The state of Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which is the second-largest of the Caribbean islands after Cuba (land area of 76,2002 km). It is bordered in the north by the Atlantic Ocean and in the south by the Caribbean Sea. Cuba and the Bahamas lie to the northwest of the island. Haiti shares Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, which occupies the lion's share of the island. Today the Republic of Haiti has a population of seven and a half millions, many of whom live in extreme poverty, and there are more voodoo priests than doctors. Reflecting this, the social tensions in the country revolve mostly around class rather than race, and the capital city Port-au-Prince has some of the worst slums in the Caribbean. Many people try and emigrate illegally to the United States, which was the primary cause of the 1994 military intervention by President Clinton (more on this below).


Hispaniola was originally populated by the Arawak group of Native Americans who spread from South America up to Florida, and populated the Caribbean islands. They reportedly had a well-advanced social and political structure on the islands which was fostered by their separation from the turmoils of the mainland. Then, in 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola, and Arawak peoples were the first Native Americans he encountered. He christened the island La Isla Española and established the first colony there, along with his brother Bartolomé, who founded San Domingo (now the capital of the Dominican Republic). Spanish focus shifted for a time to South America, but nevertheless the Arawak population was wittled down by European disease and exploitation through forced labour. Due to Spanish indifference the western third of the island came under the control of French adventurers, and as part of the Peace of Ryswick that ended King William's War this division was made official. Thus, Haiti's future borders were created, albeit that the western part of Hispaniola was a French colony named Saint-Domingue.

Saint-Domingue was turned into a center of slavery by the French authorities, who made it a lively center of trade compared to the Spanish segment of the island. The Spanish ceded it to the French in 1795. The British invaded the entire island and were driven out by Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture, a black slave who had lead earlier uprisings against French rule, forcing them to abolish slavery in Saint-Domingue in 1794. He had joined the French army to support it against these foreign powers, but after his victory in capturing Santo Domingo he became Governor of the whole island for five years. When the French tried to re-institute slavery L'Ouverture resisted them, and he was carted off to a French jail in 1802, where he died a year later. L’Ouverture is considered one of Haiti's first heroes, and the next was his old lieutenant, Jean Jacques Dessalines. After capturing L'Ouverture the French were deciding to re-assert violent control, and so in 1804 Dessalines, another black slave, led an uprising with British aid that drove the French out. Dessalines declared himself Emperor, but his rule was so harsh that he was assassinated by two associates in 1806. The island was now split between two separate republics. The ruler of the northern one committed suicide in 1820 and the island was united under Jean Pierre Boyer. In 1844, the eastern two thirds split and became the Dominican Republic.

Haiti collapsed into fifty years of violent civil war, which was often racial in character. The United States used this as a pretext to intervene in 1915, and they stayed until 1934. The United States tried to put the government on a good footing and offer economic and political aid, and they brought ostensible benefits to the island - the population didn't appreciate the outside intervention, however, and the U.S. had to put down an uprising against them in 1920 (in which roughly 2,000 Haitians died). Their departure was preceded by international outrage after surrounded U.S. Marines shot and killed 12 Haitians. The departure of the Marines didn't stop Haiti being in the U.S. orbit, however, and the legislature unamimously declared war against Japan and Germany after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Haiti was one of the original members of the United Nations, ratifying the treaty on June 26, 1945. Domestic political instability persisted, however, with the military increasingly intervening in affairs. The President was forced to resign in 1950 and a military junta ruled until elections were held, in which a member of the junta won. Then, in 1957, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier was elected.

Duvalier's first move was to crush any actual political opposition to him by targetting specific opponents. Then, in the usual manner of aspiring totalitarians everywhere, he moved to destroy the possibility of any future opposition. He dissolved the bicameral legislature and replaced it with a unicameral one packed with his supporters, brought in a new constitution making him ruler for life in 1964, before which he used a military insurgency in 1961 as a pretext for a massive "security" crackdown on the population. Duvalier used voodoo to try and legitimise himself and encouraged the belief that he was a voodoo priest. He had the constitution amended again to make sure power passed to his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, which happened when he died in 1971. Baby Duvalier was eventually forced out by a military junta after a refugee problem brought international attention to his regime (the United States had cut off aid in 1961). In 1990 internationally supervised elections brought Jean Bertrand Aristide to power.

Asristide was inaugarated in February but only lasted until September, when a military coup overthrew him. Haiti entered another three years of darkness, with a military dictatorship killing up to 5,000 people and driving tens of thousands away. The United States Coast Guard rescued 41,342 Haitians in the period 1991-92 (and sent half back), more than they had rescued in the entire of the last decade. Various political means were used to try and restore Haiti's elected government, including initiatives by the Organization of American States and the United Nations. The military government failed to keep its end of the agreement and thus these measures were ineffective. Economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. led to the deterioration of the Haitian economy and its infrastructure, and an even greater flood of the refugees to the United States. U.N. Security Council Resolution 917 had imposed the sanctions, and Resolution 940 called for member states to use "all necessary means" to restore Haiti's elected government. On September 19, 1994, a multinational force led by the United States launcged Operation Uphold Democracy.

The U.S. planned for two contingencies - the possibility of a peaceful transfer of power, and the possibility of a military invasion and combat. As 3,900 paratroopers were airbourne the Haitian government agreed to a peaceful transfer of power, and the 20,000 U.S. troops (along with 2,000 from a dozen other nations) moved onto the island peacefully. On March 31, 1995, peacekeeping operations were transferred to the United Nations. In June of that year a multiparty coalition supporting the old President Aristide swept into power, which was followed in February 1996 by Haiti's first ever democratic transfer of power. Since this time Aristide has continued to exert an influence over Haitian politics, and the system was a reputation for being corrupt with inadequate investigation of political killings. Haiti is a violent place with inexperienced and young security forces and police - gunmen stormed the National Palace in 2001 in a military coup, trying to kill Aristide.


Under Duvalier the state was granted a large degree of economic power, and since the re-installation of constitutional government Haiti has being under a lot of pressure to reform and modernise. Since 1994 the government has declared itself committed to reform, although it is still a very controversial issue - the violence that permeates the country, and has done for decades, destroyed the relatively strong tourist industry which existed in the 1960s. The decline of Haiti's economy was particularly pronounced during the 1991-94 military dictatorship, with the secondary sector (manufacture), which was the main medium of foreign exchange, having a paltry 400 workers in October 1994. This was down from 80,000 in the mid-1980s, and even now the sector employs only 20,000. As with the tourist industry, the manufacturing industry relies strongly on confidence in political stability - overseas companies don't want to provide foreign direct investment (FDI) when a country isn't stable.

The United States has been Haiti's principle donor since 1973, providing $884m in fiscal aid between fiscal years 1995 and 1999. Other donors include Taiwan ($60.4m) and the International Monetary Fund, which provided $21m for hurricane damage. U.S. aid has had the duel purpose of developing the economy (which is the most underdeveloped in the Western hemisphere) and of providing the basis for stable, constitutional government which will allow the economy to flourish continuously. U.S. money feeds 500,000 school children daily (Haiti's literacy rate is one of the world's lowest, at 46% and rich people send their children abroad), tries to revitalise the coffee industry, provide family planning in rural areas and immunize children. The coffee crisis, the global slump in coffee prices due to overproduction (as encouraged quixotically by the IMF and World Bank), harmed Haiti's main export industry (they produce 28,000 tonnes of coffee a year). Most people are employed on the farms as peasants - or rather, most people are not "employed" at all. Only 40% of the population are involved in the formal economy, and the large areas of the economic activity in the black economy obviously encourages widespread corruption and tax avoidance. Haiti is a huge narcotics stop-off point for the United States.

For the people of Haiti, their economic development is vital. It could also prove to be vital for the United States, to whom the constant exodus of refugees is a major headache. Sadly, democracy in Haiti has not yet proved durable or stable, and without stability the economy will always suffer. Modernization of the economy and temperance in government will provide a better future for some of the most impoverished people in the world.


Federation of American Scientists (

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard Edition 2003

Wikipedia (

World Desk Reference (Dorling Kinsley, 2000)

What is happening in Haiti?
On February 29th, 2004, the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from power by a right-wing paramilitary force with ties to the US.  Flown out of the country on a US chartered plane, Aristide is now in exile in the Central African Republic. It appears the civil institutions have crumbled, and the capital city Port-au-Prince has experienced spasms of violence. More than a thousand American marines and hundreds of French, Canadian and Chilean troops have landed in the capital. American diplomats are trying to install a prime minister of their choice in the country. Aristide departed in murky circumstances with allegations that he was 'kidnapped' by US marines. The 15 nation Caribbean Community - CARICOM - has called for a United Nations investigation. On Thursday, March 4th, CARICOM was joined by South Africa. The Black Congressional Caucus has also expressed concern at the behavior of the administration. This past Thursday, Representative Barbara Lee accused the administration of systematically destabilizing and undermining democracy in Haiti.

   Who are these 'rebels' who removed Aristide? The 'rebels' are led by three men: Guy Philippe, Jodel Chamblain and Jean Tatoune. All three are convicted human rights violators.  Human rights organizations have called for their arrest. (For example, Amnesty International says: "The fact that the massacres, extrajudicial executions or torture for which they were initially brought to justice took place a number of years ago does not remove the need for perpetrators to be held accountable".) Invading from the their base in the Dominican Republic, they have swept across the Northeast of the country, quickly overwhelming the country's small police force. The rebel forces comprise only a few hundred men but seem to be well armed.  The political opposition of the country is separate but consists largely of wealthy businessmen.

Who is Aristide? Jean-Paul Aristide started out as a priest in a small rural church. He was a liberation theologist and spent many years working with impoverished people and calling for democratic reform. He was swept into power in December 1990 on the back of a grassroots movement -- the first democratically elected leader following years of dictatorship. His first government had many impressive achievements but in 7 months, he was removed from power in a US backed coup. He was reinstated by Clinton in 1994. Unfortunately, by this time the popular organizations that had brought him to power had been decimated. Aristide was forced to accept a notorious 'structural adjustment' package with many concessions to open foreign investment and the business sector. These policies further impoverished the country.

What is the role of the US in the coup? There is much circumstantial evidence linking the US to the current coup. First, there are Aristide's allegations that he was kidnapped by US marines. These allegations have been taken seriously in the international community and also in the US Congress with many calling for an independent investigation. Second, as explained below many of the leaders of the current coup were involved in the 1991 coup and have been linked to the US. Third, it is well known that people in the state department such as Robert Noriega (assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs) loath Aristide and have been calling for his ouster for several years.  Fourth, the US systematically starved the Aristide government of funds. For example the Bush administration recently withheld $650 million in aid, despite the fact that Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere. Finally, although Aristide disbanded the Haitian army in 1995, the rebels seem to be very well armed. Where did they get their arms and funds?

What about the coup in 1991 and the US intervention in 1994? After the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1985, the US began funding conservative forces in Haiti to facilitate 'democracy building'. After the election of Aristide, a terrorist organization FRAPH was set up and over the next three years, it murdered 3000 Aristide supporters. A number of these groups became the governing authorities after the coup. As people were slaughtered in Port-au-Prince, refugees began to flee to the US. The Bush administration turned them back from the shores of the US.  In response to the coup, the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed an embargo on Haiti. However, this embargo was systematically undermined by the US. This was said to be 'fine-tuning the embargo to improve democracy.' The founder of FRAPH Emmanuel Constant later revealed on CBS 60 minutes that he had been paid by the CIA to start the organization (He now lives in New York).  The New York Times revealed the military leaders of the coup were also on the payroll of the CIA. Further, it was found that Guy Philippe was trained by US special forces in Ecuador. In 1994, Aristide was restored to power by Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, by this time the coup had already destroyed the institutions that sustained the grassroots democracy. Moreover, Clinton made Aristide's return contingent on his accepting neoliberal 'reforms' and implementing structural adjustment policies favorable to US business.

Who was Duvalier? What is the history of the US-Haiti relationship? The republic of Haiti was established in 1804 after the first successful slave rebellion in history overthrew the French colonizers. Thomas Jefferson was horrified and refused to recognize the republic. Haiti was not recognized till 1862. Between 1849 and 1913, the US Navy intervened in Haiti 24 times, in order to 'protect American lives and property when Negro laborers got out of control'. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson authorized a brutal invasion of the country. His assistant secretary of state explained: 'they are an inferior people' unable 'to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French'. Peasants were dispossessed and the US set up plantation agriculture which led to the virtual re-establishment of slavery. Rebellions were crushed violently and thousands of 'natives' were killed. As Major Smedley Butler explained, his troops 'hunted the Cacos like pigs'. The Marines were withdrawn 20 years later, but in 1956 Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) staged a military coup. He was later succeeded by his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) in 1971. The Duvaliers, set up a murderous dictatorship. However, they allowed US corporations to repatriate their profits, denied labor rights, removed customs taxes and attracted investment from the US. So, despite human rights horrors, they were supported by Washington.  In 1985, a popular rebellion toppled the Duvalier regime; Duvalier was flown out in a US Air Force jet. After 5 years of military rule, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president by an overwhelming majority in December 1990. He was able to reduce corruption and trim the state bureaucracy. However, in 7 months, he was removed from power in a coup backed by the CIA and the Bush administration. The relationship of the US and Haiti illustrate persistent themes in US foreign policy. "The resources of a country should be used to further US corporate interests." The US never hesitates in supporting pliable dictators: Duvalier(Haiti), Mobutu(Zaire), Pinochet(Chile), Islam Karimov(Uzbekistan), Mohammed Reza Pehlavi(Iran), Suharto(Indonesia), King Gyanendra(Nepal), Hosni Mubarak(Egypt), Franco(Spain) are a few examples. Some of these, like Suharto, are guilty of genocide ...others merely of repression and despotism. When faced with the failure of covert operations, the US has never hesitated in applying direct violence whether this be at the cost of millions of lives as in Indochina or at the cost of hundreds of thousands as in Iraq. What is strange is that most of the US population has experienced either static or declining living standards after 1970: all the violence above benefits a small privileged elite. The ethical aspects of this policy are puzzling.

Where can I find more information? Please visit the weblog of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice You will find more information on Haiti and links to articles. Or email

Haitian News sources: (Fre)

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