Haiti - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate
INTRODUCTION OF HAITI
Haiti, independent country in the West Indies, occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. Haiti shares the island with the Dominican Republic. In 1804 Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America and the only nation ever created as a result of a successful rebellion by slaves. Originally a Spanish colony and later a French colony, Haiti achieved independence after African slaves, who formed the vast majority of the population, overthrew the French colonists (see Haitian Slave Revolt). Port-au-Prince is the country’s capital and largest city.
Forests once covered this mountainous land. Most of the trees have been cut down, which has led to soil erosion. In rural areas farmers cultivate small plots on mountainsides and try to eke out a living from the overworked land. Malnutrition is a serious problem in Haiti. So is unemployment.
Throughout its history Haiti has been divided between a tiny educated elite, which holds most of the wealth and political power, and a large underclass with little or no power. Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Many Haitians have left their impoverished land; others have tried to leave and been sent back.
Haiti also has had a long history of political instability under dictators, most notably François Duvalier (known as Papa Doc), who stifled any political opposition. In the early years of the 21st century, Haiti was struggling to establish the legitimacy of its government and to improve the economic and social conditions of its people.
LAND AND RESOURCES OF HAITI
Haiti is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by the Dominican Republic, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Windward Passage, a channel that separates the country from Cuba. Its area is 27,750 sq km (10,714 sq mi), about the size of the state of Massachusetts.
Haiti consists of two peninsulas, which are separated by the Gonâve Gulf. Much of Haiti’s land is mountainous. In all, five mountain ranges cross the country. The Chaîne du Haut Piton, which runs along the northern peninsula, reaches a height of 1,183 m (3,881 ft). The Massif de la Selle, which begins just southeast of Port-au-Prince, reaches a height of 2,680 m (8,793 ft) at Pic la Selle, the highest point in Haiti. The Massif de la Hotte reaches a height of 2,347 m (7,700 ft) at the extreme western end of the southern peninsula. The other chains, which include the Massif des Montagnes Noires and Chaîne des Cahos, and the solitary peak of Montagne Terrible, range between 1,128 and 1,580 m (3,701 and 5,184 ft) high.
Although Haiti is located on one of the most mountainous islands of the Caribbean, it has several large plains. These three inland plains—the Plaine du Nord, the Artibonite River valley, and the Cul-de-Sac Plain—are productive agricultural regions. Saumâtre Lake, a saltwater lake in the Cul-de-Sac, is the nation’s largest lake, while Péligre Lake, formed by a dam on the upper Artibonite River, is the largest freshwater lake.
The Gonâve Gulf contains the largest of Haiti’s offshore islands, the island of Gonâve. The other islands include Île de la Tortue (Tortuga) and Grande Cayemite. Haiti’s shoreline is irregular, and there are many natural harbors. The country’s numerous rivers—most of which are short, swift, and unnavigable—have their sources in the mountains. Only the Artibonite River, Haiti’s largest, is navigable for any length.
Climate in Haiti
Haiti has a tropical climate, but the temperatures are modified by the surrounding water. The country has a horseshoe shape, open toward the west, so that much of the interior is not cooled by the northeasterly trade winds. The distribution of mountains and lowlands affects temperature and rainfall, resulting in significant climate variations from place to place. Port-au-Prince, located at sea level, has a yearly average temperature of 27°C (81°F), one of the highest average annual temperatures in the West Indies. In Kenscoff, located just south of Port-au-Prince at an elevation of 1,430 m (4,700 ft), temperatures average 16°C (60°F). The mountains surrounding the Cul-de-Sac Plain trap air in the valley, making the air hot, dry, and stagnant.
Rainfall on Haiti varies greatly with location and exposure to the trade winds. Rainfall ranges from a high of 3,600 mm (144 in) on the western tip of the southern peninsula to a low of 600 mm (24 in) on the southwest coast of the northern peninsula. Most of the rain in the southwest falls in early and late summer. Haiti is vulnerable to hurricanes and is occasionally hit by destructive tropical storms.
Plants and Animals in Haiti
Forests once covered almost all of Haiti. Clearing forests for farms and wood for charcoal has stripped the country of most of its valuable native trees. Only some pine forests at high elevations and mangroves in inaccessible swamps remain. Semidesert scrub covers the ground in drier zones. Environmental deterioration has had a severe impact on Haiti’s plants, animals, soil, and water resources. Tropical coral reefs surrounding the country are threatened by the large quantities of silt washed down from the eroding mountainsides. Coffee and cacao trees spread across the mountains in scattered clumps, while sugarcane, sisal (see Agave), cotton, and rice cover most of the good farmland.
Most of Haiti’s native animals were hunted to extinction long ago. Caiman and flamingo are the most common wildlife seen today. Haiti’s large population and the degree of deforestation already present seem to preclude the reestablishment of wildlife, although the climate would be hospitable to any tropical plants or animals.
Natural Resources of Haiti
Some 40 percent of Haiti is cultivated or used for plantation agriculture, even though years of poor farming techniques have depleted the soil. Bauxite was Haiti’s most valuable mineral but extraction has ceased to be profitable in recent years. Small quantities of copper, salt, and gold exist but are not considered commercially viable.
PEOPLE OF HAITI
About 95 percent of Haitians are of African ancestry. Most of the remaining 5 percent are mulattoes of mixed French and African ancestry. The mulattoes have traditionally made up the country’s ruling elite.
The population of Haiti is 9,035,536 (2009 estimate), giving the country an overall population density of 328 persons per sq km (849 per sq mi). In arable areas, however, there are about five times more people than the average. Haiti ranks among the least urbanized countries of the Western Hemisphere; 61 percent of the people live in rural areas.
Languages spoken in Haiti
Haitian Creole and French are the official languages of Haiti. Haitian Creole, a French-based Creole with influences from West African languages, was made an official language under the 1987 constitution. It is the mother tongue for nearly the entire population of Haiti and the language of instruction in schools. French is spoken mainly as a second language by a small section of the population.
Religion in Haiti
About 80 percent of Haiti’s people are nominal Roman Catholics, many of them combining an African animism called Vodun or Vodou (commonly spelled voodoo) into their religious beliefs and ceremonies. Vodun is a religion of spirit propitiation and personal integration with the forces of nature. Contrary to popular opinion elsewhere, it is not a cult of devil worship or black magic. Instead of making a virtue of self-restraint, as most Western religions do, those who practice Vodun are driven toward full participation in their religion through social ceremony, animal sacrifice, and dance. Those who become “possessed” by the spirit, which then speaks through the body, achieve the goal of their faith: communication with the ancestral gods.
Protestant denominations claim as much as 17 percent of the population’s allegiance. Since the late 1970s intensified mission work by U.S. groups, especially the Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of Latter-day Saints, and various Baptist groups, has penetrated into the farthest reaches of the countryside, competing with the Catholic Church and with Vodun.
Principal Cities of Haiti
Port-au-Prince (population, 2003 estimate, 1,961,000) is the only modern city and the country’s capital and principal port. Other cities and towns include Cap-Haïtien (113,555), an export center and seaport; Gonaïves (63,291), a seaport in western Haiti; and Les Cayes (45,904), an important coffee export center and seaport.
Education in Haiti
By law, education is free and compulsory in Haiti for children between the ages of 6 and 11. In practice, access to education is sharply limited by school location, the cost of school clothes and supplies, and the availability of teachers. As a consequence of limited educational opportunities, only 62 percent of the adult population is literate.
The State University of Haiti, founded in 1920 in Port-au-Prince, has colleges of medicine, law and economics, business, agronomy, social sciences, humanities, and science. Two private universities were founded in the 1980s. The University of Roi Henri Christophe in Cap-Haitïen has colleges of agriculture, medicine, and engineering. Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince has colleges of agriculture, economics and management, science and engineering, education, law, and health sciences. Many university-level students attend foreign universities.
Way of Life in Haiti
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and for most Haitians, daily life is a struggle for survival. An estimated 65 percent of the population lives in poverty; in rural areas that number rises to about 80 percent. Malnutrition is common among the rural poor, many of whom farm small plots of infertile mountain land. Infant mortality is 60 per 1,000 births, the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere. Life expectancy at birth is only 61 years, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and the incidence of diseases ranging from intestinal parasites to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is extremely high. Only about 58 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, and only 19 percent has access to sanitary sewer systems. A limited elite of about 10 percent, mostly professionals, enjoys a sophisticated, affluent lifestyle. This elite class has traditionally resisted all attempts to restructure the Haitian social system.
Culture of Haiti
Haitian culture fuses African, French, and West Indian elements. Formerly a social divider, the Haitian Creole language is now part of efforts to define a national culture. The increased use of Creole in literature, drama, music, dance, and some governmental functions reflects a general trend toward wider acceptance of and pride in Creole traditions. A Creole theater has been established to produce Creole plays and plays in Creole translation.
Concerts of indigenous music and dance are held frequently, and exhibitions of Haitian art have been mounted in Haiti and abroad. Collectors have shown interest in the work of contemporary artists, whose woodcarvings and metalwork figures and paintings of local scenes, with vivid colors and simplified forms, intriguingly mix Christian and Vodun symbolism.
The country has several outstanding libraries. The collection of the Brothers of Saint Louis de Gonzague (1912), the National Archives (1860), and the Bibliothèque Nationale (1940), all located in Port-au-Prince, contain rare works that date from the colonial period. Also devoted to Haitian history is the National Museum (1983), located in Port-au-Prince.
Social Problems in Haiti
Haiti’s most serious social problems stem from the disproportionate distribution of wealth. About 10 percent of Haitians are part of a wealthy elite that holds political power. However, the majority of Haitians live in poverty with little education, few opportunities for employment, and limited political influence.
Although Haiti is 95 percent black, there are racial divisions between the small mulatto elite and the vast black population. Since colonial times the mulattoes have functioned as the ruling class. Having more in common with the wealthy classes of other countries, the mulattoes identify very little with poor Haitians. Underdeveloped social, economic, and political institutions—especially education—mean that there are few mechanisms within the country to promote upward social mobility. Another problem preventing social cohesion is the physical isolation of rural communities. In 2005, 61 percent of the population lived in rural areas.
ECONOMY OF HAITI
Haiti’s economy has been shrinking since the early 1980s while the population has continued to grow. In 2007 Haiti’s per capita gross domestic product was $698.70. This placed Haiti among the world’s poorest nations. Agriculture employs 51 percent of the labor force; manufacturing, services, and tourism are the next largest employers. Formal unemployment affects about 50 percent of the labor force. It is estimated that either unemployment or underemployment affects about 85 percent of the labor force. The international sanctions employed against Haiti’s military leaders from 1991 to 1994 further weakened the already crippled economy. Ongoing political instability has dampened hopes for economic improvement.
Many Haitians have left their country to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Educated Haitians, unable to use their skills and unwilling to endure the dictatorial rule of the Duvalier family, emigrated in increasing numbers from the 1970s on. Poorer Haitians, seeking work or fleeing political persecution, also emigrated, largely illegally, to other Caribbean islands and to the United States. Money sent back to family members in Haiti by Haitians living abroad contributes to the nation’s income.
Government revenue in 2000 was $290 million and spending was about $385 million. Haiti depends heavily on foreign aid, including food relief from international organizations. However, the food and other assistance frequently fails to reach its intended recipients. Haiti’s international debt is more than $1 billion.
Agriculture of Haiti
Most of Haiti’s farmers work small plots of land on which they raise food for their families. Any excess is sold at markets. The land is overworked and overcrowded, and soil erosion is a major agricultural problem. Hurricanes, flooding, and drought also take their toll on crops.
Coffee, cacao, and mangoes are the major crops grown in Haiti for export. Sugarcane long ranked second to coffee among commercial crops, but competition and falling sugar prices forced Haiti’s sugar refineries to close in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Haiti also grows vetiver, a grass that yields oils used in the manufacture of perfume. The main crops grown for food are corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, rice, and plantains. Chickens are the most common livestock, but cattle, goats, and pigs are also raised.
Forestry, Fishing, and Mining in Haiti
Only 3.8 percent of Haiti remains forested, and forest products are of little value to the economy. Some pine logs are harvested from mountaintops. A lack of modern equipment hinders the fishing industry. Catches of reef fish and crustaceans supply local markets. Experts from Cuba have been helping Haiti develop its fishing industry.
Mining has never been an important industry in Haiti. Copper mining ceased during the 1970s because of low world prices. Bauxite mining stopped in the early 1980s.
Manufacturing in Haiti
Haiti’s poverty has meant that manufacturing was long limited primarily to processing food products, such as coffee, sugar, flour, and beverages, for local use. Factories also produce cement, shoes, and textiles. Foreign-owned plants in Haiti assemble electronic goods for export and produce sports equipment and clothing. Further industrialization in Haiti has been obstructed by an uncertain electrical supply, waste disposal problems, limited transportation, a lack of capital and skilled labor, and government policies.
The petite industrie, or handicraft industry, is an important source of income for many Haitians. Houses in the shantytowns around Port-au-Prince double as shops where artisans carve wood, weave cloth, or make a variety of other handicrafts to sell to tourists.
Energy in Haiti
The rate of energy consumption in Haiti is among the lowest in the world. Other than private generators, the Péligre hydroelectric plant on the Artibonite River is the only local source of commercial energy. In 2006 Haiti produced 550 million kilowatt-hours, mostly by burning imported fossil fuels. Poor Haitians burn charcoal to supply heat at home.
Currency, Banking, and Trade in Haiti
The gourde, consisting of 100 centimes, is the basic unit of currency in Haiti (36.90 gourdes equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). United States currency is recognized as legal tender. The national Bank of Haiti is government-owned and performs commercial and central bank functions. French, U.S., and Canadian banks operate on a small scale.
In the early 2000s Haiti’s major exports were coffee and assembled manufactured goods, such as electronics and clothing. The country’s chief imports were machinery and manufactured goods, food and beverages, fuel, and chemicals. The United States was Haiti’s primary trading partner. In 2007 exports were valued at $519 million and imports at $1.58 billion.
Haiti is a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free-trade organization, and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), an organization that promotes regional unity and coordinates economic and foreign policy among Caribbean nations.
Transportation in Haiti
Haiti’s road network was built by U.S. Marines during the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Of the 4,160 km (2,585 mi) of roads, only 24 percent are paved. Even main roads are in poor condition, and many bridges have become unusable. The country has one international airport in Port-au-Prince and nearly a dozen smaller airstrips throughout the nation. Domestic air service is provided by a government-owned airline.
Communications in Haiti
Most of Haiti’s communications network is clustered in Port-au-Prince. International communications tend to be better than domestic. In 2000 there were 6 television sets and in 199753 radios in use for every 1,000 residents. Haiti had 17 telephone mainlines per 1,000 people in 2004. There were 2 daily newspapers in 2004, with an average circulation of about 20,000, or about 3 papers per 1,000 inhabitants. Most of the newspapers and broadcast stations are in Port-au-Prince, and these cater to the capital’s wealthier inhabitants.
Tourism of Haiti
Tourism has been an important source of revenue for Haiti in the past. In the mid-1980s stories about AIDS on the island scared away many potential tourists. In the 1990s and early 2000s Haiti’s unstable political scene deterred travelers from visiting the island. Yet tourist attractions abound, from the country’s beautiful beaches to its vibrant culture and colorful towns and cities. In 2005, some 112,000 tourists visited Haiti.
Labor in Haiti
The labor force consists of 3.6 million mostly unskilled workers. Women outnumber men as factory workers. A few labor unions exist, but poverty and years of dictatorship have prevented labor groups from organizing, although they are legal. Industrial wages of less than $2 per day are the lowest in the Caribbean.
GOVERNMENT OF HAITI
Since the overthrow of the dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986, Haiti has had a series of governments. Haitian constitutions have been modified to suit individual rulers throughout the nation’s history. Local government has traditionally been left to appointed supporters of the regime in power and has often been characterized by violence. The 1987 constitution, currently in effect, was modeled on those of the United States and France.
Executive of Haiti
Under the 1987 constitution, executive power is vested in a president directly elected to a five-year term. The president may not serve two consecutive terms. The president is assisted by a cabinet that is subject to approval by the legislature. The prime minister is selected from the ruling party by the president and serves as head of government.
Legislature of Haiti
Haiti’s legislature is bicameral. The larger Chamber of Deputies consists of 83 members elected to four-year terms, and the Senate has 27 members elected to six-year terms.
Judiciary in Haiti
The highest judicial body in Haiti is the Supreme Court. There are also courts of appeal, civil courts, and local courts at the commune level. The president appoints the judges of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal.
Local Government of Haiti
Haiti is divided into nine departments that are headed by prefects appointed by the central government. Each department is subdivided into arrondissements and communes. An elected mayor administers each commune.
Health and Welfare in Haiti
Haiti’s medical system struggles to cope with the nation’s serious health problems. There is only one physician for every 4,000 inhabitants, and medical facilities are poor. Malaria, dengue, intestinal parasites, yaws, AIDS, and other infectious diseases are common. Foreign governments and several international organizations, including the UN and the OAS, provide food and medicine to Haiti, but the scope of the country’s problems overwhelms these efforts. Haiti’s social services are similarly limited.
Defense of Haiti
Under the François Duvalier regime, two-thirds of the national budget was spent on the armed forces. However, the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide took steps to eliminate the military’s participation in political affairs. In 1995 the armed forces were disbanded, although the military officially exists until the government amends the constitution to abolish it. A civilian police force was recruited, largely from ex-military personnel, to replace the armed forces and maintain law and order.
HISTORY OF HAITI
The Arawak, the original inhabitants of the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, called the island Ayti, meaning “land of mountains.” When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, he named the island La Isla Española (Spanish for “The Spanish Island”) in honor of his Spanish sponsors. The name later evolved into the modern name of the island, Hispaniola. After Native Americans destroyed an early Spanish settlement near Cap-Haïtien, the Spanish settled the eastern half of the island and left the west unsettled.
During the 1600s pirates operated from hideouts on the northern coast of Haiti and the island of Tortuga. From there they attacked and plundered Spanish treasure galleons sailing in the Caribbean. French adventurers also hunted wild boar and other animals in Haiti to sell as food to passing ships. Eventually, French traders began to settle on the northern coast of Hispaniola. In 1697, under the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain formally ceded to France the western one-third of Hispaniola—the portion that later became Haiti. The official name of the French colony became Saint-Domingue; the Spanish portion of the island was called Santo Domingo.
During the 18th century Saint-Domingue became one of France’s richest colonies. The French established plantations in the lowlands based on the labor of black slaves, who were imported in large numbers from Africa. Sugar was the main product of these plantations, which also produced indigo, coffee, cacao, and cotton. By the end of the 1700s the population of Saint-Domingue totaled more than 450,000 slaves, more than 25,000 mulattoes, and about 30,000 French planters who lived in great luxury. Although most of the mulattoes were free, their rights were greatly restricted by racial laws.
In 1791, during the French Revolution, Haiti’s blacks began a series of violent uprisings known as the Haitian Slave Revolt. At that time most blacks in Haiti, many of whom had been born in Africa, were still slaves, and they outnumbered all other inhabitants of Haiti by 10 to 1. About 800 Haitian volunteers had fought in the American Revolution (1775-1783) under French general Marquis de Lafayette and thereby gained some military experience. However, the revolutionary spark that incited Haitian slaves to rebel came not only from within but also from the ideas that inspired the French Revolution.
Delegates from Haiti’s white planters (of French and Spanish descent) sought to obtain representation in the French national assembly while excluding mulatto freedmen from participation. The white planters further increased racial bitterness by barring mulatto representatives from assemblies held in Saint-Domingue. The mulattoes embraced the ideals of the French Revolution—liberty, equality, fraternity. Their aspirations filtered down to the long-restless slaves, who in 1791 rebelled.
The Haitian Slave Revolt was led by Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, Alexandre Sabès Pétion, and Jean-Pierre Boyer. By 1794 forces under Toussaint Louverture had freed the colony’s slave population. The French could not spare troops from Europe to suppress the uprising. By 1801 Toussaint Louverture ruled the entire colony. Although Toussaint Louverture was captured by French forces in 1802 and died a prisoner in France, the rebellion he had fostered did not end. Other black generals led his army to victory.
On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the colony’s independence as the world’s first black republic. He named the new country Haiti. But the long years of war had destroyed most of the country’s plantations, and the people who ran them had been killed or had fled. As one of his first acts, Dessalines authorized former slaves to seize the land of their ex-masters. The land was soon divided into many small farms, on which the former slaves raised just enough food to feed themselves, a pattern that has continued to this day.
On May 18, 1803, the first Haitian national flag was created. It was similar to the French flag, except it omitted the middle white stripe. By uniting the blue and red stripes, the flag symbolized the union between blacks and mulattoes. The colors were also symbolic of the Vodun deities of motherly love (blue) and war (red).
Emulating Napoleon I of France, Dessalines had himself crowned emperor as Jacques I in October 1804. Without the white planters to enforce work, Dessalines resorted to forced labor. Resentment built, and in 1806 Dessalines was assassinated. In the anarchy that followed, two states were established: one in the north held by Henri Christophe as King Henri I, and one in the south governed by Alexandre Pétion as president for life. Upon the death of Christophe in 1820, Jean-Pierre Boyer, the successor to Pétion, began to consolidate his power throughout the island. He succeeded in unifying Hispaniola under his rule in 1822. In 1844 the eastern two-thirds of the island declared its independence as the Republic of Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic.
Boyer, a dictator, established strict austerity measures. Threatened by France and fearing reoccupation, he was forced to pay an exorbitant indemnity to compensate the French planters for losses from the revolution. To pay the indemnity he had to borrow money from France. This move began a foreign indebtedness that was to plague Haiti for a century. Disaffection with his regime increased, and in 1843 Boyer went into exile.
After Boyer Haiti sank into a slough of economic corruption and bankruptcy, political anarchy, and personal tyranny. In 1849 Faustin Élie Soulouque proclaimed himself emperor as Faustin I, and for ten years he ruled in a despotic manner. He exhausted the treasury, waged futile campaigns against Santo Domingo, and ruled cold-bloodedly. He was exiled in 1859. Although a limited return to republican government and sound leadership was achieved, largely during the administrations of Nicholas Fabre Geffrard (1859 to 1867) and Lysius Salomon (1879 to 1888), Haiti suffered intermittent crises until 1915.
Occupation by the United States
The financial chaos that grew out of political corruption and economic underdevelopment led to Haiti’s economic dependence on foreign lenders. In the early 20th century, the United States was worried about increasingly insistent demands from France and Germany that they be allowed to assume control of Haitian finances. Nor could the political situation have been worse. Haiti’s tyrannical president Guillaume Sam was dragged from his sanctuary in the French Embassy on July 28, 1915, and torn to pieces by a mob. That day the United States invaded Haiti, and a military occupation began.
Haiti was forced to accept a treaty granting the United States control over customs receipts and authority to carry out reforms. The United States employed a high-handed policy during the military occupation, actually writing a new Haitian constitution (its author was Franklin D. Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy). Although the occupation authorities often abused the powers given them, which later led to the appointment of a civil high commissioner, the work of U.S. officials, both military and civilian, accomplished certain reforms: financial chaos was eliminated, the budget was balanced, payments on debts were promptly made; taxes were readjusted; graft was diminished; and a program of public works (often using coerced peasant labor), sanitation and public health, education, and agricultural development was instituted.
The occupation was resented across the spectrum of Haitian society and was a constant target of guerrilla offensives and peasant uprisings. Led by Charlemagne Péralte, a peasant army called the Cacos attempted to overthrow the puppet president, Sudre Dartiguenave, in 1919. Later that year Péralte was ambushed and killed by marines; he soon became, for Haitians, a martyr of the republic.
As a consequence of continuing Haitian opposition and of the recommendations of a commission appointed by U.S. president Herbert Hoover, withdrawal of the marines was eventually begun and the Haitians given more control. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “good neighbor” policy, the last marines left in 1934, and the intervention was terminated officially in 1935. With the payment of the balance of a loan made by the United States in 1922, U.S. fiscal control of Haiti ended in 1947.
Sténio J. Vincent, a lawyer and editor, was president of Haiti from 1930 to 1941. He tried to improve conditions and to modernize agriculture, but he cared little for civil liberties. Vincent was succeeded by Élie Lescot, who continued Vincent’s authoritarian type of rule and was forced out of office in 1946 by a military coup. Later in 1946 a new congress elected under the supervision of a military junta chose Dumarsais Estimé, the first black president since the U.S. military government had put the administration in the hands of the mulatto elite in 1915.
Estimé developed and tried to implement a program of social reform and Haiti’s first labor and social security laws. During most of his term in office he also provided probably the widest degree of civil liberties that the country had ever seen. There was freedom of the press, and several opposition political parties were permitted to function openly. Estimé’s continuing efforts on behalf of the black masses engendered strong political opposition. This rose to fever pitch when, late in 1949, Estimé sought to have the constitution changed to permit his own reelection. In May 1950 a military junta forced Estimé to resign.
After a few months of provisional government, General Paul Magloire, a member of the junta that had ousted Estimé, was chosen president in an uncontested election. His six-year regime was a dictatorship marked by considerable corruption, but he continued some of the social measures of the Estimé regime, including its programs in the areas of education and workers’ housing. At the end of 1956, however, Magloire made the same mistake as his predecessor and attempted to remain in office beyond his constitutional term. The result was a general strike backed by the workers and shopkeepers of Port-au-Prince that ended Magloire’s regime in December 1956.
The Duvalier Regime
During the first nine months of 1957 Haiti experienced a bewildering series of government juntas and provisional presidents. In September 1957 the army organized elections. François Duvalier, a physician, was the only candidate the military allowed to conduct a campaign.
Duvalier soon established a personal dictatorship. At his bidding, the legislature imposed a state of siege, and later authorized him to rule by decree. In this period Duvalier organized the Tontons Macoutes, an unofficial armed force under his personal control, to intimidate his opposition. Despite his complete disrespect for the law, Duvalier received considerable help from the U.S. government, which hoped to see him restore a semblance of stability to post-occupation Haiti. Apparent internal stability was achieved, but by the exercise of unprecedented repressive measures. Civil liberties and freedom of the press were nonexistent. Trade unions were outlawed, and the union leaders fled into exile or were imprisoned.
In a fraudulent election in 1961 Duvalier won another six-year term as Haiti’s president, and in 1964, under a new constitution, he made himself president for life. During the 1960s he intensified the repression, leading the United States in 1963 to cut off all U.S. aid to Haiti. Meanwhile, the economy stagnated, and thousands of Haitians emigrated. Duvalier portrayed the situation as one of a beleaguered black Haiti facing up courageously to a variety of national and racial opponents. His claims on behalf of national sovereignty, together with his support of Vodun and his part in creating a new black upper class, won him a degree of support from some sectors of the Haitian population.
In 1971 the legislature of Haiti amended the constitution to permit Duvalier to name his successor. As a result, when Duvalier died later that year, his 19-year-old son, Jean Claude, was sworn in as president-for-life. Jean Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, did little to modify the dictatorship that his father, Papa Doc, had established. He did release some political prisoners to improve Haiti’s relations with the United States and other countries, attracting in the process increasing amounts of much-needed foreign aid. The money, however, was of no benefit to the mass of Haitians because all available foreign currency went to the ruling elite for deposit in foreign bank accounts and for the purchase of imported luxury goods. As a result of rising opposition, Duvalier fled Haiti in early 1986; a junta succeeded him.
Toward the end of the 1970s political repression in Haiti increased again, with an intensification of the torture of political prisoners. An increasing number of Haitians, as many as 4,000 a month, sought refuge by fleeing by boat to Florida. The exodus was briefly stemmed in September 1981, when the U.S. government, which backed the Duvalier dictatorship, ordered the interception and return of the refugees, claiming that they were escaping only poverty and did not meet the U.S. qualifications for political refugees. Nevertheless, thousands of boat people soon began again to flee Haiti.
By 1984 steadily worsening economic conditions in Haiti led to the first anti-Duvalier riots as crowds of hungry people looted food warehouses in many provincial towns. Many Catholic and Protestant clergy adopted a stance of outspoken opposition to Duvalier and used church-controlled radio stations to agitate against the government. By the end of 1985 there were widespread demonstrations against Duvalier. Finally, the U.S. government abandoned its support of Duvalier and moved to force him from power. On February 7, 1986, a U.S. fleet surrounded the harbor of Port-au-Prince and Duvalier was finished. A U.S. Air Force plane flew him and his family into exile in France. On Duvalier’s departure the government was taken over by the army and a national governing council.
Haiti adopted a new constitution in 1987, which restored the bicameral legislature and sharply limited the powers of the central government. An independent council was set up to conduct elections in 1987, but the army prevented the council from functioning. On election day soldiers massacred voters and canceled the elections. Early in 1988 the army staged a fraudulent election and named a civilian, Leslie Manigat, as president. Four months after Manigat took office and attempted to reform the military, he was ousted in a coup.
Lieutenant General Prosper Avril emerged from a subsequent power struggle as Haiti’s president. It soon became clear that Avril intended only to consolidate his own power. Avril muzzled the media and suspended parts of the 1987 constitution. Renewed political unrest, sparked by deteriorating economic conditions, led Avril to resign the presidency and flee in March 1990.
Internationally supervised elections in December 1990 resulted in a victory for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest and an advocate for socialism. As president he attempted to clean up the government, reform the military, and stop the use of Haiti as a transshipment point for smuggling cocaine. The army and the tiny upper class soon set about plotting his overthrow. He was toppled in September 1991 in a bloody military coup led by Brigadier (later Lieutenant) General Raoul Cédras, whom Aristide had appointed chief of staff, and Cédras’s right-hand man, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Joseph Michel François, head of the police. The United States, the United Nations (UN), and the Organization of American States (OAS) refused to recognize the new government in Haiti, although prominent Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Haiti spoke sympathetically about Cédras, who, it was admitted in November 1993, had been on the CIA payroll since 1986.
The Cédras-François Dictatorship
The new rulers established a climate of terror that was to last almost three years. People believed to support Aristide—that is, the vast majority of Haitians—were subject to kidnapping, arrest, beating, torture, and murder. Tens of thousands of terrified people took to the sea in small boats to seek political asylum, but the U.S. government mobilized its naval forces to intercept them and return them to the Haitian police.
In late 1991, after U.S. courts ruled that such summary return violated international law, refugees were placed in detention at Guantánamo Bay, a U.S.-occupied enclave in Cuba. After administrative interviews most were declared “economic refugees” and returned to Haiti, although some eventually were allowed U.S. entry. In 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court permitted President George Bush to resume summary return of political refugees. This practice continued through 1993, notwithstanding Bush’s replacement by Bill Clinton who, in his election campaign, had denounced Bush’s policy as “cruel” and “illegal.”
During this political struggle, the United Nations imposed sanctions against Haiti to pressure the military to withdraw. In 1993 Cédras and a UN/OAS mediator devised an agreement to allow Aristide to return to power and grant an amnesty to the military rulers. Aristide reluctantly signed the accord. The UN embargo was then lifted, permitting the junta to stockpile oil, arms, and ammunition. Cédras and François refused to step down, and the UN imposed broader sanctions.
U.S. Intervention and Aristide’s Return
On September 16, 1994, the United States dispatched a delegation that included former president Jimmy Carter to Haiti for talks with the military regime. Facing the threat of a U.S. military invasion, the Cédras regime agreed to turn over power to Aristide. U.S. troops oversaw the political transition, and Cédras left the country for exile in Panama.
Aristide returned to Haiti in October 1994 to serve out the remainder of his presidential term. Upon his return Aristide struggled with the problems of rebellious security forces and the difficulties of economic reform. He abolished the military in January 1995 and transferred its soldiers to an interim police force. Its members and rival militia forces continued to carry out political assassinations and beatings.
Legislative and local elections, held in June and July 1995, gave overwhelming support to Aristide’s Lavalas coalition. However, 23 of the 27 competing parties denounced the elections because of widespread violations of election procedures, and their accusations were backed by international observers. Economic and judicial reform was slow, and in 1995 the U.S. government suspended economic aid because of delays in implementing economic reforms and investigating political killings. The reforms required by the United States included the privatization of state-owned industries and a reduction in government employees.
In December 1995 Aristide’s close friend and handpicked successor, René Préval, was elected president of Haiti. Préval had been Aristide’s prime minister at the time of the 1991 coup. Aristide was constitutionally forbidden to run for a second term until five years had elapsed. Préval selected Rosny Smarth, an agricultural economist, as prime minister. Smarth tried to reduce government spending and privatize state-owned industries, as required by international lending agencies. Teachers, some of whom had not been paid in two years, went on strike to demand their wages, as did hospital interns and other government workers. After several months of violent strikes and protests, Smarth resigned in 1997.
Following Smarth’s resignation, Haiti’s government reached a standstill that lasted into 1999. The legislature refused to approve any candidates Préval nominated for prime minister. In 1999 Préval appointed a new government by decree.
Return and Overthrow of Aristide
In 2000 Aristide was once again elected president of Haiti. The opposition boycotted the election, however, which caused the international community to question the election’s legitimacy. Charges of widespread fraud plagued the results of the parliamentary elections held at the same time, and Aristide’s second term began on shaky ground.
The United States and other foreign governments, aid agencies, and multilateral banks expressed skepticism over the legitimacy of the new Haitian government by suspending millions of dollars of foreign aid. As a result Haiti slipped ever deeper into poverty. Aristide’s political support also began to erode. Even former backers accused him of becoming increasingly autocratic. Human rights groups charged that Aristide supporters were guilty of violent reprisals against opposition groups, charges that Aristide denied.
The political opposition refused to recognize the legitimacy of Aristide’s presidency. It boycotted legislative elections scheduled for late 2003, and as a consequence the elections failed. In January 2004 the previous legislature’s term expired, and the legislature was dissolved. Following that, Aristide ruled a severely divided nation by executive decree.
In February 2004 an uprising against Aristide gathered pace. Rebel groups took control of several Haitian cities before moving on Port-au-Prince, the capital. As the situation rapidly deteriorated, Aristide stepped down. On February 29 he was flown to the Central African Republic under U.S. military escort. Aristide charged that he had been forced out of office in a coup initiated by the United States. U.S. government officials denied that account and said Aristide had resigned. Aristide later took asylum in Jamaica and then South Africa, calling for “peaceful resistance” to what he termed a “U.S. occupation.”
Under the constitution, Haiti’s chief justice of the Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, was sworn in as interim president after Aristide’s departure. The UN Security Council also voted to establish a peacekeeping force in Haiti. Under an international transition plan, a seven-member Council of Sages was set up to advise the president and form a transitional government. In March 2004 the council appointed Gérald Latortue, a former UN official and business consultant, as interim prime minister. Latortue had spent years in exile in Florida during the Duvalier dictatorship.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) called for an investigation of Aristide’s ouster and refused to allow Haiti to participate in CARICOM’s councils. Under the organization’s rules, only democratically elected governments are allowed to participate. The government of Jamaica also rejected a U.S. demand to expel Aristide.
Tropical Storm Jeanne
In September 2004 Haiti was devastated by tropical storm Jeanne. More than 3,000 people were killed, and more than 300,000 were left homeless, mostly in the city of Gonaïves, after torrential rains unleashed mudslides in the largely deforested country.
Return of Préval
In February 2006 Haiti held presidential elections. The two leading candidates were former Haitian presidents Leslie Manigat, who held office for four months in 1988, and René Préval, who was president from 1996 to 2001, in between Aristide’s two terms. As in the previous presidential election, the voting was marred by allegations of fraud and misconduct. Préval eventually emerged as the victor, collecting just more than 51 percent of the vote, although not before election officials threw out about 85,000 blank ballots, an action that negated a potential runoff vote. As president, Préval faces the daunting task of repairing the political, economic, and social foundations of the impoverished country.