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History of Haiti

The Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola - also known as Haiti, Quisqueya, and Bohio (of which the Republic of Haiti occupies the western third and the Dominican Republic the remainder in the modern era) - as a base in the early 16th century from which to establish European domination of the so-called "New World".

Table of contents
1 Native extinction and colonial rule
2 Postcolonial rule
3 The 1991 Coup
4 Transition to Democracy
5 Political Gridlock
6 The Electoral Crisis
7 International Military Presence

Native extinction and colonial rule

Haiti's indigenous Arawak (or Taíno) population suffered near-extinction in the decades after Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492, in possibly the worst case of the widespread depopulation which followed the first European contact with the Americas.

The demographic collapse of the period has been attributed by many to genocide on the part of Haiti's Spanish conquerors. The Catholic priest and contempory historian Bartolome de Las Casas wrote in his multi-volume History of the Indies (1527-61):

There were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived in 1508], including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?

It is thought by many historians today that Las Casas's figures for the pre-contact levels of the Arawak population were an exaggeration and that a figure of slightly over a million original inhabitants is more likely, though others have argued for figures of up to eight million.

The exceptional Arawak mortality can be attributed at least in part to acts of slaughter, unrelenting forced labour, harsh punishments for disobedience to slave conditions, and the putting down of Indian resistance to enslavement and cruel treatment. Mass suicides also took place to escape subjection to Spanish overlords. By the 1540s hardly any Arawak survived on the island.

Whatever the initial figures, however, some claim that the experience of much of Spanish-ruled America suggests that while brutality and maltreatment - and the disruption of traditional societies and systems of production - took a severe toll, the loss was largely the result of the unintended introduction of Old World diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles and typhus) to which the inhabitants of the colonies had no resistance.

This collapse of the original population led to an eventual repopulation with African slaves to work the island's sugar plantations, although slave imports were relatively small until the late 17th century.

French buccaneers later used the western portion of the island as a point from which to harass English and Spanish ships. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Saint-Domingue, as the French portion of the island was known, the "pearl of the Antilles" - one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire. Saint-Domingue produced about 40 percent of all the sugar and 60 percent of all the coffee consumed in Europe by the 1780s. This single colony, roughly the size of Maryland or Belgium, produced more sugar and coffee than all of Britain's West Indian colonies, combined.

During this period, an estimated 790,000 African slaves were brought to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations (accounting in 1783-1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade), though inability to maintain slave numbers without constant re-supply from Africa meant that at its end the population numbered only some 434,000, ruled by some 31,000 whites.

Saint-Domingue also had the largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean. A royal census of 1789 counted roughly 25,000 such persons. Typically these people were the descendants of the enslaved women that French colonists typically took as mistresses, though many free people of color were slaves who had been freed. Most members of this class appear not to have been free blacks, but rather people of mixed European and African ancestry.

On August 22, 1791, the slave population revolted under the leadership of Haitian heroes Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, and gained control of the northern part of the French colony, waging a war of attrition against the French. Master by 1801 of almost the whole island, Toussaint was invited to negotiate a settlement, but was seized and deported to France, where he died in captivity (1803).

The indigenous army, now led by Dessalines, defeated the army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte in November 1803, and declared the former colony's independence from France, reclaiming its indigenous name of Haiti. The impending defeat of the French in Haiti is thought to have contributed to Napoleon's decision to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803.

Postcolonial rule

Dessalines proclaimed himself emperor as Jacques I, but his increasingly oppressive rule provoked his assassination (1806), and the country's division between the rival regimes of Christophe in the north and Alexandre Petion in the south. In 1811 Christophe proclaimed himself king, reigning as Henri I, but after his suicide in 1820 Haiti was reunited under Pétion's successor Jean Pierre Boyer, president until 1843.

Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries, the independent nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere's first regional meeting of independent nations, in Panama in 1826, and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.

Occupied by Haiti since 1822, Santo Domingo, the eastern, Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola, broke away from Haiti in 1844 and became the Dominican Republic. With 22 changes of government from 1843 to 1915 and countless coup attempts and conspiracies, Haiti experienced numerous periods of intense political and economic disorder. The United States military occupation of July 28, 1915, followed after the mob execution of Haiti's leader, but was largely justified to the public as a consolidation of American control in the face of a possible German invasion of the Island, an unfounded claim playing on hysteria related to World War I.

The conquest and 19-year long occupation of the country by the American Army (to August 1934) was a fateful chapter in Haitian history. During this time, the island was directly administered by the U.S. Marine Corps, Haiti's distinctive system of classical education was largely destroyed, and a generation of soldiers (who were to provide the support for Haiti's subsequent despots) were schooled in cruelty by a force that killed over 3,000 Haitians in its first five years in power, and made extensive use of "corvee labor" (a polite phrase for short-term slavery, accompanied by all the features of race-slavery in the American tradition, including the use of chains, whip-bearing overseers, and the immediate punishment of death for any labourers who attempted to flee their unpaid, involuntary servitude).

Charlemagne Peralte, the most popular leader of the opposition to the American occupation, was murdered by an American marine who disguised himself as one of Peralte's followers. In a final act of brutality reminiscent of the lynchings of the American Klu Klux Klan, Perale's corpse was strug up and exhibited in a public square on All Saints' Day --an event remembered by the Haitian people as a "crucifixion".

The election to the presidency of François Duvalier (1957) led to the emergence of a repressive and corrupt regime combining violence against political opponents with exploitation of the traditional religious practices commonly known as "voodoo": proclaiming himself president for life in 1964, "Papa Doc" on his death (April 22]], 1971) bequeathed power to his son Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc").

From February 7, 1986 - when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended - until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected, bicameral parliament, an elected president that serves as head of state, and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers, and supreme court appointed by the president with parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provides for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.

The 1991 Coup

In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown on September 30 in a violent coup led by dissatisfied elements of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite.

Following the coup, Aristide began what became a 3-year period of exile. An estimated 3,000-5,000 Haitians were killed during the period of military rule. The coup created a large-scale exodus of boat people. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued refugees from the previous 10 years combined.

For three years an unconstitutional military regime governed Haiti. Various OAS and the UN initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government, including the Governors Island Agreement of July 3, 1993, failed when the military refused to uphold its end of the agreements. The authorities chose to ignore the impact of international sanctions imposed after the coup allowing Haiti's already weak economy to collapse and the country's infrastructure to deteriorate from neglect.

Transition to Democracy

On July 31, 1994, as repression mounted in Haiti and a UN/OAS civilian human rights monitoring mission (MICIVIH) was expelled from the country, the UN Security Council adopted UN Security Council Resolution 940. UNSC Resolution 940 authorized member states to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure of Haiti's military leadership and to restore Haiti's constitutionally elected government to power.

In the weeks that followed, the United States took the lead in forming a multinational force (MNF) to carry out the UN's mandate by means of a military intervention. In mid-September, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force, President Bill Clinton dispatched a negotiating team led by former President Jimmy Carter to persuade the authorities to step aside and allow for the return of constitutional rule. With intervening troops already airborne, General Raoul Cedras and other top leaders agreed to step down and accept the unopposed intervention of the MNF.

On September 19, 1994, the first contingents of what became a 21,000 international force touched down in Haiti to oversee the end of military rule and the restoration of the constitutional government. By early October, the three military leaders -- Cedras, General Philippe Biamby, and Police Chief Lt. Colonel Michel Francois -- had departed Haiti. President Aristide and other elected officials returned on October 15.

Under the watchful eyes of international peacekeepers, restored Haitian authorities organized nationwide local and parliamentary elections in June 1995. A pro-Aristide, multi-party coalition called the Lavalas Political Organization (Organisation Politique Lavalas, OPL) swept into power at all levels. With his term ending in February 1996 and barred by the constitution from succeeding himself, President Aristide agreed to step aside and support a presidential election in December 1995. Rene Preval, a prominent Aristide political ally, who had been Aristide's Prime Minister in 1991, took 88% of the vote, and was sworn in to a 5-year term on February 7, 1996 during what was Haiti's first-ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.

Political Gridlock

In late 1996, former President Aristide broke from the OPL and created a new political party, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas, FL). The OPL, holding the majority of the parliament, renamed itself the Struggling People's Party (Organisation du Peuple en Lutte), maintaining the OPL acronym. Elections in April 1997 for the renewal of one-third of the Senate and creation of commune-level assemblies and town delegations provided the first opportunity for the former political allies to compete for elected office. Although preliminary results indicated victories for FL candidates in most races, the elections, which drew only about 5% of registered voters, were plagued with allegations of fraud and not certified by most international observers as free and fair.

Under pressure, the Preval government refused to accept the results, but did little to remedy the situation. Partisan rancor from the election dispute led to deep divisions within Parliament and between the legislative and executive branches, resulting in almost total governmental gridlock. In June 1997, Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned. Two successors proposed by President Preval thereafter were rejected by the legislature. Eventually, in December 1998, Jacques Alexis was confirmed as Prime Minister.

During this gridlock period, the government was unable to organize the local and parliamentary elections due in late 1998. In early January 1999, President Preval dismissed legislators whose terms had expired - the entire Chamber of Deputies and all but nine members of the Senate - and converted local elected officials into state employees. The President and Prime Minister then ruled by decree, establishing a cabinet composed almost entirely of FL partisans. Under pressure from a new political coalition called the Democratic Consultation Group (ESPACE), the government allocated three seats of the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Electoral Provisoire, CEP) to opposition groups and mandated the CEP to organize the overdue elections for the end of 1999.

Following several delays, the first round of elections for local councils, municipal governments, town delegates, the Chamber of Deputies, and two-thirds of the Senate took place on May 21, 2000. The election drew the participation of a multitude of candidates from a wide array of political parties and a voter turnout of more than 60%.

The Electoral Crisis

Controversy mired the good start, however, when the CEP used a disputed methodology to determine the winners of the Senate races, thus avoiding run-off elections and giving the FL a virtual sweep in the first round. The flawed vote count, combined with the lack of CEP follow-up of investigations of alleged irregularities and fraud, undercut the credibility of that body, whose President fled Haiti and two members eventually resigned rather than accede to government pressure to release the erroneous results.

Alleged electoral manipulation and subsequent intransigence of the Haitian authorities in the face of international pressure led by the OAS to implement corrective measures, led to sharp foreign criticism of the Government of Haiti. On August 28, 2000, Haiti's new parliament, including 10 Senators accorded victory under the disputed vote count, was convened.

Concurrently, most opposition parties regrouped in a tactical alliance that eventually became the Democratic Convergence (Convergence Democratique, CD). The Convergence demanded that the May elections were so fraudulent that they should be annulled and held again under a new CEP, but only after then President Preval had stood down and been replaced by a provisional government. In the meantime, the opposition announced it would boycott the November presidential and senatorial elections.

A number of diplomatic missions by the OAS, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the United States had sought to delay Parliament's seating until the electoral issues could be resolved. When these efforts failed and Parliament was seated, Haiti's main bilateral donors announced the end of "business as usual." They moved to re-channel Haitian assistance away from the government, and announced that they would not support or send observers to the November elections.

In the absence of a solution and in keeping with the timetable established by the Haitian Constitution, elections for President and nine Senators took place on November 26, 2000. All major opposition parties boycotted these elections in which voter participation was very low. Jean-Bertrand Aristide emerged as the victor of these elections and the candidates of his Fanmi Lavalas swept all nine contested Senate seats.

On December 14, 2000 the Democratic Convergence announced it would create a provisional government that would assume "office" on February 7 - the day of president-elect Aristide's inauguration. The primary objective of this "government" would be to organize new elections. To forestall a more serious crisis, a United States diplomatic mission in late December obtained Aristide's agreement to an eight-point plan that among others things would revise the May elections and create a new electoral council.

In early February 2001, a group of prominent Haitians, known as the Commission of Facilitation of the Civil Society Initiative and a representative of the OAS brought together for face-to-face negotiations representatives of the Fanmi Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence. The talks collapsed on February 6 on the eve of the presidential inauguration. The Family Lavalas would not moved beyond its eight-point commitment of December. The Democratic Convergence insisted on the annulment of the May 21 and the November 6, 2000 elections as well as on broad power-sharing arrangements for the Convergence in the government.

On February 7 2001, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was sworn in as the new Haitian president. That same day, the Democratic Convergence swore in Gerard Gourgue "Provisional President of the Government of Consensus and National Union." As of the date of this report, there have been no further direct talks between the Fanmi Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence.

International Military Presence

Since the transition of the 21,000 strong MNF into a peacekeeping force on March 31, 1995, the presence of international military forces that helped end military rule was gradually ended. Initially, the U.S.-led UN peacekeeping force numbered 6,000 troops, but that number was scaled back progressively over the next 4 years as a series of UN technical missions succeeded the peacekeeping force. By January 2000, all U.S. troops stationed in Haiti had departed, though between February and September, 2000, U.S. military civil engineering and medical training missions visited Haiti for 6-week periods under the auspices of the U.S. Army Southern Command's "New Horizons" program.

In March 2000, the UN peacekeeping mission reconstituted itself as a peace building mission, the International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH). MICAH consisted of some 80 non-uniformed UN technical advisors providing advice and material assistance in policing, justice, and human rights to the Haitian Government. MICAH's mandate ended on February 7, 2001, coincidentally with the end of the Preval administration.

See also : Haiti