Élite (Haiti)

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Élite (Haiti)

Élite (Haiti), a social class of Haiti. The élite of Haiti find their cultural traditions in the gens de couleur (mulattoes) of colonial Haiti (Saint-Domingue). The gens de couleur established individual status on the basis of the number of slaves owned, European education, orthodox Catholicism, and especially skin tone. The lighter one's complexion, the higher one's social position. This class, which makes up about 2 percent of the Haitian population, survived the Haitian Revolution (1789–1804) and has generally controlled Haitian politics since independence.

Even though the élite promoted white French values through their political and social domination of Haiti, there are notable individual exceptions. Alexandre Pétion, who ruled the Republic of Haiti from 1807 to 1818, supported black culture and economic patterns. But in the twentieth century the élite has run afoul of rising black political control and cultural nationalism. Black Haitians have often resented élite attitudes toward their culture and the stain of collaboration the élite gained by supporting the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915–1934).

In 1957 François "Papa Doc" Duvalier (1957–1971) launched a campaign of extermination against the élite. Claiming that they were whites with black skins, he had thousands of them murdered while he convinced the masses that he was the reincarnation of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. "Papa Doc" argued that he was completing the Haitian Revolution by destroying the élite. The élite survived because Duvalier abandoned his policy of mulatto extermination.

The elite enjoyed a resurgence of power after the death of Papa Doc. Under the rule of his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971–1986), and under military rule, the government promoted its restoration. Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991; 1994–1996; 2001–2004), on the other hand, publicly stated his opposition to the élite. Re-elected to a second term in 2006, President René Préval has sought elite support without alienating his largely poor political base.

See alsoAristide, Jean-Bertrand; Duvalier, François; Duvalier, Jean-Claude; Haiti.


Cyril L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (1938).

James Leyburn, The Haitian People (1941).

Thomas Ott, The Haitian Revolution, 1789–1804 (1973), and "Haitian National Consciousness and the Revolution," in Journal of Great Lakes History 1 (1976): 71-78.

David Nicholls, Haiti in Caribbean Context (1985).

Additional Bibliography

Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.

Geggus. David. Haitian Revolutionary Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

King, Stewart R. Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint-Domingue. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Ridgeway, James. ed. The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis. Washington, D.C.: Essential Books, 1994.

                                        Thomas O. Ott