While Haiti dominates global headlines in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake, Haitian-American relations go back several centuries to when slave ships from Africa discharged their human cargo on continents and islands throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Although Haiti is traditionally associated with the African descendents who make up the majority of its population, their arrival was pre-dated by the Taíno Indian tribes who inhabited Cuba, Jamaica, and the rest of the Greater Antilles island group in the West Indies or Caribbean Sea. Along with the Dominican Republic, Haiti occupies the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles. Its initial colonists, the Spaniards spearheaded by Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492, they were attracted to its rich deposits of gold, and used its indigenous people to mine the ore. As the native Caribbeans died from exposure to the many infectious diseases, including small pox, that the Europeans brought in and for which they had not developed immunity, their ranks were replenished by the hardy, newly arrived African slaves who in turn became a majority.
Slave labor boosted gold refinement, and the sugar and tobacco plantations started by French settlers in western Hispaniola. The high profit potential of these farms accelerated both the immigration of French entrepreneurs and hostility between Spain and France until 1697, when the two countries divided the island, with the western third remaining French (and over time a slave colony), while the remaining eastern two thirds becoming the Dominican Republic (Spain). By the 1790s, news of the French Revolution and the overthrow of absolute monarchy inspired the island’s African populace, which already had a tradition of slave uprisings. This led to full scale rebellion, during which several black military commanders emerged, especially Toussaint L’Ouverture, who united the country into a homogeneous force.
L’Ouverture and his forces utilized innovative guerrilla or irregular warfare tactics to overcome their opponents, including lightning quick strikes and retreats, along with the “horse enabler” to neutralize French Cavalry. Although he was captured and died while imprisoned in France, a subordinate, Jean-Jacques Dessalines eventually overcame Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces in 1804, proclaiming the new nation an indigenous Indian name, Haiti.
Around the same time negotiations were underway for the Louisiana Purchase between the U.S. and France. Napoleon’s plot to re-enslave Haiti had failed, he was preoccupied with his arch rival, England, and he wanted to resolve any future conflict with America, since the loss of Haitian sugar proceeds dampened his wish to expand his empire into the New World. Finally, the extension of the territorial United States strengthened her position as a future opponent to the English.
On the buyer’s end, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson had concerns about French intentions in North America, and this acquisition denied them a potential staging area for a possible American invasion. In addition, this possession ensured trade access up and down the Mississippi River, and facilitated commerce to the Eastern Seaboard and Europe, providing room for expansion to homesteaders already in the area.
Instability continued to plague Haiti for the next century, as France secured an indemnity in which the former colony would pay its former slave master 150 million francs in gold as reparations for revenue lost due to their emancipation, which is one reason why Haiti is historically debt ridden. Recent developments had then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide pushing for French reparations to the tune of $21,685,135,571.48 (from the Dec. 18, 2003 Miami Herald).
America occupation starting with the Marines landing in 1915 and lasting two decades, was initiated by President Woodrow Wilson to protect U.S. investments. While Wilson did not belong to the Ku Klux Klan he did support its policies as verified by his screening of the pro-Klan movie “Birth of a Nation” in the White House. In his 1902 History of the American People written while he was a professor at Princeton, he explained that it was formed because “…white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation”.
To ensure debt repayment, 40% of Haiti’s income was reserved towards that end, which also hampered its economic growth. Even after military withdrawal the U.S. continued to sway its economy. Under the presidency of Elie Lescot, Haiti became an Allie in World War II, as Navy blimps became a common sight on its coast as a deterrent against Axis submarines.
1957 through 1986 were dominated by the regime for which Haiti is perhaps best known, the dictatorships of “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who introduced the infamous Tonton Macoutes (named after a bogeyman who stalked wayward children in Haitian mythology) death squads. Despite its abject poverty, Haiti has continued to be a destination for Americans, particularly as a local for sexual tourism, as portrayed in the 2005 film Heading South (“Vers Le Sud”) which depicts the antics of middle aged white women in search of sanky-pankies, young black male sex workers. Periodically, life was punctuated by military interventions such as Operation Uphold Democracy of 1994, when U.S. troops deployed in response to a coup d’etat (governmental overthrow), and a second coup 2004 resulting in the United Nations peacekeeping mission that remained in place as the recent transpired. These among other issues may have prompted the migration of as many as 55,000 “boat people” into Florida during the 1980s. Their reception contrasted to the (comparatively) warm embrace of Cuban refugees escaping Fidel Castro’s rule has itself become controversial, as the Haitians were generally incarcerated if not instantly returned to Haiti.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, this issue is emerging again as the question of accommodating hundreds of thousands, if not more potential refugees after the initial problems of recovery, medical attention, and evacuation are addressed. The resettlement of such large numbers of people will be a major undertaking in itself, rivaling or surpassing similar historic events such as the Vietnamese Boat migration in which over 800,000 migrated to the U.S. alone.
The following is a structured timeline of notable events in Haitian history:
1492 – Christopher Columbus navigates to an island in the Caribbean and it is christened Hispaniola, or Little Spain
1496 – Spanish establish the first European settlement in the western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, now known as the capital of the Dominican Republic.
1697 – The Spanish government gives the western part of Hispaniola to France, and this becomes Haiti, or Land of Mountains.
1801 – A brilliant and courageous black slave creates hit and run strategy known as guerrilla warfare. This leader, Toussaint Louverture, conquers Haiti, abolishing slavery and elects himself governor-general of an autonomous government over all Hispaniola.
1802 – French garrison led by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, is unable to conquer the Haitian interior.
1804 – Haitians overthrow the French; former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines and declares himself emperor.
1806 – Dessalines is murdered, and Haiti is divided into a black-controlled north and a mulatto-ruled south
1818-43 – Pierre Boyer unites the black controlled north and the mulatto-ruled south, however blacks are excluded from power.
United States Involvement
1913 – Woodrow Wilson elected 28th President of the United States
1915 – United States under President Wilson invades Haiti following black and mulatto fighting ; the U.S. may have also been concerned about the government of Germany getting involved in internal affairs of Haiti (German community in Haiti controlled 80 percent of the country’s international commerce).President Woodrow Wilson claims the U.S. military is there to protect U.S. Investments
1915-1921 – Woodrow Wilson’s administration is openly hostile towards African Americans and his international policy involving blacks is worse. The country of Haiti was again, a land of servitude.
1934 – The United States armed forces leave Haiti, the United States continues to control and influence finances and government until 1947. All decisions from Washington D.C. only benefit the U.S.
United States backed Duvalier dictatorships
1956 – Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier (Voodoo Physician) seizes power in military coup and is elected president a year later. His government is embraced by the United States as an anti-communist country and friendly allies of the free world.
1964 – Duvalier establishes a dictatorship with the help of the Tontons Macoute militia.The new dictator declares himself President for life.
1971 – Jean-Claude(19 years old), or “Baby Doc”, who declares himself president-for-life, this declaration takes place after the death of his Dad “Papa Doc”;
1985 – Aids Epidemic
1986 – Baby Doc fearing for his life flees Haiti in the wake of mounting popular discontent and is replaced by Lieutenant-General Henri Namphy as leader of a new governing council.
1988 – Leslie Manigat becomes president, but is ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Prosper Avril, who installs a civilian government under military control.
Haiti’s attempt towards Democracy
1990 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide is the first democratically elected president of Haiti
1991 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide is ousted in a coup master minded by Brigadier-General Raoul Cedras, this action resulted in sanctions by the United States government and the Organization of American States.
1993 – United Nation sanctions are mandated after the military coup organizers reject proposals allowing exiled Presidents Aristide’s return.
1994 – Facing an imminent United States amphibious invasion; the military regime currently in charge relinquishes power. US forces facilitate a transition to a democratic civilian government; President Aristide returns.
1995 – A contingent of United Nation peacekeepers begins a transformation to replace US troops; Aristide supporters win parliamentary elections; Rene Prevail elected in December to replace Aristide as president.
1996 – Rene Garcia Preval is sworn in as the new President of the Haiti.
1997-99 – A parliament dominated by opposition party members (OPL) and the Fanmi Lavalas Party create a serious political deadlock; to circumvent the situation a new government is named.
1999 – Preval declares that parliament’s term has expired and begins ruling by decree following a series of disagreements with deputies.
President Aristide returns
2000 November – President Aristide is re-elected president for a second non-consecutive term, however allegations of irregularities run rapid through out the island of Haiti.
2001 July – Presidential spokesman accuses former army officers of trying to overthrow the government after armed men attack three locations, killing four police officers.
2001 December – 30 armed men try to seize the National Palace in an apparent coup attempt; 12 people are killed in the raid, which the government blames on former army members.
2002 July – Haiti is approved as a full member of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc.
2003 April – Voodoo recognized as a religion, on a par with other faiths.
2004 January-February – Celebrations marking 200 years of independence are marred by violent uprising against President Aristide. Rebels seize towns and cities; dozens are killed. Mr Aristide is forced into exile; an interim government takes over.
2004 May – Severe floods in south, and in parts of neighboring Dominican Republic, leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared.
2004 June – First UN peacekeepers arrive, to take over security duties from US-led force and to help flood survivors.
2004 July – International donors pledge more than $1bn in aid.
2004 September – Nearly 3,000 killed in flooding in the north, in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne.
late 2004 – Rising levels of deadly political and gang violence in the capital; armed gangs loyal to former President Aristide are said to be responsible for many killings.
2005 April – Prominent rebel leader Ravix Remissainthe is killed by police in the capital.
2005 July – Hurricane Dennis kills at least 45 people.
Preval wins elections
2006 February – General elections, the first since former President Aristide was overthrown in 2004. Rene Preval is declared the winner of the presidential vote after a deal is reached over spoiled ballot papers.
2006 June – A democratically-elected government headed by Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis takes office.
2006 September – Launch of a UN-run scheme to disarm gang members in return for grants, job training.
2006 October – US partially lifts an arms embargo, imposed in 1991.
2007 January – UN troops launch tough new offensive against armed gangs in Cite Soleil, one of the capital’s largest and most violent shantytowns.
2008 April – Food riots. Government announces emergency plan to cut price of rice in bid to halt unrest. Parliament dismisses Prime Minister Alexis.
2008 May – US and World Bank announce extra food aid totaling 30m dollars.
In response to plea from President Preval for more police to help combat wave of kidnappings-for-ransom, Brazil agrees to boost its peacekeeping force.
2008 August/September – Shifting weather systems and global warming have caused a series of devastating storms and hurricanes over the Caribbean. Nearly 800 people are killed and hundreds are injured.
2008 September – Michele Pierre-Louis succeeds Jacques-Edouard Alexis as prime minister.
2008 November – A collapsed school building traps an estimated 500 pupils and staff Haiti governments substandard building methods are thought to have caused the disaster.
2009 May – Former United States President Bill Clinton appointed United Nations special envoy to Haiti
2009 July – After judging Haiti to have fulfilled economic reform and poverty reduction conditions. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cancels $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt which amounts to 80% of the total amount owed.
2009 October-November – Jean-Max Bellerive is elected prime minister, this election is a direct result of the Senate passing a censure motion against his predecessor, Michelle Pierre-Louis.
2010 January – Haiti is hit by magnitude 7.0 earthquakes and it devastates the capital Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions – the worst earthquake in Haiti since 1810; the destruction sparks widespread violence and looting, tens of thousands of people are killed.