Little History Lesson
It seems appropriate to give a little background about this fascinating country we are about to experience. After fighting off slavery, surviving dreadful civil wars, innumerable massacres and extremely oppressive leadership, Haitians are people with a history of great resilience. In 1804, the nation proclaimed itself as the first black republic in the world and has remained independent ever since.
Here is a brief historical timeline from 1492 to today.
December 5, 1492: Columbus discovers Haiti (the island of Hispaniola)
1697: The Spaniards cede the western third of Hispaniola to the French crown at the Treaty of Ryswick. Haiti is now called “Saint Domingue”.
1697-1791: Saint Domingue becomes the richest colony in the world. Its capital, Cap Français, is known as the Paris of the New World. It is also a regime of extraordinary cruelty; the 500,000 slaves taken by the French are flogged, starved, and buried alive for minor offenses.
August 1791: the first major black rebellion takes place, initiated by Boukman, a voodoohoungan. This begins the markings of civil war between the black dominated north and the mulatto dominated south.
1796: Toussaint L’Ouverture, an educated herb doctor and military man, emerges as the leader of the former slaves in the north. He restored order, ended the massacres, and restored some of Saint Domingue’s former prosperity.
1801: Napoleon Bonaparte despatches an army of 34,000 to tru to subdue the slave armies and retake the colony for France; this mission was unsuccessful. The leader of the army Leclerc ultimately had Toussaint L’Ouverture seized and deported to France. He died within a year.
January 1804: Jean Jacques Dessalines proclaimed the independent black Republic of Haiti in the northern half of the island. Dessalines was unpopular with the mulattos and was assassinated in 1806. His death led to civil war again between the south (under General Petion) and the north (under Henry Christophe).
1820: Henry Christophe commits suicide by shooting himself with a silver bullet; he had been a tyrannical ruler, crowning himself “king”, and building a palace and citadel (at Cap Haitien in the north) at great cost to Haitian lives. At his death Haiti was taken over by General Boyer, and civil war ceased. Boyer obtained official Haitian independence from France at the price of 150 million French francs.
1843 to 1915: Haiti sees 22 heads of state, most of whom leave office by violent means. Rivalry continues among the whites, the mulatto elite, and the blacks.
1915: Presdient Guillaume Sam is dismembered and the Americans invade the country. They remain for 19 years. Despite improvements made to the infrastructure by the Americans, the Haitians opposed their presence.
1934: The Americans leave Haiti, which is now prospering once again
1957: François Duvalier, a doctor and union leader, was elected president. Duvalier, also known as ‘Papa Doc’, terrorized the country, rooting out any and all opponents to his administration. He was a practicing vodunist, his loa being Baron Samedi, the guardian of cemeteries and a harbinger of death. He ensured his power through his private militia, the tontons macoutes (which means in kreyol, “uncle boogeyman”).
1964: Duvalier changes the constitution so that he can be elected president for life.
1971: François Duvalier dies and is succeeded by his son Jean Claude, age 19 (also known as ‘Baby Doc’). By this time Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
December 1990: Jean-Bertrand Aristide (a religious priest) is elected in a landslide victory.
December, 1995: René Préval elected in a landslide victory
April 2011: Michel Martelly, wins run-off election against Manigat in a landslide, receiving 68% of the vote.
October 5, 2011: Garry Conille appointed Prime Minister by the Haitian Parliament.
Source – The Caribbean and the Bahamas James Henderson, Cadogan Books, London, 1997