The island of Hispaniola was already visited by Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. The first European settlements in the New World were built on the eastern part of the island. However, the western part of the island, today’s Haiti, remained almost deserted until the 17th century. French buccaneers then settled in the area, and in 1665 France appointed a governor on the island of Tortuga. In 1697, Spain recognized the sovereignty of France over the western part of Hispaniola. The French colony, named Saint Domingue, was transformed in the 18th century into the world’s leading sugar producer.
At the outbreak of the French Revolution, Haiti had a population of over half a million, most of them black slaves, about 50,000 freed slaves, mostly mulattoes, and 30,000 whites. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Haiti. The revolution shook the colony. The mulattoes and the blacks, led by Toussaint Louverture, rose in various rounds claiming to apply in the colony the principles of the revolution of freedom. Toussaint was captured in 1802 and sent to France. A new erection, led by J.-J. Dessalines and Alexandre Pétion led Haiti to proclaim its independence on January 1, 1804, and the same year, Dessalines was crowned emperor as Jacob I. Haiti was the first Latin American country to become independent. The white minority was obliterated, and the mulattoes were also persecuted. Dessalines was assassinated in 1806, and mulatto leader Pétion took control of southern Haiti,
In 1820, Haiti was reunited with the mulatto J.-P. Boyer, who ruled the country until 1843. After that, a long period of widespread chaos, civil conflicts and economic stagnation continued until 1915, when the United States occupied Haiti. The resistance, led by Charlemagne Péralte, was crushed, and a period of stability began. The mulatto elite gained a prominent position and could retain power even after the withdrawal of the American forces in 1934.
The situation changed in 1946, when the growing discontent of blacks led to the resignation of President Élie Lescot. A black middle class emerged during Dumersai’s Estimé’s reign, and the political power of the mulattoes was further reduced under François Duvalier’s (“Papa Doc”) dictatorship. Duvalier’s brutal exercise of power was based on the dreaded special forces tontons macoutes, a militia recruited among the black rags proletariat. Tens of thousands of Haitians were murdered or forced to leave the country under Duvalier’s reign of terror. The abuses continued when Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) succeeded his father in 1971. In 1984, the series of protests began, which in February 1986 set the point for the Duvalier family.
Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected to the presidential election in 1991, but his tenure lasted only eight months. The army emerged as the strongest force, and Aristide was overthrown by a military coup. The coup faced massive criticism abroad, and the US introduced financial sanctions, among other things. Aristide fled abroad, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians tried to flee to the United States. In September 1994, the country was invaded by American soldiers, and in October Aristide was able to return. However, the political turmoil continued with violent riots, strikes and fighting between, on the one hand, criminal elements, including gangs of former police and soldiers, and the regular police and the UN peacekeeping force Minustah. René Préval was elected President in 1995, but at the 2000 presidential election Aristide again won (taking office in 2001). The opposition accused him of extensive manipulation of the election results and launched a political campaign against the government. Among other things, boycotts of congressional meetings were boycotted, which led to the legislative work being virtually halted and to institutional chaos. Attempts by the United Nations and the US cooperation organization OAS to mediate between the government and the opposition failed. Finally, resistance to Aristide developed into a legitimate armed uprising in 2004, which forced him into exile for the second time, and an interim government took over. The next presidential election was also riddled with problems, and when several postponements were held in February 2006, disagreement over the election results arose.
On January 12, 2010, Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was located near the land surface and only 25 km southwest of the capital Port-au-Prince, which was therefore hit very hard. About 150,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives and another quarter of a million have been injured. About 1 million became homeless, many of whom fled into the countryside. Several large public buildings, such as the presidential palace, cathedral and central prison, collapsed and public, already dysfunctional institutions that the police ceased in practice to function completely. In addition, the relief work after the disaster was made more difficult by the fact that the UN, one of the few functioning institutions in Haiti before the earthquake, itself suffered losses of both people and equipment. However, many observers noted the possibility, despite the disastrous situation, to build a whole new society out of devastation. As an important element of the world aid, the G7 countries canceled their claims on Haiti at a meeting on 7 February 2010.
Reconstruction work, however, was slow and the situation was aggravated by a cholera epidemic spreading in the country with thousands of dead as a result. UN troops from Nepal were accused of carrying the cholera to Haiti and UN forces were attacked by relatives of the infected. In November 2010 elections were held despite the devastation and after a second round the popular musician Michel Martelly was elected president.
In early 2011, former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti. He said he had returned to help the country with the post-earthquake reconstruction, but few welcomed him back. He was indicted in lieu of corruption, theft, torture and other crimes committed during his time in power but died in 2014 before he was able to get his sentence.
In 2012, Haiti was hit by a new natural disaster when Hurricane Sandy destroyed large parts of the country’s crops and the ongoing reconstruction projects. Haiti also claimed damages against the UN, which was accused of being the cause of the cholera epidemic that led to over 600,000 people getting sick and about 8,000 dying. However, the UN rejected the claims and a US court later ruled that the organization has immunity and cannot be convicted of the cholera outbreak.
Political conflicts continued in 2013, and when the parties could not agree on proposals for a new electoral system, it led to a third of the seats in the Senate being empty. The elections scheduled for 2014 were postponed and the opposition accused President Martelly of abusing power. In January 2015, the term of office expired for the rest of Parliament’s members at the same time as the Prime Minister resigned and the country was left without a functioning government. Soon a new prime minister was elected and elections to both parliament and president were announced later in the year.
In May 2015, French President François Hollande visited Haiti as the first French head of state since the uprising against France and Haiti’s independence in 1804. Hollande promised increased French support and investment in Haiti but rejected the claim for colonial time and the large damages France demanded from Haiti after independence, an indemnity paid by Haiti until 1947.
On August 9, the first round of the parliamentary elections was held with over 1,800 candidates from about 130 political parties. Election Day was characterized by violence, long queues and delays at many polling stations. Voter turnout averaged 18 percent, but in some regions it was below 10 percent and the election had to be redone in 25 constituencies.
The presidential election was postponed on several occasions and was not held until November 2016, which may be partly explained by a politically unstable situation and by Hurricane Matthew, which hit the country in the fall of 2016 and caused widespread devastation.
Candidate Jovenel Moïse, a party colleague of former President Michel Martelly, immediately declared the winner the winner after the election, but without being recognized by the opposition. Only after the Electoral Court in January 2017 determined the preliminary result, which meant that Moïse received close to 56 percent of the votes and thus won already in the first round, Moïse could take office on February 7, 2017.