Port au Prince


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Dominican Republic






Spanish Empire








Haiti is one of the saddest cases in the Caribbean area. It was the world's first independent post-colonial Black state, occupying the western part of the island of Hispaniola (Spanish Island).

The name derives from the original inhabitants' name for the island - Ayiti. But the Taino Indians had mostly died by the end of the 16th century. As St. Domingue it was a French colony from 1664 under the French West India Company after French pirates had begun to occupy the abandoned Spanish colony in the western part of the island. Spain had killed the Indians (by enslaving them and disease) but couldn't settle the western part of Hispaniola because of disease and climate.

The French made of Haiti (or St Domingue) a profitable sugar and coffee colony worked by African slaves mostly from modern Benin and Nigeria (Yorubas).

An uprising of slaves fought against their French masters in 1791 encouraged by the French revolutionaries and led by the "Mulattos" = semi-free or freed slaves often of mixed ancestry. The leader was Toussaint l'Ouverture who was born a slave. He controlled the whole island by 1798. The revolutionaries in France in 1793 proclaimed the abolition of the slave trade and in 1794 of slavery itself as part of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. When he came to power, reversing the revolution, Napoleon didn't agree and Toussaint was captured by French forces through treachery when Napoleon tried to re-establish both French authority on the island and slavery. Toussaint died in a French prison in 1804. But the French failed to regain control. In 1803 Napoleon's army occupied the island but lost Haiti again due to disease (yellow fever) and a British naval force.

The agreement on Independence required the new republic to pay a huge compensation to France, in gold francs - at first 150 million gold francs, reduced to 75 million in 1830. As the economy had been destroyed in the revolutionary wars, there was no possibility of paying this "compensation". In fact France demanded payment until 1947. This was the origin of the huge unpayable debts the republic acquired.

The black population was left in control but with few educated people. Since then there has been a series of regimes which have failed to establish a regular political culture.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, one of Toussaint's generals, proclaimed the independence of Haiti in 1804 and himself as emperor - imitating Napoleon - but he was killed in 1806. There was a long period of extreme political instability which has not ended. During the 19th century there was another Empire, and many military regimes.

As a state of revolted slaves the new nation was boycotted by its neighbors, all of whom (especially the United States) continued to have slaves. This may be another cause of the failure to develop both economically and politically. Its neighbors actively wanted the Haitians not to succeed, from explicitly racist motives. Even after the United States and Spain abolished slavery, racism continued in the nearest parts of the US.

US Occupation
US marines intervened in 1915 after very frequent revolutions and revolts. An important motive may have been fear that Germany would use it as a base during the first world war. It was an informal US colony until 1934 but suffered the disadvantages of having no trustworthy administration, that is, the US did not establish an overt colonial regime which might have established a political culture. They did however create an army which seized power - as the instrument of the owners.

During the 20th century the most recent regime was that of Francois Duvalier, a medical doctor (Papa Doc), who established a regime of dictatorship (President for Life). He ruled from his election by plebiscite (no opponent) in 1957 until his death in 1971. He passed the regime on to his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) who was deposed in 1986. They ruled with the use of sinister secret police known as Ton Tons Macoutes (Uncle bogey men) and made use of the African religion of the island, Voodoo, to make the illiterate peasants believe he was the incarnation of one of their principle gods.

A revolution against this corrupt and stagnating regime in 1986 drove out Jean-Claude Duvalier but elections were canceled in 1987 and instead there were a series of military regimes. Attempts to hold elections were frustrated by the Macoutes and other military. The brutality of the Macoutes (now called attachés) continues. Presumably only massive investment from outside in education and development could break the cycle begun when the French killed Toussaint l'Ouverture, the charismatic leader. Elections were held in December 1990.

Most of the leaders since independence have come from the lighter skinned group. As in Brazil: the blacker, the poorer. Duvalier tried to drive them out of the island, but with them went most of the educated people.

AIDS came to Haiti early, probably with sex tourists from America.

There is said to be 90% illiteracy.

Father Jean Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest and campaigner for human rights, was elected president in December 1990 by a huge majority in an honest election, perhaps the first in the history of the state. He was overthrown by a military coup in September 1991. The international community in the form of the Organization of American States and the UN did nothing other than economic sanctions which increased poverty.

By February 1992 there were reports that the military regime was even more brutal than that of the Duvaliers. Haiti is a good example of the problems of the regime of National Sovereignty. How can outsiders help the Haitians gain relief from the nastiness of their rulers? Many Haitians tried to escape in small boats. Mostly they were taken to internment camps at Guantanamo (US base on Cuba) and then returned to Haiti, where some were killed by the various "security" forces. There is no good news from Haiti.

President Clinton in his election campaign promised to pay attention to human rights rather than short term national interest. By October 1993 the UN had gained an agreement that Aristide could return by 30 October.

They only landed on 20 September 1994 after a dubious agreement with the military government. A sort of civilian regime was restored.

Aristide was elected again but the government is very weak as the island dissolves into the modern equivalent of feudalism - each area controlled by a local gang. The outlook continues bad.

What will be the effect of the 2010 earthquake which destroyed the capital, and some of the surrounding district, but not the rest of the country?


Patois (Afro-French pidgin)


Yoruba, Fon etc. (African ritual languages used only in ceremonies)







For much of its history politics was a struggle among the Mulattos - the mixed race people - to maintain control over the illiterate mass of people. The Duvalier regime claimed to rule in the name of the Black majority and drove out most of the Mulattos who were the best educated group. But the Duvaliers did not educate the majority so that the economy stagnated.

Since the ousting of the Duvaliers politics has not really existed. The government has been controlled, in so far as there was a government, by a small number of army officers and secret policemen whose main desire is to steal the nation's revenues and indulge in the drug trade. As in so many of the Central American and Caribbean states the military have been clients of the CIA.

Earlier elections were disrupted by massacres at polling stations believed to have been conducted by former Tontons Macoutes (secret police), now usually called attachés.

The people are mostly illiterate. Until there is more education it is hard to see how genuine democracy can function.

In the elections of December 1990 Jean Bertrand Aristide, a radical former Catholic priest with a mass following, was elected president. The hope was that if he could have avoided accusations of communism and the hostility of the United States and could find the money for education things might have changed. But he was overthrown on 30 September 1991, probably by the drug traffickers.

The question of non-interference in internal affairs arises - the doctrine of sovereignty. An agreement by the UN to restore him by 30 October 1993 was resisted by the military under General Cedras, responsible for numerous massacres and acts of terror. A blockade was imposed, especially of oil imports. His restoration was scheduled to last only for nine months till his five year term ended (why not declare the military period void and start the clock running from his ouster? Ah, but he couldn't succeed himself and he was unpopular with the US government.) Parliamentary Elections took place in June 1995. A successor in his own party was elected.

He himself was re-elected in January 2001 in an election criticised for irregularities. Was he a dictator? Probably not, at least not by the time he was removed.. But he was not very effective in promoting change and development - possibly because he got no support from such institutions as the IMF.

By 2003 and 2004 he was increasingly seen as yet another dictator - though the reality may be that as there is no real state to rule, a ruler has no instruments to conduct a democratic rule. In January 2004 mobs calling for his deposition were to be found in the streets of the capital. Who paid them? Who would replace him? Aristide fled on 29 February 2004, initially to the Central African Republic later to Jamaica and Venezuela. He claims he was made to leave by US forces, against his will. Will he and his supporters try to regain power?

He was replaced by Réné Preval, a former ally.

Possibly the United Nations provides what should be recognised as limited government services. It and various non-government organisations (NGOs) provide health and education.

After several disputed elections a rap singer was declared the presidential winner in April 2011.

Interesting reading

Grahame Greene - The Comedians
(still an essential text)

DVD - the Comedians 1967







The poorest country in the Americas. US aid has been mostly to the military (they were not Communists, so were OK during the Cold War). Some very low wage assembly factories have been set up. Subsistence agriculture could only be viable if better methods could be used.

Important center of Cocaine trafficking.

US blockade choked off what activity there was in an attempt to force the ruling elite to allow the elected president to return. (But they didn't suffer). But the sanctions were not lifted even when Aristide was re-elected.

Probably what Haiti needs is a period of collectivisation, as in Cuba, to provide discipline and a government concerned with people’s welfare. "Capitalism Now" doesn't seem a sensible policy until there is a cadre of skilled workers and civic sense - what is lacking is Ibn Khaldun's "Group Feeling".







Large areas of the formerly forested island have been reduced to eroded desert by the cutting of the forest for charcoal and cultivation. This overcrowded island cannot support the people with the techniques they use at present. But the political chaos and corruption makes education in better methods difficult.

Much of the former fertility of the soil has been eroded away. A large scale reforestation scheme is necessary using the methods of Vietnam and Burkina Faso, though even these might be ineffectual as the underlying rocks have been exposed. This would also provide employment and might be the best method of creating a viable economy and greater stability. Population growth continues to be high, increasing the pressure on what land remains. Emigration, mostly illegal, to France and the United States remains a necessity.

AIDS seems to have been introduced by sex tourists from the US.

The Coasts might be suitable sites for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plants to produce non-carbon emitting energy, fresh water and mitigation of Hurricanes. These could supply electricity, fresh water and cooling facilities, with employment in such enterprises as fish farms. A payment for climate mitigation and carbon credits would help to finance them.

An earthquake of scale 7 demolished Port au Prince 12 January 2010. This is said to have been the worst earthquake for 200 years, that is since Independence. Most of the buildings, including the Cathedral and the Presidential palace, proved to have had no earthquake resistance. 200,000 are believed to have died.

The destruction is so bad that it may well be necessary to move the capital to another site and build it properly with modern earthquake resistant buildings.






Human Rights

None, as a modern state cannot be said to exist.

Climate effects

As the Caribbean warms, hurricanes become more frequent and more intense.

This was illustrated by a succession of 4 hurricanes in 30 days in 2008.

Last revised 11/04/11



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