectious diseases.

On 4 April 2011, a senior Haitian official announced that Michel Martelly had won the second round of the election against candidate Mirlande Manigat.  Michel Martelly also known by his stage name “Sweet Micky” is a former musician and businessman, and he is the current President of Haiti.

Citation: wikipedia, History of Haiti