| The Arawak,
the original inhabitants of the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic,
called the island Ayti, meaning "land of mountains." When he arrived in
1492, Christopher Columbus named the island La Isla Española (Spanish
for "The Spanish Island") in honor of his Spanish sponsors. The name later
evolved into the modern name Hispaniola. After an early settlement near
Cap-Haïtien was destroyed by Native Americans, the Spanish settled
the eastern half of the island and left the west unsettled. French pirates
operating from the island of Tortue hunted wild boar and other animals in
Haiti to sell as food to passing ships. By 1697, when Spain formally ceded
the western one-third of Hispaniola-the portion that later became Haiti-to
France, the French had established a flourishing slave-plantation system
throughout the colony. At the end of the next century, Saint-Domingue (the
French colonial term for Haiti) was the world's richest colony. The population
at that time totaled more than 450,000 slaves, more than 25,000 free mulattoes,
and about 30,000 French planters.
About 800 Haitian volunteers fought in the American Revolution (1775-1783) under the French General Marquis de Lafayette, and thereby gained some military experience. The French Revolution, which began in 1789, inspired the 1791 slave rebellion in Haiti. This rebellion was led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, Alexandre Sabès Pétion, and Jean Pierre Boyer. By 1794 forces under Toussaint L'Ouverture (today known as "the Precursor") had freed the colony's slave population and rid it of its French and British presence. By 1801 Toussaint ruled the entire colony. Although Toussaint was captured by French forces in 1802 and died a prisoner in France, the rebellion he had fostered did not die. In 1804 Dessalines declared Haiti to be the world's first black republic. Unfortunately, most of the country's plantation infrastructure had been destroyed and all the experienced administrators had been eliminated.
In 1806 Dessalines was assassinated, and for some years thereafter the northern part of Haiti was held by Christophe. In the southern part of the island a republic was established by Pétion. Upon the death of Christophe in 1820, Boyer, the successor to Pétion, consolidated his power throughout the island. In 1844 the eastern two-thirds of the island declared its independence as the Republic of Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic.
The subsequent history of Haiti was characterized by a series of bitter struggles for political ascendancy between the blacks and the mulattoes. In 1849 a black, Faustin Élie Soulouque, proclaimed himself emperor as Faustin I, and for ten years ruled in a despotic manner. In early 1859, the mulatto Nicholas Fabre Geffrard restored republican government; he remained in office until 1867.
Occupation by the United States
In the early 20th century, the United States was worried about French and German influences in Haiti and the security of the newly opened Panama Canal. In 1915, during World War I, the United States invaded Haiti to restore order in the country. U.S. Marines secured the countryside and proceeded to build the institutions needed to govern a modern nation. The United States collected tariffs, paid foreign debts, restructured the government and military, built roads and bridges, and trained local people for leadership roles. Although some Haitians resisted the U.S. occupation, most notably in 1920, the occupation was generally peaceful. The U.S. military occupation of Haiti was terminated on August 15, 1934. U.S. reforms did not last, however, and Haiti fell prey to dictators and disorganization. In the 1930s Haiti suffered through the worldwide depression.
Continued U.S. Influence
In 1939 President Stenio J. Vincent, first elected in 1930, took steps to remain in office beyond the expiration of his second term and to augment his semidictatorial powers. However, when he was confronted with strong local opposition and U.S. disapproval, Vincent announced that he would not seek reelection. The Haitian legislature then elected Élie Lescot, a former minister to the United States, as president. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Lescot, with unanimous approval of the legislature, joined the Allied forces in World War II by declaring war on Japan on December 8 and on Germany and Italy on December 12. Early in 1942 Haiti permitted U.S. antisubmarine aircraft to make use of the Port-au-Prince landing field.
Haiti signed the charter of the United Nations on June 26, 1945, becoming one of the original members. Growing political disturbances in Haiti led, on January 11, 1946, to the military overthrow of Lescot, who fled to Miami, Florida. On August 16 Dumarsais Estimé was elected president.
Haiti signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (also known as the Rio Treaty) in September 1947 and the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) in April 1948. During 1949 Haitian revolutionaries, with encouragement from the Dominican government, precipitated a domestic crisis and provoked Estimé to declare a state of siege on November 15. In May 1950 the Haitian president was forced to resign, and a military junta ruled the country until elections were held on October 8. Paul E. Magloire, a soldier and member of the junta, won the presidency by a large majority.
The Magloire government encouraged foreign investment to strengthen the national economy and settled differences with the Dominican Republic. In 1956, however, controversy developed over the extent of Magloire's term of office, and in December of that year he relinquished all power. Political uncertainty followed until September 1957, when François Duvalier (known as "Papa Doc"), who had been a member of the Estimé government, was elected president.
The Duvalier Regime
Fear of political rivals led Duvalier to declare several of them outlaws. At his bidding, the legislature imposed a state of siege on May 2, 1958, and on July 31 authorized him to rule by decree. In this period Duvalier organized the Tontons Macoutes, an armed force under his personal control, to intimidate opposition. He dissolved the bicameral legislature on April 8, 1961, to form a new unicameral legislature. All the candidates for the new body elected on April 30 were Duvalier followers. On September 15 the legislature granted him extensive economic powers. U.S. aid was suspended in 1961 to demonstrate disapproval of Duvalier's policies.
On April 19, 1963, a military plot against Duvalier was uncovered and crushed. Haitian police invaded the Dominican embassy to seize government foes but withdrew when Dominican President Juan Bosch threatened to use armed force against them. The refusal of the Haitian government to permit the embassy refugees to leave the country safely led to a buildup of Dominican troops on the Haitian border. The troops withdrew on May 13, but Haitian exiles in the Dominican Republic made several unsuccessful invasions of Haiti in August in the hope of triggering a popular uprising. A severe hurricane on October 4, followed by a landslide on November 10, caused about 5500 deaths and much property damage.
A life term as president for Duvalier and a new red-and-black flag (to symbolize the link between Haiti and Africa) were authorized by a new constitution proclaimed in 1964. Rebel groups within the country remained active, despite the oppressive tyranny of Duvalier and the Tontons Macoutes. By 1967 the president had executed some 2000 political enemies and driven others into exile.
In January 1971 the legislature amended the constitution to permit Duvalier to name his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, as his successor. The 19-year-old Duvalier became president after the death of his father on April 21, 1971; the position was reaffirmed for life by a constitutional revision in 1985.
In the early and mid-1970s Jean Claude Duvalier consolidated his power. Advisers loyal to his father's regime still held important positions, and his mother exercised considerable influence. An exodus of refugees to the Bahamas and to the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s, a result of political oppression and deepening poverty, drew international attention to the Duvalier regime. As a result of rising opposition Duvalier fled Haiti in early 1986 and settled temporarily in France; a junta succeeded him.
Democratic Elections and Military Takeover
Leslie Manigat was elected president in January 1988 but was ousted by the military in June. Lieutenant General Prosper Avril emerged from a subsequent power struggle as Haiti's president. Renewed political unrest, sparked by deteriorating economic conditions, led Avril to resign the presidency and flee in March 1990. Internationally supervised elections in December resulted in a landslide presidential victory for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest and an outspoken advocate for the poor. After the army crushed a mutiny led by former officials of the Duvalier regime, Aristide was inaugurated in February 1991. He was ousted by a military coup the following September and went into exile in the United States.
The OAS imposed sanctions on the new military regime, but negotiations for Aristide's return to office moved slowly. Of the thousands of Haitians who attempted to flee to the United States, more than half were sent back to Haiti by the U.S. Coast Guard. The UN imposed sanctions in June 1993, then suspended them in August after the Haitian military and Aristide agreed on a plan for his reinstatement as head of a democratic government by October 30. The military government, led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras, refused to step down and the UN reimposed sanctions in mid-October. In December, Aristide's prime minister and chief negotiator in Haiti, Robert Malval, resigned. Gasoline and oil shortages caused by UN sanctions left relief organizations unable to deliver food and medical supplies, although fuel was being successfully smuggled into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. In May 1994 the UN imposed broader sanctions, including a ban on international air travel, against Haiti's military rulers. The new sanctions, aimed at forcing them to step down and allow Aristide to return to power, permitted only food and medicine to be shipped into Haiti. In response to economic conditions worsened by sanctions and continued repression by the military, the number of Haitians fleeing the country and seeking political asylum in the United States greatly increased. An additional 20,000 refugees attempted to reach the United States in 1994. The UN passed a resolution that authorized member states to use all necessary means to facilitate the return of Aristide.
On September 16, 1994, the United States dispatched former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell for talks with Haiti's military leadership. Facing the threat of a U.S. invasion, the Cédras regime agreed to turn over power to President Aristide. Under the agreement General Cédras, General Philippe Biamby, and Chief of Police Lieutenant Colonel Michel François would retire and their positions would be filled with rightfully appointed individuals. In return the U.S. negotiators guaranteed that the embargo on Haiti would be lifted.
On September 19, a force of 20,000 U.S. troops arrived in Haiti to oversee the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The troops helped ensure a secure environment throughout the country by seizing weapons and arresting former members of the police paramilitary. Generals Cédras and Biamby were offered exile in Panama and they departed the country in October; François left for the Dominican Republic.
The UN lifted its embargo in late September and President Aristide returned to Haiti on October 15, 1994. In November he named his former commerce minister, Smarck Michel, as the new prime minister. In keeping with Roman Catholic regulations that priests not hold public office, Aristide submitted his request to leave the priesthood that same month.
Aristide's return raised the hopes of many Haitians for peace, reconciliation, and economic revival. Haiti's economy, never very stable, was weakened to the point of collapse by the military takeover and subsequent international embargo. Much of Haiti's infrastructure-including port facilities, bridges, and roadways-had deteriorated. Millions of dollars in international aid was earmarked for the improvement and stabilization of Haiti, including the disbanding of the nation's police and military and the recruiting, training, and deployment of new members. As part of the effort, Aristide ordered the forced retirement of 43 senior army officers in February 1995, including all of the generals and lieutenants who had served under the military government that overthrew Aristide in 1991. In early 1995 U.S. forces left Haiti and a UN peacekeeping contingent took over.
Haiti staged general elections in June 1995 in which more than 10,000 candidates ran for 18 of 27 Senate seats, all 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 134 mayoral posts, and positions in 565 local councils. The elections were an important test for the fledgling civilian government and about half of the country's 3.5 million registered voters cast ballots. International election observers and news outlets reported that the elections were peaceful, but also marked by chaos, confusion, and widespread violations of election procedures, including unopened ballots, poor ballot distribution, and lack of information for voters. Makeup elections were held in August for people unable to vote in June, or for those areas where votes had not been counted because of administrative problems. The Lavalas Platform, a three-party coalition endorsed by Aristide, dominated both elections, winning over two-thirds of the legislative races and three-fourths of the mayoral elections. Most other parties refused to accept the results of the June elections, however, and boycotted the makeup elections.
In October 1995 Prime Minister Michel resigned after clashes with Aristide and other government officials over Michel's support for economic reforms backed by the United States, including the privatization of state-owned companies such as electric and telephone utilities, banks, and the country's main port. The next month the United States suspended $4.5 million in economic aid, citing delays by Aristide's government in implementing the economic reforms.
Aristide Steps Down
In December 1995 Aristide's close friend and handpicked successor René Preval was elected president of Haiti in a landslide victory. Preval had been Aristide's prime minister at the time of the 1991 coup. Although Aristide was constitutionally forbidden to run for a second consecutive presidential term, many Haitians argued that he should have been able to make up for the three years he spent in exile by serving another three years in office. Uncertainty surrounding the transfer of power, including statements by Aristide hinting that he might not step down, led the United States to pressure Aristide to reaffirm his pledge to a smooth transfer of power.
After a wave of violence and political assassinations, President-elect Preval asked the UN in January 1996 to keep between 1000 and 1500 UN troops in Haiti for an additional six months. The 5800-member UN force had been scheduled to leave at the end of February. Preval was inaugurated as president of Haiti on February 7, 1996. In his last official act as president, Aristide restored Haiti's diplomatic relations with Cuba, which had been broken off in 1961 under diplomatic pressure from the United States. Rosny Smarth, an agronomist and member of the ruling Lavalas Platform, was selected as Haiti's new prime minister on March 6, 1996, becoming the country's third prime minister in less than a year.
The last U.S. combat units left Haiti at the end of April 1996, just as the United States froze about half of its economic aid to the country until the Haitian government could show progress in solving a series of murders of public figures. Haitian officials complained that the United States was asking too much of the country's recently assembled and inexperienced police force, and that U.S. intelligence agencies were not cooperating with the criminal investigations.
Smarth announced his resignation as prime minister in June 1997, after several months of strikes and protests against government austerity measures. Smarth had been criticized by Aristide and others for following economic policies that aimed to reduce government spending and privatize state-owned industries. Austerity measures were required by international lending agencies as a condition for Haiti to continue receiving needed foreign aid. Smarth's critics contended that the poverty of Haiti requires government action to relieve the suffering of the poorest members of society.