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 (www.fas.org)
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard Edition 2003
World Desk Reference (Dorling Kinsley, 2000)