The recorded history of Haiti began on December 5, 1492 when the European navigator Christopher Columbus happened upon a large island in the region of the western Atlantic Ocean that later came to be known as the Caribbean Sea. It was inhabited by the Taíno, an Arawakan people, who variously called their island Ayiti, Bohio, or Kiskeya. Columbus promptly claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, and renamed it La Isla Española ("the Spanish Island"), or Hispañola (later Anglicized as Hispaniola).
Columbus established a small settlement, but, when he returned in 1493, the settlers had disappeared, presumably killed. He claimed the whole island for Spain, and left his brother Bartolomeo Columbus to found a new settlement.
Following the arrival of Europeans, Haiti's indigenous population suffered near-extinction, in possibly the worst case of depopulation in the Americas. The high mortality in the colony can be attributed at least in part to murder, forced labor, and repression. However, experience elsewhere suggests that the natives were exposed to Old World diseases, from which they had no immunity. Still, a significant number of the Taínos survived and set up villages elsewhere.
Spanish interest in Hispaniola began to wane in the 1520s, as more lucrative gold and silver deposits were found in Mexico and South America. Thereafter, the population of Spanish Hispaniola grew slowly. Fearful of pirate attacks, the king of Spain in 1606 ordered all colonists on Hispaniola to move closer to the capital city, Santo Domingo. The decision backfired, as British, Dutch, and French pirates then established bases on the island's abandoned northern and western coasts.
In 1664, the newly established French West India Company took control over the colony, which it named Saint-Domingue, and France formally claimed control of the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. In 1670 they established the first permanent French settlement on the mainland of Hispaniola, Cap François (later Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien). 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. After the last Taíno died, the full-blooded Arawakan population on the island was extinct.
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 or Belgium, 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 (accounting in 1783-1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade). Between 1764 and 1771, the average importation of slaves varied between 10,000-15,000, by 1786 about 28,000, and, from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population, by 1789, totaled 500,000, ruled over by a white population that, by 1789, numbered only 32,000. At all times, a majority of slaves in the colony were African-born, as the brutal conditions of slavery prevented the population from experiencing growth through natural increase African culture thus remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule, in particular the folk-religion of Vodou, which commingled Catholic liturgy and ritual with the beliefs and practices of Guinea, Congo, and Dahomey. Slave traders scoured the Atlantic coast of Africa, and the slaves who arrived came from hundreds of different tribes, their languages often incommensurable.
To regularize slavery, in 1685 Louis XIV enacted the Code Noir, which accorded certain human rights to slaves and responsibilities to the master, who was obliged to feed, clothe, and provide for the general well-being of their slaves. The code noir also sanctioned corporal punishment, allowing masters to employ brutal methods to instill in their slaves the necessary docility, while ignoring provisions intended to regulate the administration of punishments. A passage from Henri Christophe's personal secretary, who lived more than half his life as a slave, describes the crimes perpetrated against the slaves of Saint-Domingue by their French masters:
"Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man eating-dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?
Thousands of slaves found freedom by fleeing into the mountains, forming communities of maroons 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. He spent the next six years staging successful raids and evading capture by the French, reputedly killing over 6,000 people, while preaching a fanatic vision of the destruction of white civilization in St. Domingue. In 1758, after a failed plot to poison the drinking water of the plantation owners, he was captured and burned alive at the public square in Cap-Français.
Saint-Domingue also had the largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, the gens de couleur (French, "people of color"). The mixed-race community in Saint-Domingue numbered 25,000 in 1789. First-generation gens de couleur were typically the offspring of a male, French slaveowner and an African slave chosen as a concubine. In the French colonies, the semi-official institution of "plaçage" defined this practice. By this system, the children were free people and could inherit property, thus originating a class of "mulattos" with property and some with wealthy fathers. This class occupied a middle status between African slaves and French colonists. Some Africans also enjoyed status as gens de couleur. (See also Mestizo).
As numbers of gen de couleur grew, the French rulers enacted discriminatory laws. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where whites were present. However, these regulations did not restrict their purchase of land, and many accumulated substantial holdings and became slave-owners. By 1789, they owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the slaves of Saint-Domingue. Central to the rise of the gens de couleur planter class was the growing importance of coffee, which thrived on the marginal hillside plots to which they were often relegated. The largest concentration of gens de couleur was in the southern peninsula, the last region of the colony to be settled, owing to its distance from Atlantic shipping lanes and its formidable terrain, with the highest mountain range in the Caribbean. In the parish of Jérémie, they formed the majority of the population.
The outbreak of revolution in France in the summer of 1789 had a powerful effect on the colony. While the French settlers debated how new revolutionary laws would apply to Saint-Domingue, outright civil war broke out in 1790 when the free men of color claimed they too were French citizens under the terms of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Ten days before the fall of the Bastille, in July 1789, the French National Assembly had voted to seat six delegates from Saint-Domingue. In Paris, a group of wealthy mulattoes, led by Julien Raimond and Vincent Ogé, unsuccessfully petitioned the white planter delegates to support mulatto claims for full civil and political rights. Through the efforts of a group called Société d'Amis des Noirs, of which Raimond and Ogé were prominent leaders, in March 1790 the National Assembly granted full civic rights to the gens de couleur.
Vincent Ogé traveled to St. Domingue to secure the promulgation and implementation of this decree, landing near Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien) in October 1790 and petitioning the royal governor, the Comte de Peynier. After his demands were refused, he attempted to incite the gens de couleur to revolt. Ogé and Vincent Chavennes, a veteran of the Siege of Savannah during the American Revolution, attempted to attack Cap-Français. However, the mulatto rebels refused to arm or free their slaves, or to challenge the status of slavery, and their attack was defeated by a force of white militia and black volunteers (including Henri Christophe). Afterwards, they fled across the frontier to Hinche, at the time in the Spanish part of the island. However, they were captured, returned to the French authorities, and both Ogé and Chavennes were executed in February 1791.
On August 22, 1791, slaves in the northern region of the colony staged a revolt that began the Haitian Revolution. Tradition marks the beginning of the revolution at a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman (Alligator Woods) near Cap-Français. The call to arms was issued by a Houngan (Vodou priest) named Dutty Boukman. Within hours, the northern plantations were in flames. The rebellion spread through the entire colony. Boukman was captured and executed, but the rebellion continued to rapidly spread.
In 1792, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax was sent to the colony by the French Legislative Assembly as part of the Revolutionary Commission. His main goal was to maintain French control of Saint-Domingue, stabilize the colony, and enforce the social equality recently granted to free people of color by the National Convention of France.
On August 29, 1793, Sonthonax took the radical step of proclaiming the freedom of the slaves in the north province (with severe limits on their freedom). In September and October, emancipation was extended throughout the colony. On February 4, 1794 the French National Convention ratified this act, applying it to all French colonies.
The slaves did not immediately flock to Sonthonax's banner, however. White colonists continued to fight Sonthonax, with assistance from the British. They were joined by many of the free men of color who opposed the abolition of slavery. It was not until word of France's ratification of emancipation arrived back in the colony that Toussaint Louverture and his corps of well-disciplined, battle-hardened former slaves came over to the French Republican side in early May 1794. A change in the political winds in France caused Sonthonax to be recalled in 1796, but not before taking the step of arming the former slaves.
With the colony facing a full-scale invasion by Britain, the rebel slaves emerged as a powerful military force, under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. Louverture successfully drove back the British and by 1798 was the defacto ruler of the colony. In 1799, he defeated the mulatto General André Rigaud, who controlled most of the south and west and refused to acknowledge Toussaint's authority. By 1801, he was in control of the whole island, after conquering Spanish Santo Domingo and proclaiming the abolition of slavery there. He did not, however, proclaim full independence for the country, nor did he seek reprisals against the country's former white slaveholders, convinced that the French would not restore slavery and "that a population of slaves recently landed from Africa could not attain to civilization by 'going it alone.'
In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a massive invasion force under his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc. For a time, Leclerc met with some success; he also conquered to France direct control of the eastern part of the island (from 1801 under Toussaints's), as stated in the 1795 Treaties of Bâle with the Spain. With a large expedition that eventually included 40,000 European troops, and receiving help from white colonists and mulatto forces commanded by Alexandre Pétion, a former lieutenant of Rigaud, the French won several victories after severe fighting. Two of Toussaint's chief lieutenants, Dessalines and Christophe, recognizing their untenable situation, held separate parleys with the invaders, and agreed to transfer their allegiance. At this point, Leclerc invited Toussaint to negotiate a settlement. It was a deception; Toussaint was seized and deported to France, where he died of pneumonia while imprisoned at Fort de Joux in the Jura Mountains in April 1803.
On May 20 1802, Napoleon signed a law to maintain slavery where it had not disappeared, Martinique, Tobago, and Saint Lucia. A confidential copy of this decree was sent to Leclerc, who was authorized to restore slavery when the time was opportune. At the same time, further edicts stripped the gens de couleur of their newly won civil rights. None of these decrees were published or executed in St. Domingue, but, by midsummer, word began to reach the colony of the French intention to restore slavery. The betrayal of Toussaint and news of French actions in Martinique undermined the collaboration of leaders such as Dessalines, Christophe, and Pétion. Convinced that the same fate lay in store for Saint-Domingue, these commanders and others once again battled Leclerc. Intent on reconquest and reenslavement of the colony's black population, the war became a bloody struggle of atrocity and attrition. The rainy season brought yellow fever and malaria, which took a heavy toll on the invaders. By November, when Leclerc died of yellow fever, 24,000 French soldiers were dead and 8,000 were hospitalized, the majority from disease.
Afterwards, Leclerc was replaced by Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau. Rochambeau wrote to Napoleon that, in order to reclaim Saint-Domingue, France must 'declare the negroes slaves, and destroy at least 30,000 negroes and negresses.' In his desperation, he turned to increasingly wanton acts of brutality; the French burned alive, hanged, drowned, and tortured black prisoners, reviving such practices as burying blacks in piles of insects and boiling them in cauldrons of molasses. One night, at Port-Républican, he held a ball to which he invited the most prominent mulatto ladies and, at midnight, announced the death of their husbands. However, each act of brutality was repaid by the Haitian rebels. After one battle, Rochambeau buried 500 prisoners alive; Dessalines responded by hanging 500 French prisoners. Rochembeau's brutal tactics helped unite black, mulatto, and mestizo soldiers against the French.
As the tide of the war turned toward the former slaves, Napoleon abandoned his dreams of restoring France's New World empire. In 1803, war resumed between France and Britain, and with the Royal Navy firmly in control of the seas, reinforcements and supplies for Rochambeau never arrived in sufficient numbers. Abandoning his dream of a New World empire to concentrate on the war in Europe, in April, Napoleon signed the Louisiana Purchase, selling France's North American possessions to the United States. The indigenous army, now led by Dessalines, devastated Rochembeau and the French army at the Battle of Vertières on November 18, 1803.
On January 1, 1804 Dessalines then 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. Unlike Toussaint, Dessalines felt little equanimity toward whites. In a final act of retribution, the remaining French were slaughtered by Haitian military forces. Some 2,000 Frenchmen were massacred at Cap-Français, 800 in Port-au-Prince, and 400 at Jérémie. He issued a proclamation declaring, "we have repaid these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage.
One exception was a military force of Poles from the Polish Legions that had fought in Napoleon's army. Some of them refused to fight against blacks, supporting the principles of liberty; also, a few Poles (around 100) actually joined the rebels (one of the Polish generals – Władysław Franciszek Jabłonowski – was, in fact, partly of African ancestry). 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.
Upon assuming power, General Dessalines authorized the Constitution of 1804. This constitution, in terms of social freedoms, called for:
In January 1804, Dessalines, preferring Napoleon’s style rather than the more liberal yet vulnerable type of political government of the French Republican Radicals (see liberalism and radicalism in France), proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I. Yet two of his own advisers, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion, helped provoke his assassination in 1806. The conspirators ambushed him north of Port-au-Prince at Pont Larnage, (now known as Pont-Rouge) on October 17, 1806 en route to battle rebels to his regime.
After the Dessalines coup d'état, the two main conspirators divided the country in two rival regimes. Christophe created the authoritarian State of Haiti in the north, and the Gens de couleur Pétion helped establish the Republic of Haiti in the south. Christophe attempted to maintain a strict system of labor and agricultural production akin to the former plantations. Although he did not establish slavery strictly speaking, he imposed a semi-feudal system, fermage, in which every able man was supposed to work in plantations (similar to Latifundios) to produce goods for the fledging country. His method, though undoubtedly oppressive, produced the most revenues of the two governments.
By contrast, Pétion broke up the former colonial estates and parceled out the land into small holdings. In Pétion’s south, the Gens de couleur minority led the government and feared losing popular support, and thus, sought to assuage class tensions with land redistribution. Because of the weak international position and its labor policies (most peasants lived through a subsistence economy), Pétion’s government was perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy. Yet, for most of its time, it produced one of the most liberal and tolerant Haitian governments ever. At a key period of time for the Spanish American Wars for Independence, he gave asylum to Simón Bolívar in 1815, and provided him with soldiers and substantial material support. It also had the least of internal military skirmishes, despite its continuous conflicts with Christophe’s northern kingdom. In 1816, however, after finding the burden of the Senate intolerable, he suspended the legislature and turned his post into President for Life. Not long after, he died of yellow fever, and his assistant Jean Pierre Boyer replaced him.
In this period, the eastern part of the island rose against the new powers following general Juan Sánchez Ramírez’s claims of independence from France which broke the Treaties of Bâle attacking Spain and prohibited commerce with Haiti. In the Palo Hincado battle (November 7, 1808), all the remaining French forces were defeated by Spanish-creoles insurrectionists; on July 9, 1809, Santo Domingo was born. The government put itself under the control of Spain, earning it the surname of “España Boba” (meaning “The Idiot Spain”).
In 1811, Christophe proclaimed himself King Henri I in the North and commissioned several extraordinary buildings. He even created a nobility class in the fashion of European monarchies. Yet in 1820, weakened by illness and with a decreasing support for his authoritarian regime, he killed himself with a silver bullet rather than face a coup d'état. Immediately after, Pétion's successor, Boyer, reunited Haiti through diplomatic tactics, and ruled as president until his overthrow in 1843.
Almost two years after Boyer had consolidated power in the west, in 1821, Santo Domingo declared independence from Spain and requested from Simón Bolívar inclusion in the Gran Colombia. Boyer, however, responding to a party on the east that preferred Haiti over Colombia, occupied the ex-Spanish colony in January 1822, encountering no military resistance. In this way he accomplished the unity of the island, which was only carried out temporarily by Toussaint Louverture in 1801. Boyer's occupation of the Spanish side also responded to internal struggles among Christophe’s generals, to which Boyer gave extensive powers and lands in the east. This occupation, however, pitted the Spanish white elite against the Haitian administration and stimulated the emigration of many white wealthy families. Still today, the various memories and interpretations of this occupation fuels animosities between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The entire island remained under Haitian rule until 1844, when in the east a nationalist group called La Trinitaria led a revolt that helped convert the country into the Dominican Republic.
From 1824 to 1826, while the island was under one government, Boyer promoted the largest single free-Black immigration from the United States in which more than 6000 immigrants settled in different parts of the island. Today remnants of these immigrants live throughout the island, but the larger number reside in Samaná, a peninsula on the Spanish side. From the government's perspective, the intention of the immigration was to help establish commercial and diplomatic relationships with the U.S., and to increase the number of skilled and agricultural workers in Haiti.
In exchange for diplomatic recognition from France, Boyer was forced to pay a huge indemnity for the loss of French property during the revolution. To pay for this, he had to float loans in France, putting Haiti into a state of debt. Boyer attempted to enforce production through the Code Rural, enacted in 1826, but peasant freeholders, mostly former revolutionary soldiers, had no intention of returning to the forced labor they fought to escape. By 1840, 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.
Geffrard's military government held office until 1867, and he encouraged a policy of national reconciliation that worked surprisingly well. In 1860, he reached an agreement with the Vatican, reintroducing official Roman Catholic institutions, including schools, to the nation. In 1867 an attempt was made to establish a constitutional government, but successive presidents Sylvain Salnave and Nissage Saget were overthrown in 1869 and 1874 respectively. A more workable constitution was introduced under Michel Domingue in 1874, leading to a long period of democratic peace and development for Haiti. The debt to France was finally repaid in 1879, and Michel Domingue's government peacefully transferred power to Lysius Salomon, one of Haiti's abler leaders. Monetary reform and a cultural renaissance ensued with a flowering of Haitian art.
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. Haitian intellectuals, led by Louis-Joseph Janvier and Anténor Firmin, engaged in a war of letters against a tide of racism and Social Darwinism that emerged during this period.
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 revolutionary armies were formed by cacos, peasant brigands from the mountains of the north, along the porous Dominican border, who were enlisted by rival political factions with promises of money to be paid after a successful revolution and an opportunity to plunder.
The United States was particularly apprehensive about the role of the German community in Haiti (approximately 200 in 1910), who wielded a disproportionate amount of economic power. Germans controlled about 80 percent of the country's international commerce; they also owned and operated utilities in Cap Haïtien and Port-au-Prince, the main wharf and a tramway in the capital, and a railroad serving the Plaine de Cul-du-Sac. The German community proved more willing to integrate into Haitian society than any other group of white foreigners, including the French. A number married into the nation's most prominent mulatto families, bypassing the constitutional prohibition against foreign land-ownership. They also served as the principal financiers of the nation's innumerable revolutions, floating innumerable loans-at high interest rates-to competing political factions.
In an effort to limit German influence, in 1910-11 the State Department backed a consortium of American investors, assembled by the National City Bank of New York, in acquiring control of the Banque National d'Haïti, the nation's only commercial bank and the government treasury. In February 1915, Guillaume Sam established a dictatorship, but in July, facing a new revolt, he massacred 167 political prisoners, all of whom were from elite families, and was lynched by a mob in Port-au-Prince. Shortly afterwards, the United States, responding to complaints to President Woodrow Wilson from American banks to which Haiti was deeply in debt, occupied the country. The occupation of Haiti lasted until 1934. The U.S. occupation was self-interested, sometimes brutal, and caused problems that lasted past its lifetime. Reforms, though, were carried out. The currency was reformed and the debt stabilized. Corruption was reduced, although never eradicated. Public health, education, and agricultural development were greatly improved.
Under Marine supervision, the Haitian National Assembly elected Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave President, who signed a treaty which made Haiti a de jure U.S. protectorate, with American officials assuming control over the Financial Adviser, Customs Receivership, the Constabulary, the Public Works Service, and the Public Health Service for a period of ten years. The principal instrument of American authority was the newly-created Gendarmerie d'Haïti, commanded by American officers. In 1917, at the demand of U.S. officials, the National Assembly was dissolved, designating officials to write a new constitution, which was largely dictated by officials in the State Department and Navy Department. Under-Secretary for the Navy in the Wilson administration claimed to have personally written the new constitution. This document abolished the prohibition on foreign ownership of land-the most essential component of Haitian law. When the newly elected National Assembly refused to pass this document and drafted one of their own preserving this prohibition, it was forcibly dissolved by Gendarmerie commandant Smedley Butler. This constitution was approved by a plebiscite in 1919, in which less than five percent of the population voted. The State Department authorized this plebiscite presuming that “The people casting ballots would be 97% illiterate, ignorant in most cases of what they were voting for.”
The Marines and Gendarmerie initiated an extensive road-building program to enhance their military effectiveness and open the country to U.S investment. Lacking any source of adequate funds, they revived an 1864 Haitian law, discovered by Butler, requiring peasants to perform labor on local roads in lieu of paying a road tax. This system, known as the corvée, originated in the unpaid labor which French peasants provided to their feudal lords. In 1915, Haiti had only three miles of road usable by automobile outside the towns. By 1918, more than of road had been built or repaired through the corvée system, including a road linking Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien. However, Haitian peasants forced to work in the corvée labor-gangs, frequently dragged from their homes and harassed by armed guards, received few immediate benefits and saw this system of forced labor as a return to slavery at the hands of white men.
In 1919, a new caco uprising began, led by Charlemagne Péralte, vowing to 'drive the invaders into the sea and free Haiti.' Péralte’s Cacos attacked Port-au-Prince in October, but were driven back with heavy casualties. Afterwards, a Creole-speaking American Gendarmerie officer infiltrated Péralte’s camp, killing him and photographing his corpse in an attempt to demoralize the rebels. Leadership of the rebellion passed to Benoît Batraville, a Caco chieftain from Artibonite. His death in 1920 marked the end of hostilities. During Senate hearings in 1921, the commandant of the Marine Corps reported that, in the twenty months of active resistance, 2,250 Haitians had been killed. However, in a report to the Secretary of the Navy he reported the death toll as being 3,250. Haitian historians have estimated the true number was much higher, one suggested: “the total number of battle victims and casualties of repression and consequences of the war might have reached, by the end of the pacification period four or five times that-somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 persons.”
In 1922, Dartiguenave was replaced by Louis Borno, who ruled without a legislature until 1930. That same year, General John H. Russell, Jr. was appointed High Commissioner. The Borno-Russel dictatorship oversaw the expansion of the economy, building over of road, establishing an automatic telephone exchange, modernizing the nation's port facilities, and establishing a public health service. Sisal was introduced to Haiti, and sugar and cotton became significant exports. However, efforts to develop commercial agriculture met with limited success, in part because much of Haiti's labor force was employed as seasonal workers in the more-established sugar industries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic. An estimated 30,000-40,000 Haitian laborers, known as braceros, went annually to the Oriente Province of Cuba between 1913 and 1931. Most Haitians continued to resent the loss of sovereignty, exacerbated by the fact that the American occupiers imported the social protocols of Jim Crow. At the forefront of opposition among the educated elite was L'Union Patriotique, which established ties with opponents of the occupation in the U.S. itself, in particular the NAACP. One of the greatest strategic mistakes of the occupation, undertaken with the support of the French Catholic clergy, was the attempt to eradicate the practice of Vodou.
The Great Depression decimated the prices of Haiti's exports, and destroyed the tenuous gains of the previous decade. In December 1929, Marines in Les Cayes killed ten Haitian peasants during a march to protest local economic conditions. This led Herbert Hoover to appoint two commissions, including one headed by a former U.S. governor of the Philippines William Cameron Forbes, which criticized the exclusion of Haitians from positions of authority in the government and constabulary, now known as the Garde d'Haïti. In 1930, Sténio Vincent, a long-time critic of the occupation, was elected President, and the U.S. began to withdraw its forces. The withdrawal was completed by FDR, as President, in 1934, under his "Good Neighbor policy". The U.S. retained control of Haiti's external finances until 1947. All three rulers during the occupation came from the country's small mulatto minority, whom the Americans considered more "civilised", while the black majority was kept in subordination. At the same time, many critics of the occupation, in particular those from the growing black professional classes, faced with American racism, departed from the traditional veneration of Haiti's French cultural heritage and emphasized the nation's African roots, most notably ethnologist Jean Price-Mars and the journal Les Griots, edited by Dr. François Duvalier.
Sténio Vincent was succeeded as President in 1941 by Élie Lescot, but in 1946 increasing economic difficulties led to a military coup. The military junta handed over power to Dumarsais Estimé, a black Haitian, who introduced major reforms in labor and social policy, and greatly expanded civil and political liberties for the black majority. In 1949, Lescot tried to change the constitution to allow for his own reelection, but in 1950 this triggered another coup. General Paul Magloire then established a dictatorship which lasted until December 1956, when he was forced to resign by a general strike. After a period of disorder, elections were held in September 1957, which saw Dr. François Duvalier elected President.
A former Minister of Health who had earned a reputation as a humanitarian while serving as an administrator in a U.S.-funded anti-yaws campaign, Duvalier (known as "Papa Doc") 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. Duvalier's paramilitary police, officially the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale – VSN) but more commonly known as the Tonton Macoutes, so named after a Vodou monster, carried out political murders, beatings, and intimidation. An estimated 30,000 Haitians were killed by his government. Incorporating many houngans into the ranks of the Macoutes, his public recognition of Vodou and its practitioners and his private adherence to Vodou ritual, combined with his reputed private knowledge of magic and sorcery, enhanced his popular persona among the common people and served as a peculiar form of legitimization.
Duvalier's policies, designed to end the dominance of the mulatto elite over the nation's economic and political life, led to massive emigration of educated people, deepening Haiti's economic and social problems. However, Duvalier appealed to the black middle class of which he was a member by introducing public works into middle class neighborhoods which previously had been unable to have paved roads, running water, or modern sewage systems. In 1964, Duvalier proclaimed himself "President for Life."
The Kennedy administration suspended aid in 1961, after allegations that Duvalier had pocketed aid money and intended to use a Marine Corps mission to strengthen the Macoutes. Duvalier also clashed with Dominican President Juan Bosch in 1963, after Bosch provided aid and asylum to Haitian exiles working to overthrow his regime. He ordered the Presidential Guard to occupy the Dominican chancery in Pétionville to apprehend an officer involved in a plot to kidnap his children, leading Bosch to publicly threaten to invade Haiti. However, the Dominican army, which distrusted Bosch's leftist leanings, expressed little support for an invasion, and the dispute was settled by OAS emissaries.
In 1971, Papa Doc entered into 99-year contract with Don Pierson representing Dupont Caribbean Inc. of Texas for a free port project on the old buccaneer stronghold of Tortuga island located some off the north coast of the main Haitian island of Hispaniola.
On Duvalier's death in April 1971, power passed to his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier (known as "Baby Doc"). Under Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haiti's economic and political condition continued to decline, although some of the more fearsome elements of his father's regime were abolished. Foreign officials and observers also seemed more tolerant toward Baby Doc, in areas such as human-rights monitoring, and foreign countries were more generous to him with economic assistance. The United States restored its aid program in 1971. In 1974, Baby Doc expropriated the Freeport Tortuga project and this caused the venture to collapse. Content to leave administrative matters in the hands of his mother, Simone Ovid Duvalier, while living as a playboy, Jean-Claude enriched himself through a series of fraudulent schemes. Much of the Duvaliers' wealth, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, came from the Régie du Tabac (Tobacco Administration), a tobacco monopoly established by Estimé which was expanded to include the proceeds from all government enterprises and served as a slush fund for which no balance sheets were ever kept. His marriage, in 1980, to a beautiful mulatto divorcee, Michèle Bennet, in a $3 million ceremony, provoked widespread opposition, as it was seen as a betrayal of his father's antipathy towards the mulatto elite. At the request of Michèle, Papa Doc's widow Simone was expelled from Haiti. Baby Doc's kleptocracy left the regime vulnerable to unanticipated crises, exacerbated by endemic poverty, most notably the epidemic of African swine fever virus-which, at the insistence of USAID officials, led to the slaughter of the creole pigs, the principal source of wealth for most peasants-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 Duvalier 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. An estimated 3,000-5,000 Haitians were killed during the period of military rule. 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. Aristide himself and some other commentators have accused the United States of backing the 1991 coup.
The military regime governed Haiti until 1993. Various initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government failed. In July 1994, as repression mounted in Haiti and a civilian human rights monitoring mission was expelled from the country, the United Nations Security Council adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 940, which 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 mid-September 1994, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force for Operation 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, FL), 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 FL won a virtual sweep. However, the elections were flawed by irregularities and fraud, and the opposition parties, regrouped in the Democratic Convergence (Convergence Democratique, CD), 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 recognize Aristide as president. Major disorders were prevented by the continuing presence of U.S. and other foreign forces, under U.N. auspices. The initial 21,000-strong force became a U.N. peacekeeping force of 6,000 troops in 1995, and was scaled back progressively over the next four years as a series of U.N. technical missions succeeded the peacekeeping force. In January 2000, the last U.S. troops departed.
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. On December 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.
On February 29, 2004, with rebel contingents marching towards Port-au-Prince, Aristide departed from Haiti. There is controversy over whether or not he was forced to leave the country by the United States (see controversy regarding U.S. involvement). Aristide insists that he was essentially kidnapped by the U.S., while the U.S. State Department maintains that he resigned from office. 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.
The government was taken over by supreme court chief Boniface Alexandre. Many political organizations and writers, as well as Aristide himself, have suggested that the rebellion was in fact a foreign controlled coup d'état. Caricom, which had been backing the peace deal, accused the United States, France, and the International community of failing in Haiti because they allowed a democratically elected leader to be violently forced out of office. The U.S. claimed that the crisis was of Aristide's making and that he was not acting in the best interests of his country. They have argued that his removal was necessary for future stability in the island nation.
Boniface Alexandre petitioned the United Nations Security Council for the intervention of an international peacekeeping force. The Security Council passed a resolution the same day "[t]aking note of the resignation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as President of Haiti and the swearing-in of President Boniface Alexandre as the acting President of Haiti in accordance with the Constitution of Haiti" and authorized such a mission. As a vanguard of the official U.N. force, a force of about 1,000 U.S. Marines arrived in Haïti within the day, and Canadian and French troops arrived the next morning; the United Nations indicated it would send a team to assess the situation within days.
On June 1, 2004, the peacekeeping mission was passed to MINUSTAH and comprise a 7000 strength force led by Brazil and backed by Argentina, Chile, Jordan, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay.
Brazilian forces led the United Nations peacekeeping troops in Haiti composed of United States, France, Canada, and Chile deployments. These peacekeeping troops were a part of the ongoing MINUSTAH operation. On October 15, 2005, Brazil called for more troops to be sent due to the worsening situation in the country.
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 and is the current 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.