Port-au-Prince, capital of Haiti. Established as the new colonial capital of Saint Domingue in 1749 (the first had been Cap Haitien), it was the leading port of the western region and had the advantage of a protected and deep harbor. Soon after independence it dominated politics. The city also served as the stronghold of the mulatto elite, which controlled the political, economic, and, later, cultural life of Haiti. One major result of the U.S. occupation (1915–1934) was the centralization of governmental, political, economic, and military power there. The capital became the locus of national politics, for the candidates winning there won nationally. This was especially true as the city rapidly grew in population and universal suffrage went into effect in 1957.
After World War II, two presidents helped improve the quality of Port-au-Prince. President Dumarsais Estimé (1946–1950) spent $6 million in organizing its bicentennial in 1949 and President Paul Magloire (1950–1956) improved housing opportunities by the construction of his Cité Magloire. Although President François Duvalier (1957–1971) engaged in some housing projects and removed some slums, mainly for public-relations purposes, during his regime and that of his son, Jean-Claude (1971–1986), the city deteriorated, as did the quality of services.
When François Duvalier established his absolute rule, he further centralized economic, military, and political authority and power in the capital. He pursued policies that intentionally weakened provincial Haiti and the secondary cities and ports by refusing to improve or even maintain roads, airports, and harbors. This had the desired effect of maintaining and enhancing the capital's economic primacy in the export and import trade. In 1990, Port-au-Prince accounted for around 90 percent of Haiti's exports and about 60 percent of its imports. Two other indicators of the city's central role are government expenditures and population. About 80 percent of the national expenditures were spent on and in the city itself in 1990. As of 1995, the city of Port-au-Prince had an estimated population of 846,247, and the greater metropolitan area was home to 1,425,594 individuals. Almost 20 percent of Haiti's population of 7,180,294 lived in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area at this time.
James G. Leyburn, The Haitian People (1941), esp. pp. 244-245, 274-277.
Selden Rodman, Haiti, the Black Republic: The Complete Story and Guide (1961), esp. pp. 45-46, 54-55, 91-92, 106-115.
Robert D. Heinl, Jr., and Nancy G. Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492–1971 (1978).
Brian Weinstein and Aaron Segal, Haiti: Political Failures, Cultural Successes (1984), pp. 17-18, 24-25, 83-85, 92-93.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism (1990), esp. pp. 104-105, 141-142, 182-184.
Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.
Kovats-Bernat, J. Christopher. Sleeping Rough in Port-au-Prince: An Ethnography of Street Children and Violence in Haiti. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.
Portes, Alejandro, and Mario Lungo, eds. Urbanización en el Caribe. San José: FLACSO, 1992.
Renda, Mary A. Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Larman C. Wilson
Port-au-Prince (pôrt-ə-prĬns´, Fr. pôr-tō-prăNs´), city (1995 est. pop. 846,200), capital of Haiti, SW Haiti, on a bay at the end of the Gulf of Gonaïves. The country's chief seaport, it exports mainly coffee and sugar. The city has food-processing plants; soap, textile, and cement industries; and other light manufacturing. Port-au-Prince is laid out like an amphitheater, with business and commercial quarters along the water and residences on the hills above. The Univ. of Haiti is there.
The city was founded in 1749 by French sugar planters. In 1770, it replaced Cap-Haïtien as capital of the French colony of Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was then known), and in 1804 it became the capital of newly independent Haiti. Port-au-Prince has remained unsanitary and economically backward, however, and has suffered frequently from earthquakes, fires, and civil warfare. In Jan., 2010, a devastating earthquake destroyed or damaged many of the city's buildings, including landmarks such as the National Palace, the National Assembly building, and other government buildings and the cathedral.