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Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Haiti, Quisqueya, or Bohio, the aboriginal names of the island that was, in the early twenty-first century, divided into two sovereign states: the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti has been the stage for some of history's most dynamic changes in terms of ethnicity, economy, politics, demography, and culture. Europeans completely displaced the island's aboriginal Amerindian populations and, in turn, they were pushed out by Africans and African descendants, all within the space of 300 years. The divisions between the colonies of French Saint-Domingue and Spanish Santo Domingo, and between the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are relatively modern, and histories of the island as it was before the European invasions have tended to treat it as one whole.


Beginning around 5000 bce, successive waves of Amerindian migrations reached the island of Haiti via Central America or via the Caribbean island chain from South America. Sedentary horticulturists arrived in the Greater Antilles about 300 bce or later. By 1000 ce complex chiefdoms headed by Caciques had developed, and the local peoples, of mainly Arrawak origins, called themselves Tainos. The chiefdoms of this island may have been fewer, larger, and more powerful than those in neighboring Puerto Rico, and they engaged in interisland, and possibly circum-Caribbean, trade.

The population of Haiti gradually increased, notably after about 600 ce. This growth was related to conuco agriculture—intensive cultivation of carefully prepared mounds that produced staggered, year-round supplies of starches of the manioc-cassava family. This system, while productive, required constant work, and was fragile and easily disrupted. There is some dispute about the size of the population supported by these conucos around 1490, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 8 million.

In early December 1492, on his first voyage to America, Christopher Columbus's ships reached the northwest coast of the island at Môle Saint-Nicolas. Columbus took possession of the island on behalf of the Queen of Spain and therefore called it Hispaniola, or "little Spain." After a brief initial period of minimal intrusion, the Spanish invaders dramatically disrupted the ethnic and economic structures of the island. Disease, destruction of the fragile conuco system, massive forced and voluntary movements of slave and laboring populations, Spanish internecine strife, and an imposed tributary system based on gold reduced the aboriginal population to about 30,000 by 1514, and this remnant died out soon afterwards. The Spaniards attempted unsuccessfully to fill the demographic vacuum by importing Amerindian captives from the Bahamas and other Caribbean areas (causing severe losses in those places).

By 1550 or so Hispaniola had undergone a dramatic social and agricultural revolution. Its dense starch-consuming population had disappeared and had been replaced by a sparse meat-consuming group of Spaniards, a few other Europeans, and African slaves. The island had become a political dependency of distant power centers in Europe, having exported perhaps as much as 50 tons of gold to these centers in its first half century as a colony. Vast herds of semi-feral cattle, horses, and pigs roamed the abandoned conucos and the forests, and as alluvial gold in the rivers became exhausted, the Spanish population—much of it in the capital city of Santo Domingo—emigrated to Cuba or Mexico or turned their attention to transatlantic exports of hides. Hispaniola, originally the center of Spain's American colonies, had become peripheral, and the Spanish part of the island remained throughout the colonial period.

French pirates began to infest the coasts in the 1550s. In 1553, for example, François Leclerc destroyed the small settlement of Yaguana, later the site of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. For the rest of the century the countryside was left by the Spanish colonists to herds of grazing animals. Meanwhile French and English adventurers attempted, by intrusion, to establish themselves along the north coast of the island. By the 1620s French and English pirates and outlaws, some of them exiled French Huguenots, began to settle on La Tortue (Tortuga), an island off the north coast of the island. From this base they camped and hunted on the mainland. These buccaneers (from the French word boucanier) dried and smoked meat derived from the abundant cattle. As their settlements became more numerous and permanent settlers began to live on the north coast, the few remaining Spaniards withdrew to the eastern part of the island. The arrival in 1665 to La Tortue of a French governor, Bernard d'Ogeron, brought stability, and by the time of his death in 1675 an early planter society had emerged and the English pirates had been expelled. By the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), Spain ceded the western third of the island to France, and this became the official French colony of Saint-Domingue.

The new colony underwent important economic and ethnic transformations, becoming France's richest colony and the wealthiest in the Caribbean. By the late eighteenth century it was exporting great quantities of tropical produce, especially sugar, indigo, and coffee. This plantation agriculture depended on the rich soils of the plains, and, above all, on the importation and labor of large numbers of West African slaves, many of whom died prematurely of disease, overwork, and abuse. Slaves and free blacks made up the majority of the colonial population. By 1789, the year of the French Revolution, the colony was composed of some 450,000 black slaves, 30,000 affranchis (free blacks and mulattoes, many of them the result of sexual relations between white masters and black slaves, and other manumitted slaves and their offspring), and about 40,000 whites. The city of Cap-Français (present-day Cap-Haïtien) prospered.

The inherent exploitation and racial discrimination of chattel slavery by all created a divided society and an apparent caste system based on ethnic categories. The three principal social groups in the colony (which were based primarily on skin color) had their status confirmed and reinforced by colonial law. The whites held almost all the political and economical power, though the governor-general and the intendant were often at odds with the grands blancs (elite whites). In the middle of the social hierarchy, forming a sort of middle class, were the petits blancs, many of them artisans and tradesmen, mulatto landowners and merchants, and some free blacks, who resented the grands blancs yet aspired to their station, and feared the despised slave masses. Indeed, some affranchis had become prosperous landowners.

The slaves were the bottom rung, the possessions of their masters, and without any possessions of their own at all. Their resistance to the system and their conditions took many forms, from abortion, suicide, and infanticide to indolence at the plantations and marronage. Organized groups of fugitive slaves (Maroons) in the mountains, or across the border in Santo Domingo, harassed plantations. Riots in the cities and slave resistance on the plantations brought violent reactions from the authorities. Political movements everywhere and from all the social groups—from the "Grands Planteurs," who wanted the abolition of the French exclusive system; from the affranchis, who wanted greater civil and political liberties; and from the slaves, who agitated for general liberty—caused a generalized ebullition in the colony. The colonial power was incapable of responding satisfactorily to all the demands, and revolution was inevitable.


In spite of these claims, tensions, and divisions, it was a push from the mother country, France, that drove the colony toward its years of violent conflict, foreign intervention, and final independence. Events leading up to 1789, and the French Revolution itself, meant different things to the different groups fighting in Saint-Domingue. The grands blancs, who found themselves in the paradoxical position of advocating both the ideals of the European Enlightenment and the continuation of slavery, sought greater autonomy from revolutionary France and from what they perceived as their bondage to the interests of their markets. Those below the grands blancs, including some petits blancs and many affranchis, saw in the slogan "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" a chance to defeat, or at least join, the colonial aristocracy. Many argued for the principles of equality while glancing nervously over their shoulders, ignoring the slave masses.

The Société des Amis des Noirs et des Gens de couleur, founded in Paris in 1788 to advocate a gradual abolition of slavery, took up the cause of the affranchis, led by the mulattoes Vincent Ogé (c. 1755–1791) and Jean-Baptiste Chavannes (c. 1748–1791). Claiming equality and the same political and civil rights as the whites, they started a political and military movement in the north region of the colony. Their enterprise had some political success, but they were militarily defeated by the colonial power allied with the white forces. Ogé and Chavannes fled to Santo Domingo but were extradited, then condemned and broken on the wheel in February 1791. Mulattoes in the south continued to resist, and, led by André Rigaud (1761–1811), they obtained a provisional understanding from the region's whites that they would not oppose acts of the French National Assembly on behalf of freedmen. White masters and affranchi owners understood that their common enemy was the slaves; slaves understood that their enemy was the entire colonial slavery system and its direct beneficiaries, supporters, and the institutions.

On August 14, 1791, slave leaders of many plantations in the northern region of the colony secretly took part in a political congress and religious ceremony at Bois-Caiman, at Plaine du Nord. In that occasion, they made the solemn and supreme resolution to fight against slavery and to gain freedom. One week later slaves on the northern plain revolted, burning plantations—the visible objects of their exploitation—and killing white owners of the plantations. This attack began what became known as the Haitian Revolution. Later the slaves' movement spread across the entire colony. Foreign powers whose ambition had been to capture Saint-Domingue took advantage of the situation, mobilizing their forces into the colony.

Population: 8,706,497 (2007 est.)
Area: 10,714 sq mi
Official languages: French, Creole
National currency: gourde (HTG)
Principal religions: Roman Catholic, 80%; Baptist, 10%; Pentecostal, 4%; Adventist, 1%. Roughly half the population practices Voodoo in addition to other religious practices.
Ethnicity: black, 95%; mulatto and white, 5%
Capital: Port-au-Prince (est. pop. 1,961,000 in 2005)
Other urban centers: Jacmel, Les Cayes
Annual rainfall: 54 inches in Port-au-Prince
Principal geographical features: Mountains: Massif du Nord; Sierra de Bahoruco, including La Selle (8,844 ft)
Rivers: Artibonite
Lakes: Saumâtre
Islands: Les Cayemites, Gonâve, Tortuga, Vache; also claims U.S.-held Navassa
Economy: GDP per capita: $1,800 (2006 est.)
Principal products and exports: Agricultural: coffee, mangoes
Manufacturing: assembly of imported parts, textiles
Government: Independence from France, 1804. Constitution, 1987; suspended in 1988, partially reinstated 1989, suspended 1991, restored 1994, suspended 2004, restored 2006. Republic. The legislature is popularly elected and consists of a 30-seat Senate and a 99-seat Chamber of Deputies. Senators normally serve 6-year terms and deputies 4-year terms, some were serving shorter terms than usual in 2007 as part of an effort to reconstitute a government after the recent restoration of the constitution. A popularly elected president is chief of state. The head of government is the prime minister, who is appointed by the president and approved by the legislature. Cabinet chosen by the prime minister with input from the president. 10 departments.
Armed forces: 2,000 national police. There is no military.
Transportation: Ports: Cap-HaÏtien, Port-au-Prince
Roads: 628 mi paved; 1,957 mi unpaved
Airports: 4 paved runway and 10 unpaved runway airports, international airports at Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince.
Media: Port-au-Prince newspapers include Le Matin, Le Nouvelliste, and L'Union. Roughly 400 radio stations and 3 television stations, Television Nationale d'Haiti is government-run.
Literacy and education: Total literacy rate: 52.9% (2003 est.)
Children age 6 to 12 are required to attend school. There are roughly 12 institutes of higher education.

The English in Jamaica, fearful of slave revolts, began to help the whites. Spain, hoping to expel the French and regain their lost colony, sided with the rebels, denouncing the French as republican atheists. The United States feared the infection of revolution would cause slave uprisings in its southern states, but also wished to continue its lucrative trade with Saint-Domingue. The republicans in power in France sent a first civil commission to restore order, but it met with little success. A second commission was sent to the colony in 1792, led by Léger Félicité Sonthonax (1763–1813), a young lawyer and a Jacobin partisan, and two other members with full political powers, accompanied by military forces to renew peace negotiations. At first Sonthonax favored the political emancipation of the affranchis and made no concessions on slavery. The white planters were unwilling to concede anything to either the affranchis or the slaves in revolt, preferring to ally themselves with the rivals of France—England and Spain. By late August 1792, an invading Spanish army reached Le Cap, and the following month an English army disembarked in another strategic region as part of a plan by William Pitt the Younger to conquer the French colonies.

The French forces remained only in the center of the island, with little capacity to resist and to preserve Saint-Domingue for France. The affranchis were powerless to defend the colony for France, so Sonthonax called on the slaves to help in exchange for their liberty. At the end of June 1793 the slaves rebelling in the northen region responded to Sonthonax's call and attacked white planters who were about to surrender the colony to the English forces. The mobilized black armies pushed them out of the colony definitively; they fled to the United States, to Cuba, and to other places in the Caribbean. The white domination of Saint-Domingue was over, and on August 29, 1793, in recognition of the blacks' support, Sonthonax proclaimed officially the abolition of slavery.

During the Anglo-Spanish invasion of Saint-Domingue in 1792, many black leaders joined either Spain or England, depending on the attractiveness of each side's political proposals. Among those who joined the Spanish army in the north was a former slave, Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803), who rose rapidly to a high rank and proved himself a skilled military and political leader. But by May 1794, in response to the French National Convention's abolition of slavery, Louverture had strategically abandoned the Spanish side. A series of problems, including disagreements with French planters and poor leadership in the face of Louverture's strong and skilled army, soon reduced both the Spanish and British expeditions to defensive remnants. In July 1795 Spain withdrew from the conflict and ceded Santo Domingo to France. England began to look for a diplomatic alliance with Louverture in order to end the conflict in a honorable manner.

Louverture proved to be a master of military tactics and political maneuverings. He gradually eliminated all internal and external opponents; in 1798 the English also withdrew. The French government, recognizing his talents and his political capacities, appointed him general of the armies of Saint-Domingue and then governor of the colony. Louverture then turned his attention to General André Rigaud, the mulatto leader in the south who refused to recognize his authority. Rigaud attacked Louverture's forces on June 16, 1799, and Louverture's forces responded vehemently in what is known in the historiography of the Haitian Revolution as the "War of South." Rigaud lost the war, and fled to France with some partisans. In the end, Louverture became the uncontested leader in Saint-Domingue, filling the vacuum left by the white planters after more than three centuries of complete dominance. Louverture established his political hegemony in the entire colony, and set out to reunify the island of Haiti.

After Louverture easily crossed the Spanish province of Santo Domingo, the Spanish governor, Don Garcia, gave him the keys of the city, and Louverture, still nominally loyal to France, was in fact the ruler of the whole island. In February 1801 he appointed a group of seven whites and three mulattoes to draw up a constitution for the island. As expected, the new constitution appointed Louverture governor for life, abolished slavery, and maintained the fiction of French rule. By the promulgation of this constitution, Louverture made the first steps toward independence for the colony.

Louverture's next projects were to rebuild the shattered economy. He encouraged all capitalists to own plantations in the colony, the former white planters to reconstruct the plantations, and persuaded by law and by force the former slaves to return to their plantations. This policy produced some results; the colony started exporting goods again in considerable proportions, but was halted by a strong Napoleonic military expedition in January 1802. After his defeat in Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte turned his attention to the Caribbean and the Americas in general, where his attempt to restore French colonialism seemed to meet with the approval of England and the United States. But the French forces he sent in January 1802 miscalculated the skill and fervor of the black revolutionaries. The leader of the expedition, General Charles Leclerc, Napoleon's brother-in-law, shared Napoleon's optimism as well as his ignorance of the island. Leclerc had some early successes, seizing all the main ports, but Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758–1806), and Henri Christophe (1767–1820) continued to wage guerrilla war from the interior. Then, after a period of resistance, Louverture came to terms with Leclerc. Dessalines yielded to Leclerc soon after. Lesser guerrilla generals continued to resist, but Leclerc seemed to have won the island for Napoleon.

Three weeks after they had signed a peace treaty, Leclerc seized Louverture on suspicion of treason and sent him to France, where he died in prison on April 7, 1803. When Leclerc tried to disarm the black population, many former slaves, fearing that a return to plantation slavery was imminent, fled to the island's interior to join the guerrillas. Their decision was motivated by the restoration of slavery in the French colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

By August and September 1802, the scope of the war broadened. By October the tide had turned, and Dessalines, Christophe, and Alexandre Pétion (1770–1818) abandoned the doomed Leclerc and rejoined the rebels to fight against the restoration of slavery. Leclerc died of yellow fever at Le Cap soon afterward. His command was taken up by General Donatien Rochambeau (1755–1813), a soldier experienced in the Caribbean, who added a new contingent of 10,000 troops. Rochambeau proved to be even more brutal than Leclerc—it seems that he believed that all the former black slaves should be exterminated and replaced by new slaves from Africa, and Napoleon apparently approved of these methods.

Rivalries among the colonial powers had a strong influence on the events in Saint-Domingue. England went to war against France in May 1803, and by June was attacking French port garrisons in Saint-Domingue. Meanwhile, Dessalines made alliances in his own ranks and consolidated his leadership. The Armée Indigène was formed to counter-attack French forces; it won two decisive battles against the French, at the Ravine de la Crète á Pierrot and at Vertières. The fate of France in Saint-Domingue was sealed. In November and December 1803 there was a mass exodus of local whites and French soldiers from Le Cap. After thirteen years of fighting between masters and slaves, colonizers against colonized, whites against affranchis, traditional affranchis against new affranchis, former slaves against new leaders, and France against Spain and England, a new independent state was proclaimed in America.


On January 1, 1804, in a popular convention held at Gonaives, the leaders of the Armée Indigène proclaimed the independence of the country and gave again the native name of Haiti to the independent state. Haiti thus became the first black independent nation in the Western Hemisphere and the first black republic in the world. The proclamation of this independence was significant for the subaltern classes throughout the world, and particularly for the slaves in colonies. General Dessalines became the first leader of the new independent nation.

In some respects, the Haitian Revolution has received little scholarly attention. Accounts have tended to emphasize the carnage and destruction and the inability of the leaders of this once wealthy colony to restore prosperity. Some historians have attempted rudimentary analyses of this failure; others have resorted to fatalistic or racist conclusions.

From the demographic point of view, the massive migration of the white population during the revolution and the elimination of some after the revolution was the culmination of the region's second great demographic shift. Whites had replaced Native Americans in the early sixteenth century. By the time fighting broke out in 1789, imported black slaves vastly outnumbered whites; rebel blacks completed the change by driving out the white population. These dramatic events and other hardships of the revolutionary years reduced the remaining population by as much as 50 percent, according to some estimates. (Of the half million inhabitants before the revolt began, only 250,000 or so remained.) Gender imbalance had always been pronounced among the slaves, especially in the bossal group, but by 1804 war casualties apparently had brought parity.

In 1804 the sugar plantation complex lay in ruins, and despite efforts to revive it, it failed to recover. Several factors were at play. One of them was the labor shortage arising from the disappearance of half of the population, a drop in numbers that was especially severe among black field workers. Another factor was the lack of capital. Sugar, far more than coffee, tobacco, or indigo, required large capital investments, but most local accumulations had been destroyed and, for obvious reasons, there were no foreign lenders. Former slaves, moreover, obviously loathed sugar plantations—attacks on them were a major feature of the war—and resisted all attempts to recruit them for sugar plantation labor. These factors, and above all the end of slavery, led to radical changes in land use during and after the revolution. But such changes did not necessarily mean a collapse of production, as many scholars have assumed. Agriculture had to become less labor- and capital-intensive, but the peasantry and export merchants adjusted, and foreign trade and domestic food supplies revived rapidly after 1804.

In the political arena, the Haitian Revolution brought to power a new elite of black and mulatto generals. Military prowess created the new legitimacy, and the foreign models that impressed the liberators were those that stressed the stability to be found in life presidencies, and even those that glorified Napoleonic imperial rule. This centralizing militarism was reinforced by the perception among the new elite that they and their infant nation were beleaguered. France had not yet relinquished its claims to Haiti, the white North Atlantic nations mocked the new leadership and deplored its existence, and because slavery was still the fate of most Caribbean people, Haitians dreaded its return.

Both England and Spain, though happy to see France defeated, were obsessed with the possible impact of Haiti's slave uprising on Cuba, Santo Domingo (which had reverted to Spain in 1809), and Jamaica. Haitians, in turn, feared Santo Domingo because of its potential use as a base for reconquest by European powers. In general, the success of the Haitian Revolution may have delayed political independence of other slave societies. In both Cuba and Brazil, the planter class reinforced its ties to the mother country. France declared an international boycott of the new state, and no power wanted to recognize the independence of Haiti. The United States declared an embargo against the country. England continued its lucrative trade with Haiti, but was reluctant to recognize its independence. In fact, most nations at that time considered Haiti's declaration of independence an anomaly, a threat, or a bad example.


Jean-Jacques Dessalines governed Haiti, with difficulty, from 1804 to 1806. There were a lack of political cohesion and a common vision for the country, even in the sphere of power: Each group and social faction dreamt of a different Haiti. The former affranchis believed they were the most capable of leading Haiti now that the whites were gone, but the representatives of the new affranchis, who had led the revolution to victory, wanted to keep the political supremacy. For the majority of the people, the revolution meant, at the political level, abolition of slavery and political emancipation, and at the economic level, division of the plantations and self-ownership. Dessalines tried to maintain the exportation of agricultural products, but his success was relative: Nobody wanted to return to the plantations, either as owners or as laborers under the conditions that Louverture implemented.

In May 1805 Dessalines installed the imperial regime in Haiti and managed to defend the revolution and independence. He ordered the construction of a series of fortifications throughout the country to defend against a return by the French army. He made another attempt, without success, to reunify the island of Haiti. When he undertook a program to verify the titles of properties seized by former affranchis after the departure of the white planters, he was assassinated in 1806.

When Dessalines's empire ended, Haiti was divided into two states. In the west and the south of the country, Alexandre Pétion, a former partisan of André Rigaud, established a republican form of government; from the Artibonite to the north, Henri Christophe established a monarchy.

In the north, Christophe, following Louverture, attempted to restore the plantations by work, discipline, and obligatory labor. Although he established friendly relations with foreign powers, he was also aware of the threat of invasion, and so built numerous palaces and fortifications, including the famous mountaintop fortress of La Ferrière. Pétion in the south was more moderate, and many large estates were broken up and distributed to veterans of the wars. By prior arrangement, upon Pétion's death in 1818, his long-time ally Jean-Pierre Boyer (1776–1850) became president for life. He reunited the nation after Christophe died in 1820.

Boyer's long presidency (1818–1843) was a formative period for Haiti. He was successful in reunifying the island of Haiti in 1822, thus ending slavery throughout Santo Domingo, and opened negotiations with France. The French were adamant in their insistence that they were still the legal power in Haiti, and Boyer, worried about the precarious position of the small mulatto ruling class, appeared to be willing to accept some form of French allegiance. But popular hatred of the idea of French domination was so strong that Boyer finally secured French recognition in return for payment of an indemnity of 150 million francs/gold and favorable tariffs on French goods. The Boyer government received strong criticism for accepting that arrangement with France. Must critics believed that it put Haiti into an era of neo-colonialism by allowing foreign economic manipulation, which forced Haiti into foreign borrowing and internal taxation, and obviously lessened opportunities for local investment.

Boyer reversed Pétion's laissez-faire attitude toward the land question. Like Louverture and Christophe, he dreamed of a plantation economy geared to exports. His efforts to stop the alienation of public lands, and his infamous Code Rurale (1826) that attempted to restrict movement and force peasants to work, were clearly designed to create a stable labor force for the few large landowners. But his rural policies failed to reverse the trend toward small peasant subsistence holdings. Sugar production continued to fall, though small-holder crops such as coffee and cacao took up some of the slack. Unfortunately for the country's ecological future, timber, including valuable stands of hardwoods, became a valuable export. Commerce with the United States flourished.

Boyer's regime failed to halt the trend toward a small-holding peasantry, and his overthrow in 1843 showed that certain other characteristics of elite politics and Haitian life were becoming ingrained. Boyer's government had been dominated by mulattoes who enriched themselves through government office or favors. Excluded mulattoes and elite blacks, especially from the south, agitated for greater democracy, but they gave little thought to the inclusion of the rural black masses. The division between the tiny mulatto minority and small black elite became a major feature of elite politics in the nineteenth century, but in reality, this "ethnic politics" was more proclaimed than real.

After Boyer's exile in 1843, the government oscillated between long periods of dictatorial stability and unstable interregnums, with brief tenures in the presidency and turbulent politics. The quarter-century of Boyer's rule was followed by four brief presidencies, none of which lasted for even one year. These interludes in office illustrate another feature of Haitian elite politics, the so-called politique de doublure ("understudy politics") by which elite politicians or merchants actually governed behind a black figurehead, often an army general with some peasant support. The four elderly generals who followed Boyer to the presidency showed little initiative, but the fifth general, a relative unknown from the presidential guard, Faustin Élie Soulouque (1788–1867), commenced another long reign.

Soulouque started his term in office by changing many facets of Haitian politics. He turned on his sponsors, setting up an urban terror squad, the zinglins, and used the southern piquets adroitly to frighten the merchants of Port-au-Prince. After a year or so in office, he arranged his elevation to emperor. His tenure in office lasted almost twelve years (1847–1859). Soulouque created a form of legitimacy for his rule among significant sectors of the population. He was preoccupied with national territorial integrity, and on two occasions tried to reunify parts of the island that had broken away after the fall of Boyer in 1843. For many Haitian authorities, the eastern part of the island, which had declared independence in 1844, represented a danger for the Haitian independence because it could be used as a base for foreign intrusion. Emperor Faustin I's insular policy was handicapped by internal difficulties and the hostility of the foreign powers that openly helped the Dominicans against the Haitian army. A short time later, the imperial regime collapsed.

General Fabre Nicolas Geffrard (1806–1878), a long-time ally of Faustin I, seized power after a military rebellion. Geffrard restored the republic and the presidency for life. His government started a vast program of education in urban areas and signed a concordat with the Holy See in 1860. Two years later, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln finally gave diplomatic recognition to Haiti, and Geffrard encouraged the immigration of black U.S. citizens, with little success. His government also played a prominent role aside Dominican patriots fighting against the reconquest of Santo Domingo by Spain. On May 6, 1867, Geffrard was overthrown by another general, Sylvain Salnave (1827–1870), and fled to Jamaica.

Salnave, who also declared himself president for life, was unusual in that he was a mulatto who had support from black factions. He seemed to have enjoyed some popularity among the poor of Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. But the cacos from the north opposed Salnave, and they played a large if intermittent role in politics until after the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915–1934). They gave their support first to one general, then to another, on the basis of promises of short-term advantages. They seemed to be seeking benign neglect—promises that peasant land tenure or political arrangements in the rural areas would not be disturbed. Once their man was installed in the presidency, these rural groups usually disbanded, and thus failed to keep pressure on their leader; when a later generation saw new possibilities, they would rise again.

The period of Salnave's government (1867–1869) was characterized by political instability. Salnave had many political opponents, and the traditional power elite confronted him with determination; in turn, on many occasions, he mobilized his partisans against the economical interests of the elite. Traditional historiography presents this episode as a political confrontation between the mass of blacks, under the influence of a mulatto politician, and the mulatto elite. A new historiography characterizes Salnave's leadership as a historical attempt to change politics and social realities in the country. In the face of resistance, Salnave finally relinquished his office and went to the Dominican Republic, where he was captured by enemies and handed over to his political opponents in Haiti, who judged, condemned, and executed him publicly.

After Salnave's execution in January 1870, the political class seemed to have decided to modernize the political life of the nation. Two political parties were formed: the Liberal Party, made up in large part of preeminent mulattoes who advocated rule by the most able; and the National Party, composed principally of black figures who claimed power on behalf of the majority. As a result of this modernization, from 1870 to 1888 the political transitions were peaceful and constitutional, until the fall of General Salomon.

President Louis-Etienne Lysius Félicité Salomon, Jeune (1879–1888) was a well-known black who had served in Soulouque's cabinet. He found it expedient to support the concordat with the Holy See in spite of the anticlerical opinions of many of his followers. He negotiated with the United States for the lease of certain strategic points of Haitian territory to gain support both politically and economically. He founded the Banque Nationale de la République d'Haïti, backed by French capital; terminated payment of the French indemnity for recognition of Haitian independence; and accepted a French military mission to reform the Haitian army. He even permitted foreign companies to own Haitian land. Salomon's government published legislation to give access to land to some inhabitants, but unfortunately it lacked effective political determination and the capital investment to become a real policy. Once in power he survived the 1883 invasion by a faction of the Liberal Party backed by British merchants and activists. The government did not fall, but it was the beginning of its end. It survived in power until the middle of 1888.


From Salomon's regime to the government of Tirésias Simon Sam (1896–1902), a movement toward modernization was afoot. Florvil Hyppolite (1889–1896), in particular, attempted to implement modernizing policies, but a lack of capital slowed him down. Haitian authorities looked principally to France for capital and foreign investment, and proposed to France an international alliance in the political arena. Unfortunately France did not respond adequately to their solicitation and offer: Haiti received only some loans, and those at exorbitant interest rates. Haiti did not participate in the flow of capital, international investment, human resources, and migration that characterized the Europeanization of the world at that time.

This was a period of European imperialism and confrontations. At the turn of the twentieth century, the independence of Haiti was difficult to maintain. To survive, in 1907 the Haitian authorities successively and separately signed treaties or conventions of good relations with France, Germany and the United States. All these powers—and their foreign merchants installed in the ports of Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Cap-Haitian, and Gonaïves—were playing some role in the national politics of Haiti, pressuring authorities or supporting some Haitian politicians in exchange for favors and privileges. All these attitudes and policies were sources of turmoil and political instability.

The need for money, the relationship with the national bourgeoisie, and fear of foreign powers, were all issues that each president had to contend with, whatever his ethnic politics and proclamations. The welfare of the majority was forgotten, and several presidents found themselves appeasing foreign governments, negotiating new loans with them, or even negotiating leases of national territory. The rivalry for the presidency and the precariousness of tenure once in office was such that some Haitian leaders treacherously called in foreign military support against their compatriot opponents.

By the 1890s the United States gained some political influence in Haiti, but as an exporter of capital and an emergent international power, it regarded the sporadic unrest in Haiti as a threat to U.S. citizens and their interests. The United States found Haiti's nationalism to be an affront, and many of its policies, such as the constitutional provision against ownership of land by foreign whites, to be an obstacle to investment. Moreover, Haiti's geographical position at the entrance to the northern Caribbean (and its natural harbor at Môle St. Nicolas on the northeast coast) provoked interference from the United States and other powers.

Between 1911 and 1915 Haiti had six presidents. The last of them, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, who ordered the execution of jailed opponents, was dragged out of the French embassy and killed. The U.S. Marines had been waiting for a reason to invade, and they landed that same day, July 28, 1915.


The pretext for the U.S. occupation of Haiti was the rioting that preceded the murder of President Sam; the United States considered the unrest a threat to U.S. citizens and property in Haiti. They may also have wished to forestall the French, whose embassy had been violated, and certainly they were concerned about Germany, which, with World War I raging, had designs on Môle St. Nicolas on the northeast coast of Haiti. (Germany had at various times asserted its right to protect the sizable German merchant community in Port-au-Prince.) U.S. investors, moreover, had bought out the French interest in Haiti's Banque Nationale, but generally, U.S. business interests had been frustrated by difficulties in penetrating the Haitian economy. The British, for their part, often acted as protectors of the increasingly important Syrian-Lebanese merchant group that dominated much of Haiti's commercial life. The combination of these fears and frustrations, when added to the strategic hegemony that the United States was establishing in the Caribbean, was reason enough to justify the invasion and the occupation, which lasted nineteen years (1915–1934).

Those who defend the U.S. occupation refer to the political and financial stability it brought. They also point to material gains: Health conditions were improved; roads, hospitals, and schools were built; and finally more foreign investment flowed in. U.S. interests came first, however, and the Haitian public resented the reversal of the old policy prohibiting foreign ownership of land. Provoking even more resentment was the U.S. policy of favoring the mulatto elite, evidenced by the installation of a series of mulatto presidents. Rural anger at the imposition of the corvée, a system of obligatory labor drafts, sparked a cacos revolt in 1918 led by, among others, Charlemagne Péralte (1886–1919), who was killed after a violent campaign by the U.S. Marines. Nationalistic fervor increased after the revolt. In cultural terms, many of the Haitian elite constructed an ideology of an American as a subject materialist, with a lack of culture and good taste.

The U.S. occupation also gave birth to the indigenist movement in Haiti. A segment of the intellectual elite, inspired by Jean-Price Mars's book Ainsi parla l'oncle (1928), criticized the Haitian elite for looking only to Europe, particularly France, and neglecting Haiti's African roots, values, and culture. A vast sector in the Haitian community was mobilized. New theorists came and gave new interpretations and formulations of the nation's politics, economy, and social relations. Furthermore, they found the basis for a new aesthetics and finally formed a new vision of the world.

In this context, the United States was unwelcome in the country, and in 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally withdrew the U.S. troops.

Much has been made of the ethnological and nationalistic movement that began as a reaction to the foreign occupation. Now a group of intellectuals strove to emphasize the African part of Haiti's heritage, moving from indigenism to négritude and to noirisme (black power). The griot movement was another movement, and the ethnologist Lorimer Denis and François Duvalier (1907–1971) were its principal exponents. In some of their writings they went so far as demanding a revolution that would throw off all European attachments in favor of the African values. They rewrote Haitian political history to emphasize the glorious black past and created a historical legend that favored the blacks.

From 1941 to 1942 the Catholic Church, with the support of President Elie Lescot, led an anti-superstition campaign in an attempt to eradicate vodou, the popular religion. This campaign divided the Haitian society, and fortunately it was stopped by the government before too much damage was done.

In 1946 a representative of the black elite, Dumar-sais Estimé (1900–1953), became president. Estimé mobilized large subaltern social groups, and he made Haiti a tourist destination for the first time with the International Exhibition at the bicentenary celebration of the foundation of Port-au-Prince in 1947 to 1950. Considering the Haitian twentieth century as a whole, the four years of the Estimé government (1946–1950) were the most progressive. Estimé fell victim to a coup when he tried to change the constitution to allow his reelection by parliament. After his presidency, Haitian governments went from bad to worse.

At first, the ambition of General Paul-Eugène Magloire (1950–1956), the army chief who overthrew Estimé, was to continue the politics of his predecessor. He was welcomed by the Catholic Church, the Port-au-Prince business community, and the United States. There was a brief burst of prosperity, at least in the city, under Magloire, but his minority politics were dated. Magloire was forced to leave the country in 1956, when he, too, tried to remain in power. His departure brought another interregnum. Four preeminent figures, Clément Jumelle, Louis Déjoie, Daniel Fignolé, and François Duvalier, struggled for the power. Gradually, Duvalier, a physician and well-known ethnologist from the indigenist movement, gained the lukewarm support of the army and a majority among the electorate. He won the presidential election of 1957, presenting himself as the successor to Estimé.

Duvalier ruled Haiti as president for life for almost fourteen years (1957–1971). Once in power, he quickly threw off those who believed that he could be manipulated. He governed with the support of a praetorian guard, the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (VSN), popularly known as the Tontons Macoutes. He never relaxed terrorist vigilance and authoritarian rule. By the mid-1960s, Duvalier reigned supreme: All his leading opponents were either dead or in exile.

Duvalier had elaborated his philosophy of government in many books and articles, but his rule failed to develop much of it. After the elimination of his rivals, his regime was fraught with revolutionary rhetoric and symbols, but his policies were conservative. He succeeded in replacing foreign priests with Haitian nationals. He also ferociously dismantled some sectors of the elites and thereby won the support of parts of the new black urban middle class, as well as political leaders of the villages. But under his presidency and that of his successor, his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971–1986), little was accomplished or even attempted to solve the sizeable economic and social problems of Haiti. A portion of the peasantry was coopted, another was punished for opposing his policies. Under the Duvalier regimes, the standard of living began to deteriorate more rapidly than before because of the growing population and the resultant division and subdivision of land holding. Many of the rural poor emigrated to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and the United States. Haitians from the cities and educated professionals also went to foreign countries, particularly the United States, Canada, and France, to earn a living or to escape oppression.

The regime of the younger Duvalier was less violent than that of his father, but it became increasingly associated with the old elites and with spectacular corruption. In general, the economical situation of Haiti during the reign of the Duvaliers was disastrous. While other nations in the Caribbean region expanded through economic growth and development, Haiti entered more profoundly into poverty and a dictatorial political system. Finally, when Jean-Claude Duvalier's support disappeared in February 1986, he was flown to exile in France.


Since February 1986, Haiti has been in a long period of transition that is moving jaggedly, with both advances in establishing democratic institutions and attempts to restore dictatorships. During this long period, elections have been organized, others canceled; some presidencies have been ephemeral. The army has reasserted itself in national politics, directly governing the country and carrying out dramatic coups d'état.

Since 1986 Haiti has regressed at several levels. Poverty is striking and palpable. Haiti has lost a significant portion of its export capacity, and its imports, even of basic or essential products, remain substantial. From 1991 to 1994 an international embargo—a catastrophic one—was in force against Haiti, and the nation has not recovered its preembargo level of production and exchanges. Political instability does not permit a national plan of reconstruction or renovation for the long term.

One positive sign has been the more vigorous participation in decision making on the part of the peasants and the rapidly growing urban masses. The popular Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide (b. 1953) was elected to the presidency in December 1990 by a large popular vote, though that did not prevent his overthrow and exile soon afterward. In exile, Aristide has been unpopular among many leaders in the United States because of his radical rhetoric; nevertheless he received U.S. and UN help in his struggle to regain power. He was returned to the presidency of Haiti in October 1994. From 1994 to 1996 he managed (with help from international forces) to demobilize the army that committed the bloody coup d'état of 1991. In February 1996 he was succeeded in the presidency by René G. Préval (b. 1943).

Préval, who had been Aristide's prime minister (February-September 1991), ruled the country until the end of his constitutional mandate (1996–2001), largely with the support of Aristide and his political party, Fanmil Lavalas, though Aristide sometimes intervened unhelpfully, leaving the president little room to manoeuvre. President Préval instituted land reform in the rice-growing area of Artibonite and attempted to set up a real national road network, but both initiatives remained incomplete. Ultimately, at that time, Préval's government did not leave a great legacy; he merely waited, played for time, and prepared for Aristide's return to power, via fair or fraudulent elections.

Aristide did return to power, in February 2001 following presidential elections organized by a discredited interim electoral council with no mandate and no political legitimacy. Notwithstanding the opposition parties' boycott of the electoral process, the council prepared elections geared toward Aristide, proclaiming him president with decidedly suspicious results of over 95 percent. Thus Aristide returned to power in a political mêlée without the support of any organized political force. He ruled for three years, during which time he attempted to resolve the crisis in his own way. Although he gained a certain acceptance within the international community, at home his government was openly denounced and embattled. Aristide tried to rule by fear, intimidation, and political repression in a manner reminiscent of Duvalier, encouraging the formation of armed groups to terrorize opponents and intimidate the civilian population. The January 1, 2004, commemoration of national independence saw a political confrontation between Aristide's supporters and his political opponents. Two months later, the government was deposed and Aristide went into exile. Meanwhile, the United Nations sent a peace-keeping intervention force to Haiti to protect lives and property; it is expected that the UN force will remain for ten years to allow for the establishment of political institutions and consolidation of the sectors of the Haitian economy.

From February 2004 to May 2006 Haiti's fate was in the hands of an interim government headed by the Supreme Court judge Alexandre Boniface as president and Gérard Latortue as prime minister. The government's main mandate was the consolidation of the political institutions of the country, including the strengthening of political parties, and the organization of free and democratic elections with the participation of all political sectors. The government had great difficulty implementing its policy, partly because in July 2004 armed supporters of Aristide in the slums around Port-au-Prince launched "Operation Baghdad"—a program aimed at maintaining a state of terror among the population, making the country ungovernable. Nevertheless, parliamentary and presidential elections were held, and former president René Préval was once again successful at the polls. He took the oath in May 2006, and his term of office extends to February 2011. His government is implementing a calming policy, aimed at including all political sectors within the government. He has thus far been successful, yet the general socioeconomic conditions of the population still very bad.

Despite Haiti's many problems, one aspect has never failed—the artistic and intellectual production of the Haitian people. Haitian coffee remains a legend and a reference of good taste. Haitian paintings and craft are highly valued everywhere. Haiti has produced writers and thinkers of great value, including Anténor Firmin (1850–1911), Jean Price-Mars (1876–1969), Jacques Roumain (1907–1944), Jacques-Stephen Alexis (1922–1961), Edwidge Danticat (b. 1969), and Frankétienne (b. 1936), to mention a few. Where there is the art of creation and strength of thought, change is always possible.

See alsoAlexis, Jacques Stéphen; Aristide, Jean-Bertrand; Boyer, Jean-Pierre; Caste and Class Structure in Colonial Spanish America; Christophe, Henri; Columbus, Christopher; Danticat, Edwidge; Dessalines, Jean Jacques; Duvalier, François; Duvalier, Jean-Claude; Geffrard, Fabre Nicolas; Hyppolite, Louis Modestin Florville; Leclerc, Charles Victor Emmanuel; Louverture, Toussaint; Magloire, Paul Eugene; Maroons (Cimarrones); Napoleon I; Ogé, Jacques Vicente; Péralte, Charlemagne Masséna; Pétion, Alexandre Sabés; Rigaud, André; Rochambeau, Donatien Marie Joseph de Vimeur de; Roumain, Jacques; Salnave, Sylvain; Salomon, Louis Étienne Lysius Félicité; Sam, Jean Villbrun Guillaume; Sam, Tirésias Augustin Simon; Santo Domingo; Slave Revolts: Spanish America; Sonthonax, Léger Félicité; Soulouque, Faustin Élie; Tonton Macoutes.


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                                          Watson Denis

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