History of Haiti
Major Events Ordered by Date:
Columbus lands and claims the island of Hispaniola for Spain. The Spanish
build the New World's first settlement at La Navidad on Haiti's north coast.
Spanish control over the colony ends with the Treaty of Ryswick, which
divided the island into French-controlled St. Domingue and Spanish Santo
For over 100 years the colony of St. Domingue (known as the Pearl of the
Antilles) was France's most important overseas territory, which supplied
it with sugar, rum, coffee and cotton. At the height of slavery, near
the end of the 18th century, some 500,000 people mainly of western African
origin, were enslaved by the French.
A slave rebellion is launched by the Jamaican-born Boukman leading to
a protracted 13-year war of liberation against St. Domingue's colonists
and later, Napoleon's army which was also assisted by Spanish and British
forces. The slave armies were commanded by General Toussaint Louverture
who was eventually betrayed by his officers Jean-Jacques Dessalines and
Henri Christophe who opposed his policies, which included reconciliation
with the French. He was subsequently exiled to France where he died.
The Haitian blue and red flag is devised at Arcahie, by taking the French
tricolor, turning it in its side and removing the white band. The Battle
of Vertières marks the ultimate victory of the former slaves over
The hemispere's second Republic is declared on January 1, 1804 by General
Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Haiti, or Ayiti in Creole, is the name given
to the land by the former Taino-Arawak peoples, meaning "mountainous
Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines is assassinated.
Civil war racks the country, which divides into the northern kingdom of
Henri Christophe and the southern republic governed by Alexandre Pétion.
Faced with a rebellion by his own army, Christophe commits suicide, paving
the way for Jean-Pierre Boyer to reunify the country and become President
of the entire republic in 1820.
President Boyer invades Santo Domingo following its declaration of independence
from Spain. The entire island is now controlled by Haiti until 1844.
France recognizes Haitian independence in exchange for a financial indemnity
of 150 million francs. Most nations including the United States shunned
Haiti for almost forty years, fearful that its example could stir unrest
there and in other slaveholding countries. Over the next few decades Haiti
is forced to take out loans of 70 million francs to repay the indemnity
and gain international recognition.
The United States finally grants Haiti diplomatic recognition sending
Frederick Douglass as its Consular Minister.
President Woodrow Wilson orders the U.S. Marines to occupy Haiti and establish
control over customs-houses and port authorities. The Haitian National
Guard is created by the occupying Americans. The Marines force peasants
into corvée labor building roads. Peasant resistance to the occupiers
grows under the leadership of Charlemagne Peralt, who is betrayed and
assassinated by Marines in 1919.
The U.S. withdraws from Haiti leaving the Haitian Armed Forces in place
throughout the country.
Thousands of Haitians living near the border of the Dominican Republic
are massacred by Dominican soldiers under the orders of President General
After several attempts to move forward democratically ultimately fail,
military-controlled elections lead to victory for Dr. François
Duvalier, who in 1964 declares himself President-for-Life and forms the
infamous paramilitary Tonton Macoute. The corrupt Duvalier dictatorship
marks one of the saddest chapters in Haitian history with tens of thousands
killed or exiled.
"Papa-Doc" Duvalier dies in office after naming his 19 year-old
son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) as his successor. Baby Doc proves more ruthless
than his father.
The first Haitian "boat people" fleeing the country land in
Widespread protests against repression of the nation's press take place.
"Baby-Doc" Duvalier exploits international assistance and seeks
to attract investment leading to the establishment of textile-based assembly
industries. Attempts by workers and political parties to organize are
quickly and regularly crushed.
Hundreds of human rights workers, journalists and lawyers are arrested
and exiled from the country.
International aid agencies declare Haitian pigs to be carriers of African
Swine Fever and institute a program for their slaughter. Attempts to replace
indigenous swine with imported breeds largely fail, causing wider spread
hunger and despair.
Pope John Paul II visits Haiti and declares publicly that, "Things
must change here."
Over 200 peasants are massacred at Jean-Rabeau after demonstrating for
access to land. The Haitian Bishops' Conference launches a nation-wide
(but short-lived) literacy program. Anti-government riots take place in
all major towns.
Massive anti-Government demonstrations continue to take place around the
country. Four schoolchildren are shot dead by soldiers, an event which
unifies popular protest against the régime.
Widespread protests against "Baby Doc" lead the U.S. to arrange
for Duvalier and his family to be exiled to France. Army leader General
Henri Namphy heads a new National Governing Council.
A new Constitution is overwhelmingly approved by the population in March.
General elections in November are aborted hours after they begin with
dozens of people shot by soldiers and the Tonton Macoute in the capital
and scores more around the country.
Military controlled elections - widely abstained from - result in the
installation of Leslie Manigat as President in January. Manigat is ousted
by General Namphy four months later and in November General Prosper Avril
President Avril, on a trade mission to Taiwan, returns empty-handed after
grassroots-based democratic sectors inform Taiwanese authorities that
the Haitian nation will not be responsible for any contracts agreed to
by Avril. Avril orders massive repression against political parties, unions,
students and democratic organizations.
Avril declares a state of siege in January. Rising protests and urging
from the American Ambassador convince Avril to resign.
In a campaign marred by occasional violence and death, democratic elections
finally take place on December 16, 1990. Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide a parish priest, well known throughout
the country for his support of the poor, is elected President with 67.5%
of the popular vote.
President Aristide is inaugurated on February 7th, five years after Duvalier's
fall from power. A Government is formed by Prime Minister René
Préval promising to uproot the corruption of the past. In September President Aristide addresses the UN General Assembly. Three
days after his return military personnel unleash a coup d'état, ousting
President Aristide. Over 1,000 people are killed in the first days of
The OAS calls for a hemisphere-wide embargo against the coup régime
in support of the deposed constitutional authorities.
Negotiations between the Washington, D.C. based exiled Government, Haiti's Parliament and representatives of the coup régime headed by General Raoul Cédras lead to the Washington Protocol, which is ultimately scuttled by the coup régime. U.S. President George Bush exempts U.S. factories from the embargo and orders U.S. Coast Guard to interdict all Haitians leaving the island in boats and to return them to Haiti. The OAS embargo fails as goods continue to be smuggled through neighboring Dominican Republic.
In July, President Aristide and General Raoul Cédras sign the Governors Island Accord, which inter alia called for the early retirement of Gen. Cédras, the formation and training of a new civilian police force, and the return of the President on October 30, 1993. General Cédras refuses to step down as promised. President Aristide's Justice Minister Guy Malary, responsible for the formation of a civilian police force is shot dead in Port-au-Prince weeks after local businessman and Aristide supporter Antoine Izmery is executed outside of a local church. The UN calls for "strict implementation" of the embargo against the de facto authorities. The Civilian Mission's human rights observers are allowed to return in small numbers.
In May additional sanctions were levied against the régime through a naval blockade supported by Argentine, Canadian, French, Dutch and U.S. warships. Tensions increase as human rights violations continue. On September 15th, U.S. President Clinton declares that all diplomatic initiatives were exhausted and that the US with 20 other countries would form a multinational force. On September 19th these troops land in Haiti after the coup leaders agree to step down and leave the country. On October 15th, President Aristide and his Government-in-exile return to Haiti.
In June Haiti hosts the annual OAS General Assembly at Montrouis. Legislative elections take place that month and in December the presidential contest is won by former Prime Minister René Préval. (President Aristide is precluded by the Constitution from succeeding himself). In November Prime Minister Smarck Michel steps down and Foreign Minister Claudette Werleigh becomes President Aristide's fourth Prime Minister.
President Préval is inaugurated in February. A Government is formed under Prime Minister Rosny Smarth.
Municipal and legislative elections end in disarray because of a flawed vote count, alleged irregularities and fraud charges. The controversy triggers a boycott of the presidential elections later that year, won by Aristide.
The crisis sparked by the allegedly fraudulent election deepens amid a failure of international mediation efforts, a foundering economy and growing political violence. A few weeks after the nation celebrates its 200th anniversary in January, a rebel movement seizes control of a number of towns in an uprising that leads to the resignation of Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004.
Click here for a List of Haitian Presidents