The World of Info



Colonial period

When Christopher Columbus discovered Hispaniola, the island on which Haiti lies, in 1492, it was inhabited by the Arowak or, more specifically, the Taíno Indians. In the following decades, this population group died out due to forced labour as well as diseases brought to the Western hemisphere by the Spanish colonists. From the second half of the 17th century, the country was repopulated with hundreds of thousands of slaves, brought from Africa to work on the sugar and coffee plantations.

In 1697, Spain ceded control of the western part of Hispaniola to France, which named the area Saint-Domingue. It became one of France's richest colonies. Saint-Domingue produced about 40 per cent of all sugar and 60 per cent of all coffee used in Europe around 1780. The production of sugar and coffee in the colony was greater than that in the combined British West Indies colonies. Saint-Dominique was at that time the most prosperous colonial possession of the European rulers, which gave it the name of The Pearl of the Antilles.

Battles during the Haitian Revolution

After a slave revolt in 1791, the population turned against French rule during the Haitian Revolution in an uprising led by Toussaint Louverture. During the 13-year freedom struggle, the rebels defeated an army sent by Napoleon and declared independence from the French motherland on 1 January 1804. Later that year, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who had replaced Louverture as leader of the rebels after 1802, proclaimed himself Emperor Jacob I of Haiti after also changing the name of the territory, Saint-Domingue, to Haiti. Out of hatred for the French, he had all the whites still in Haiti killed and laid down in law that foreigners were not allowed to own land. By removing the white part from the flag of France, the flag of Haiti was created.

Because of the successful slave revolt, Haiti became the first independent "black" state and the second independent country in the western hemisphere after the United States. Independence was a thorn in the side of the large imperialist states, which saw it as a negative precedent for their own colonies. After independence, there was brief talk of the Empire of Haiti and the Kingdom of Haiti, after which the country became a republic. In 1825, the Haitian and French governments came to an agreement whereby Haiti had to pay 150 million francs in compensation to France in exchange for the official recognition of Haiti. As it was the only way out of their political and economic isolation, the new country felt obliged to acknowledge the debt. Santo Domingo, the eastern, Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola, which was conquered by Haiti in 1822, broke away from the country in 1844 and became the Dominican Republic.

The population of the now-independent country was soon divided by various divisions, such as those between the black population and the half-breeds, between city dwellers and people from the countryside, and between rich and poor inhabitants. Both blacks and mulattos claimed the abandoned plantations. A small group of them got hold of the power and took full advantage of it. In the absence of a strong force to take over from the coloniser, Haiti was vulnerable to armed gangs, coups and outside interference. With 22 changes of government between 1843 and 1915, numerous coup attempts and conspiracies, Haiti went through a difficult political and economic time. The country, which was divided socially, politically and economically, became impoverished and exports fell. The large plantations disappeared and with them the main source of income. The debt to France was reduced in the interim, but was not fully repaid until 1947.

20th and 21st century

Between 1915 and 1934, Haiti was occupied by the United States to protect American economic interests in the country. The United States obliged the population to work on improving the infrastructure, especially the roads. This duty of care made the Americans unpopular, and when they left, it was experienced as a second independence.

The period between 1934 and 1957 was characterised by instability. The mulatto elite, the negro population and the military guard left behind by the Americans all tried to gain influence. This led to a rapid succession of weak, corrupt and inefficient regimes and presidents.

This period came to an end in 1957 when the Duvaliers seized power. Between 1957 and 1986, the country was ruled by François Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, and Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc), respectively. The regimes of father and son Duvalier brought much bloodshed. Estimates of the number of murdered Haitians are as high as 50,000 in the 28 years the Duvaliers were in power. Not to mention the probable tens of thousands of victims of torture and rape. The Duvaliers ruled with terror until the dictatorship was overthrown in 1986. Between 1986 and 1990, military coups followed one another.

In 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected in what was considered a democratic vote. However, Aristide was deposed on 30 September 1991, almost eight months after his inauguration as president. In the years following the coup, a military junta led by Raoul Cédras was in charge. Following intervention by the United States and some other countries (with support from the United Nations), Aristide returned to power in 1994 and was re-elected president in 2000. Aristide's regime was also characterised by corruption, repression and internal power struggles. Some of the measures taken by Aristide, such as raising the general minimum wage, which affected Western companies in Haiti, were not well received by the United States, France and Canada. Shortly afterwards, a rebellion broke out in which rebels very quickly gained ground on the Haitian police. Years before, Aristide had disbanded the army for fear of a coup, leaving Haiti with only a police force and only one helicopter. In the meantime, Aristide had launched an international appeal to send UN troops as quickly as possible. However, due to the intervention of France and the United States, these troops only arrived when it was too late and the rebels were almost in complete control of Haiti. Aristide had the choice between being liquidated and being flown out of the country by the United States and chose the latter. Many party members did not have this choice and were killed or went into hiding.

n 2006, René Préval was elected president. The UN peacekeeping force called MINUSTAH is still present in the country. However, exercising governmental power within the country is difficult. In September 2008, Michele Piere-Louis became the new prime minister. He was succeeded by Jean-Max Bellerive in November 2009.

In January 2010, a massive earthquake hit Haiti, killing 300,000 people. International aid was provided. In January 2011, Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier returned to Haiti to help with the reconstruction. The former Haitian dictator said so in his first public appearance since his return. He is also prepared to accept any form of persecution. In March 2011, Michel Martelly won the presidential elections. In May 2012, Laurent Lamothe takes office as Prime Minister. Ex-President Aristide returns to Haiti in May 2013 to testify at a trial. In the years 2014 to 2016, the situation is unsettled. Elections are constantly being postponed. Eventually, President Martelly resigned in February 2016. His replacement is interim President Jocelerme Privert, who takes over the presidency until the newly promised elections. The elections are held in November 2016. In February 2017, Jovenal Moïse becomes president, but already in June 2019, protest demonstrations are held across the country against the corruption that was also the order of the day under Moïse's rule. In early July 2021, Moïse was shot dead by hitherto unknown gunmen. In the same month, Ariel Henry was sworn in as Prime Minister and acting President.

In mid-August 2021, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck southern Haiti, even stronger than the one in 2010, which measured 7.0. However, there were far fewer deaths, injuries and homeless people than in 2010 (300,000), with over 2,000 dead, 12,000 injured and tens of thousands homeless. This was because the earthquake hit a relatively sparsely populated part of Haiti and the time of the earthquake was also 'favourable', at 8.30 in the morning, when many people were already outside. Towns like Les Cayes and Jeremie were badly hit.


Elmar Landeninformatie


CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info