Haiti is the western third of the island of Hispaniola, bordering the Dominican Republic on the east. It is separated by the Windward Passage (a 50-mile wide corridor) from Cuba.


Size: 27,750 square miles Compare this to Minnesota, which has 86,943 square miles.

Population: (CIA/World Factbook 2016 estimate) about 10,110,000 people; Density: 364 persons per square mile (terrain is 70% mountainous). Minnesota’s population (2014 estimate) is 5,457,000 for a density of 63 per square mile.

Ethnic composition: About 94% are of African origin with the rest being of African-European or another origin.

Languages: French and Creole are the official languages. Creole is a language with West African grammatical structures but with a 90% French vocabulary. The spelling of Creole is phonetically based on English and not a written language until after World War II. A Protestant missionary created this system and officially adopted in 1961. While everyone speaks Creole every day, only a few people actually speak French to one another - in the government and at most universities. While French is an "official" language, is taught in schools, and all government documents are in French, it has limited use otherwise. Economic condition: In Haiti, the average annual per capita income is about $350. About 37% of the population lives in urban areas, and their income averages $409 per year. Of those living in rural areas, 80% live in dire poverty. Minnesota’s median household income in 2014 was $58,476. The median black household income in MN is $27,000.

Economic condition: In Haiti, the average annual per capita income is about $350. About 37% of the population lives in urban areas, and their income averages $409 per year. Of those living in rural areas, 80% live in dire poverty. Minnesota’s median household income in 2014 was $58,476. The median black household income in MN is $27,000.

Health: Life expectancy in Haiti is 63.4 years. In the USA, the life expectancy for a black person is 76 years, and for a white person, it is 79 years. In Haiti the infant mortality rate is 48 deaths/1,000 live births; in the US it is 6 deaths/1,000 live births.

Haiti has 1 doctor for 4,000 people. In the USA this ratio is 9.2 per 4,000 people.

Haitians consume on average 1,977 calories per day, 87% of the minimum requirement. In the USA the average is 3,318 calories or 132% of the minimum requirement.

Education: In Haiti, the literacy rate is 60.7%. In the USA, it is 99%. In the USA, .9% of the population have only primary education, whereas, in Haiti, only 8.6% of the population has a secondary education. About 62% of the primary aged youth attend primary school and about 18% attend secondary school; 90% of schools are private.

1492 and 16th Century Columbus discovered the island on his first voyage to the New World and named it Hispaniola. There were 5 major native tribes on the island at that time, with as many as 200,000 – 400,000 people living there. Spaniards settled mostly the eastern end of the island and within the next 40 years, the entire native Arawak population, who called the island Aayti, meaning “mountainous country”, died of European diseases against which they had no immunity, or were killed, enslaved or fled.

17th Century French pirates often raided the western end of the island, so Spain eventually withdrew their defense as it was too expensive/difficult. French entrepreneurs began plantations and founded Port de Paix in the northwest in 1664 and also Cap Francois, now known as Cap Haitien. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France as part of the Treaty of Ryswick and the colony was named Saint-Dominque.

18th Century The French colony became the most prosperous in the New World due to slave labor on the coffee, cotton, indigo, cocoa and sugar plantations. The treatment of the slaves, who came from 10 or more different tribes in Africa, was extremely abusive, and the death rate was high. 20,000 slaves had to be imported annually just to maintain the workforce. Only a minority of slaves were born on the island.

In 1789, the French Revolution began and the ideas of the Rights of Man spread throughout the population on the island. The population of St. Dominique was about 523,000 and consisted of 456,000 slaves. Among the rest were very rich white, often absentee, landowners (grands blancs), who sided with the opposition to the revolutionaries, and a poor white artisan class (petits blancs), who embraced the ideas of the French Revolution. There was also a wealthy mulatto class and a small number of free blacks, who had no political rights.

19th Century Inspired by the Revolution, an uprising took place starting in 1791. In 1794, slavery was abolished and in May 1801, the leader of the rebellion, Toussaint Louverture, was made governor-general. Toussaint Louverture was a former slave, the George Washington of Haiti, and his name translates “all saints or souls” and “the opening”. The colony was on its way to independence. But the French under Napoleon went back on their word, sent a military force, arrested Louverture and imprisoned him in France, where he died. Napoleon also reestablished slavery. Upon hearing this, another rebellion under two leaders started in 1802, and the rebel forces defeated French forces in November 1803, led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. On January 1, 1804, the independent state of Haiti was declared, the first black republic and the second free republic (after the USA) established in the “New World” (western hemisphere).

The first one (Dessalines – who was assassinated in 1806) and then another of the leaders declared themselves emperor. The second, Henry Christophe, built a spectacular palace and an imposing fort, the Citadelle, on a high mountain south of Cap-Haitien. Many forts were built in order to defend the nation from the expected re-invasion of the French forces. Civil war broke out between blacks under Christophe in the north and mulattos under Petion in the south. Boyer succeeded Petion and became president of the whole country after Christophe’s suicide in 1820, until 1843. Petion invaded the Spanish part of the island, and Haiti held it until 1844. France recognized Haiti in 1825 and abolished slavery in its colonies for a second time in 1848. The U. S. recognized Haiti in 1862 after the secession of the Southern slave states. Between 1843 and 1915 there were 20 rulers with many revolutions and assassinations in Haiti. In the 1890s, the U. S. gained military and commercial privileges in Haiti.

20th Century By 1905, the U. S. had gained a secure financial foothold and valuable concessions in Haiti. U. S. Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The occupation was resented by many who felt it was to protect U. S. investments. The construction of public works, such as health clinics, sewage treatment, and roads did not satisfy the people. Forced labor was used to build roads which caused a revolt, suppressed by the Marines. A national assembly was elected in 1930, the first since 1918, and it chose Vincent as president. President Roosevelt withdrew the Marines but U. S. fiscal control continued through 1947, and the occupation left the mulatto elites in control. Vincent was elected directly in1935. He was succeeded in 1941 and in 1946, strikes by students and workers caused military officers to take control. Several presidents tried to extend their terms and military take-overs forced them out until 1956.

The Duvalier Regime 1957-1986 In 1956, Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc), a black physician formerly employed in a U.S. medical aide scheme, was elected promising to take economic and political power away from the elites and give in to the black majority. Duvalier overthrew attempts to oust him with a group of violent adherents, the private presidential police force called the Tontons Macoutes, who terrorized any opposition. He did succeed in getting himself “elected” president for life, in fact establishing himself as a dictator and choosing his successor, his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) in 1971. All political opposition was banned, but finally, in 1986, demonstrations organized by the Catholic Church and other churches forced Duvalier out. He and his family went into exile in France.

Post-Duvalier Governments A five-member council headed by General Namphy took over. Much chaos followed with violence and coups as Duvalierists tried to regain power, but the country was in de facto military control.

Finally, with pressure from the U.S., the third attempt at elections succeeded. In 1990, Jean-Baptist Aristide, a popular Catholic priest who had led protests, was elected by 67% of the vote. But in September 1991, the government was overthrown in a violent military coup. With the interventions of foreign ambassadors, Aristide was allowed to go into exile in the U. S. Some say Aristide’s policies posed little threat to the established social order and that he was overthrown because he insisted that the rich pay taxes and the military end its drug trafficking.

Others say he was instigating people to steal and take whatever they wanted from the rich and that they defended themselves by instigating his overthrow. Under (the first) President George Bush, the U.S. imposed a trade embargo to “punish” the coup leaders in 1991 and pressured other countries to honor the embargo, which devastated the fragile Haitian economy, hurting the poorest people the most. Mixed U. S. foreign policy attitudes toward Aristide during his exile make interesting reading, but finally, the Clinton administration acted decisively to restore the democratically elected government by holding the military to its agreement to step down and by sending troops under a U. N. Security Council resolution to prevent any coups. The embargo was then ended. Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994 and the presidency was passed peacefully upon the election of his hand-picked successor Rene Preval in 1996. Their constitution prevents a president from serving two terms in a row.

The situation looked promising for Haiti but the conditions there improved little. In fact, many say that the conditions in Haiti are worse now than they were under Baby Doc Duvalier. Under Preval, the Senate failed to approve his choice for prime minister by one vote, causing him to dissolve parliament. The U.N. withdrew aid and another foreign aid was frozen.

In 2000, the Lavalas Party of Aristide won a majority of parliament seats but the election was questioned as not fair by both international parties and the electoral council. The opposition parties and the Lavalas were at a stalemate and never resolved the election issues. The parliament was suspended. In November 2000, Aristide was returned to the presidency by 92% of the vote. In 2001, there was an attempted coup on the presidential palace. Some say it was staged by Aristide supporters so that the government could crack down on opposition. Much foreign aid was lost.

In 2003, political protests and unrest broke out in Port-au-Prince, with students, in particular, demonstrating that the Aristide government was doing nothing at all for the country. Pro-Aristide gangs countered, and some protesters, professors, and gang members were killed. In December 2003, the universities were shut down due to unsafe conditions.

Unrest continued in 2004, particularly in the city of Gonaives, where a group of rebels took over the town, and the rebellion spread to other cities. This eventually led to a march towards Port-au-Prince where it appeared a bloody street battle was about to occur. President Aristide then left the country and an interim government was appointed by a council of elders. United Nations troops were requested and still occupy Haiti to try and keep relative peace.

In the meantime, a strong rainfall from hurricane Jeanne in September of 2004 caused massive flooding in Gonaives, the third-largest city in Haiti with over 80,000 people, causing destruction of 75% of the homes and an estimated 2,000 deaths. It has been a humanitarian disaster in this poor country where getting the basics of life: water, food, clothing, and shelter, is always a daily struggle even before this disaster struck.

In February 2006, Haiti held its first presidential election in 6 years. Rene Preval, previously president from 1995 – 2000, was elected among 35+ candidates. A new parliament was elected as well and the new government began in earnest in May 2006.

Preval was in the last year of his presidency when the devastating earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing an estimated 300,000 people, destroying many buildings, including the parliament and Presidential palace. As of 2016, there are still some tent cities where people live who had to abandon their homes due to the earthquake.

In 2011, musician Michel Martelly was elected President after a controversial election. He served his term until it expired in February of 2016. The election for his replacement was nullified after much controversy about the fairness of the election. The new election for president and some other elected officials will take place on Oct. 9, 2016. As the winner must win by 50%+1 of the votes, there is usually a run-off election, and that is scheduled to take place on January 8, 2017. In the meantime, the government stagnates.

Spanish Discovery and Colonization

Spanish Discovery and Colonization

The island of Hispaniola (La Isla Española), which today is occupied by the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was one of several landfalls Christopher Columbus made during his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Columbus established a makeshift settlement on the north coast, which he dubbed Navidad (Christmas), after his flagship, the Santa María, struck a coral reef and foundered near the site of present-day Cap Haïtien. The Taino Indian (or Arawak) inhabitants referred to their homeland by many names, but they most commonly used Ayiti, or Hayti (mountainous). Initially hospitable toward the Spaniards, these natives responded violently to the newcomers’ intolerance and abuse.

When Columbus returned to Hispaniola on his second voyage in 1493, he found that Navidad had been razed and its inhabitants, slain. But the Old World’s interest in expansion and its drive to spread Roman Catholicism were not easily deterred; Columbus established a second settlement, Isabela, farther to the east.

Hispaniola, or Santo Domingo, as it became known under Spanish dominion, became the first outpost of the Spanish Empire. The initial expectations of plentiful and easily accessible gold reserves proved unfounded, but the island still became important as a seat of colonial administration, a starting point for conquests of other lands, and a laboratory to develop policies for governing new possessions. It was in Santo Domingo that the Spanish crown introduced the system of repartimiento, whereby peninsulares (Spanish-born persons residing in the New World) received large grants of land and the right to compel labor from the Indians who inhabited that land.

Governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando

Governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando

Columbus, Santo Domingo’s first administrator, and his brother Bartolomé Columbus fell out of favor with the majority of the colony’s settlers, as a result of jealousy and avarice, and then also with the crown because of their failure to maintain order. In 1500 a royal investigator ordered both to be imprisoned briefly in a Spanish prison. The colony’s new governor, Nicolás de Ovando, laid the groundwork for the island’s development.

During his tenure, the repartimiento system gave way to the encomienda system under which all land was considered the property of the crown. The system also granted stewardship of tracts to encomenderos, who were entitled to employ (or, in practice, to enslave) Indian labor.

The Taino Indians

The Taino Indian population of Santo Domingo fared poorly under colonial rule. The exact size of the island’s indigenous population in 1492 has never been determined, but observers at the time produced estimates that ranged from several thousand to several million. An estimate of 3 million, which is almost certainly an exaggeration, has been attributed to Bishop Bartolomé de Las Casas.

Forced labor, abuse, diseases and the growth of the mestizo (mixed European and Indian) population all contributed to the elimination of the Taino indians.

Forced labor, abuse, diseases and the growth of the mestizo (mixed European and Indian) population all contributed to the elimination of the Taino Indians.

According to all accounts, however, there were hundreds of thousands of indigenous people on the island. By 1550 only 150 Indians lived on the island. Forced labor, abuse, diseases against which the Indians had no immunity, and the growth of the mestizo (mixed European and Indian) population all contributed to the elimination of the Taino and their culture.

Several years before the Taino were gone, Santo Domingo had lost its position as the preeminent Spanish colony in the New World. Its lack of mineral riches condemned it to neglect by the mother country, especially after the conquest of New Spain (Mexico). In 1535 the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which included Mexico and the Central American isthmus, incorporated Santo Domingo, the status of which dwindled still further after the conquest of the rich kingdom of the Incas in Peru. Agriculture became the mainstay of the island’s economy, but the disorganized nature of agricultural production did not approach the kind of intense productivity that was to characterize the colony under French rule.