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History of Haiti

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Before the Arrival of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish explorer, in 1492 during his first voyage, Haiti was inhabited by the Taino and Arakwan tribes who referred their country as Ayiti or Hayti meaning land of mountains (Coupeau). Christopher declared the island a Spanish colony and named it Hispaniola. He went ahead and established a temporary settlement on the Northern coast of the island which he named Christmas or Navidad. At first the tribes were friendly to the settled Spaniards but after discovery of their abuse and intolerance they became very violent against them. On his second return in 1493, Columbus discovered that the settlement at Christmas has been destroyed and the settlers disappeared presumably slain. He was bent on establishing this island as a Spanish colony and therefore made another settlement on the Eastern coast, which became known as Isabella (Girard).

Spain established the island as its colonial administration headquarters after the disappointment of lack of gold as expected. The conquest and colonization of the other islands was to be conducted from here as Coupeau says. The Spanish system of repartimiento was tested here whereby the Spain born people were given land and the right to force the Indian inhabitants to work for them. Columbus and his brother who were in charge of the colony fell out with the settlers and consequently with the crown because they failed to maintain order. A new governor, Nicolas De Avando took over and under him the system of encomienda was enforced. This meant that all the land was the property of the crown and the Spaniards were stewards of huge tracks of land and could employ the inhabitants’ labor which in practice was slavery.

Under the colonial rule the Taino Indians were almost eliminated from hundreds of thousands according to accounts to about 150 by 1550 (Coupeau). This was attributed to diseases, forced labor and the emergency of Mulatos or Mestizo and saw the near elimination of the Taino people and their culture. Interest on the colony however, was lost to the Spanish crown after the discovery of gold in the Mexico and South American colonies. Agriculture became the backbone of the economy but did not thrive as much as it experienced under the French rule.

The Spanish neglect of the Island gave other colonizers a chance to invade the island. The French established their first permanent settlement in Tortuga, an island off the West coast of Hispaniola, in 1659 under King Louis XIV. Another group of French colonizers were already settled in the north coast of Hispaniola. Skirmishes with the English and French forces had weakened the Spanish in Hispaniola and therefore the invasion of the French into the island was easier. They established the French West India Company to give direction to commerce in the colony. In 1670 the first major community was established at Cap Francois now named Cap Haitien and in 1697 the Treaty of Ryswick was signed where the Spain relinquished sovereignty of the Island to the French and was renamed Saint Domingue (Girard).

Under the French rule the colony became prosperous and the richest colony in the Western hemisphere. By the mid eighteenth century produced about the 60 percent of world’s coffee and 40percent of sugar imported to French and Britain. It also accounted for two thirds of the French commercial interests abroad and brought luxury to plantation owners and jobs to the mother country, but its major flaw was slavery (Jermyn and Ngcheong-Lum).  The slave labor for the sugar and coffee plantations were brought from West Africa which were greatly abused and remained impoverished. Men mainly provided labor and few lived long enough to reproduce while women were made slave masters concubines. The slavery system produced a mixture of races and consequently classes of people. At the top were the white colonialists or the blancs, then the mulattoes or the people of color who were also free and then the masses of black slaves. This is what is what has shaped the modern Haiti society (Morss).

This slavery system and the discriminative legislations brought a lot of resentment and conflict. The people of color were not permitted take certain professions and other detailed restrictions but they could purchase land and rend money to the planters and some accumulated substantial wealth. The black slaves on the other hand, runaway and waged guerilla warfare against the settlers and the inhabitants too the most common one being led by a man named Francois Macandal between 1751 and 1757 (Coupeau). This eventually culminated to the 1791 slave rebellion, which evolved to Haitian revolution.  The French with the help of the people of color was able to repel the attacks of the maroons but the maroons wanted more than what they had, they wanted equality with the settlers. This delicate balance of the slavery system crumbled down don during the 1789 French Revolution. The French national assembly required that the colonial assembly give suffrage to the landed and tax paying people of color which it ignored. This led to a revolt from the people of color, which failed.

The colonial authority was faced with massive slave rebellion in 1791 which was supported by some people of color. This saw a lot of damage wrecked on the plantations and factories and killing of the white people. Soon this spread to Cap Francais and people of color staged attacks, which led to widespread revolution throughout the island, which attracted Spanish and English intervention (Books LLC).  Then, came the leadership of Toussaint Louverture to the rebellion with the help of the French authority. Louverture together with his allies, successfully fought for the independence of the slaves in Haiti after the French abolished slavery in 1794. In 1802, French under Napoleon Bonaparte tried to take back Haiti to slavery where he sought help from America and Thomas Jefferson who at first supported him but later remained neutral after realization Napoleon wanted to colonize his land. Louvarture was arrested in 1803 but his colleagues continued with the resistant eventually attaining independence in 1804 and in 1805 the island nation drafted it first constitution.  

Soon after independence the French imposed a trade embargo against Haiti and demanded a compensation for the loss of slaves which was an astronomical figure of 125 million francs which the country finished paying in 1947. This left the country on a struggling economy for those years (Borgy and Chojnicki). This was further worsened by the attack and invasion from the US marines in 1915 as fear of German occupation heightened from the small population of German people integrating and owning property in the island. The French and US took control of Haiti’s economy and the central bank, amid resistant, to make sure their debts were paid ward off any resistant from the Haitians with brutal force. This lasted until 1947 when their debts were cleared and was marked by imposed dictatorship, death squads, torture and enslavement, which resulted to a revolt in 1986. (Buss and Gardner) 

In 1990, Haiti voted for Jean Bertrand Aristide who tried to put an end to corruption and improve the lives of the country’s poor but did not last long before he was ousted by the Catholic Church with the help of the CIA. Eventually Aristide was put back to power by the Clinton administration at the cost of the country’s economy, which, saw it open up to the trade from the US reducing the country further into poverty.  However, Aristide’s government made a few milestones in the provision of education and health care to the poor in the country and had promised to double the minimum wages (Morss). These policies put into motion a lot of political resistance from mainly the wealthy landowners with the support of many interested parties including foreign governments.  Aristide was eventually forced to step down and since then the country has been plugged into one coup after another and deteriorating conditions of living for the poor. There have also been claims of killings, rape and torture from the powers being to the rebellious people in the country’s poor slums.   

Since 2006, after elections hoped to return the country into sanity, Haiti has experienced political turmoil one after another. In this elections allegations of election fraud were raised after Rene Preval, a former prime minister and Aristide’s friend was declared the winner. In 2008, the current prime minister, Jacques-Edourd Alexis was ousted by the senate for poor performance of the country’s economy. Another prime minister was appointed by the president and rejected by the lower house and finally Michele Pierre was approved as the prime minister. In 2009, the senate was at it again when they ousted Michele Pirre who the international community thought was competent to bring change to the country and replaced her with Jean-Max Bellerive (Books LLC). Last November, poll also presented the same debacle as allegations of massive election fraud were raised in the first round. A former first lady was declared the winner by the electoral commission and was to face Jude Celestin in the second round. This brought protests in the country. Eventually Jude Celestin was put under pressure apparently by the United States to withdraw leaving Manigat to face Martely who worn by a landslide (Kelly). There is some hope that the country’s unstable politics would end and bring the much-needed investment into the country.

The Haiti economy

The country has been described as the poorest in the western hemisphere and its capacity to attract investment is very low (Sletten and Egset). By the time the country gained independence in 1804, it was the richest and most productive colony in the world, however, years of political instability and international isolation in diplomatic  engagement in earlier years coupled with a huge debt to both US and French has left the country reeling. During the period between 1996 and 2001, the country tried to implement some reforms in order to attain economic stability. These included cutting government expenditure, down sizing the civil service and modernization of state owned entities among others. Structural adjustments were also implemented as required by financial institutions funding the reforms such as World Bank, IMF and inter American Development bank. Modernization of the state corporations was a major policy issues during this time however only two have been privatized as the issue has turned into a political one. External aid has been and continues to be of great importance in the economic development of the country (Books LLC).  

The major sectors supporting the economy of the country are agriculture, fishing, forestry and mining. Most of the Haitians rely on substance farming although an export agriculture sector exists. The agricultural, fishing and forestry sector contributed to 28% of the GDP in 2004 and employed 66% of the force (Borgy and Chojnicki). The major cash crops in the country are coffee, cocoa and mangoes. The mining industry is small with total earning of around $13 million per year dominated mainly by Bauxite, calcium carbonate, copper, gold and marble.  The manufacturing sector is consisted mainly of beverages, butter, cement, detergents, flours sugar and textiles among others. Growth in this sector has been undermined by lack of investment. This sector accounted for 20% of GDP  employing less than 10% of the labor force. The sector has been declining since the 1994 UN embargo on trade that saw as many as 80,000 workers put of work. The years following the military rule since 1991 contributed to the decline in the sector.   The service sector in the country has the sustained little growth in unstable years of 1990s. It employed 25% of the labor force in 2004 and contributed to 52% of the GDP. The impediment to economic growth in the country has been the lack of reliable banking and financial sector as banks collapse with regularity and most of the banks are in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The country boasted of no stock exchange by 2009 labor (Buss and Gardner).   Tourism was an important sector of the economy in the 1970s and 1980s however political instability in 1990s and early 2000s discouraged any growth in the industry. Lack of infrastructure and up to date hospitality industry has also been a turn off for visitors. One can not conclude a discussion of the economy of Haiti without mention of the labor force. In 1995 the USAID estimated the labor force to be about 3.6 million but with minimal skilled labor. Statistics on employment are sparse due to lack of publication of such data and the only available ones are from foreign organizations such as USAID which gave a figure of 50% unemployment in 2003 (Kelly).

Geography of Haiti

The Republic of Haiti is in the Western hemisphere and occupies one third of the Western of the island of the Hispaniola west of the Dominican Republic and between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean (Jermyn and Ngcheong-Lum). It has an area of 27,750 square kilometers and a coastline of 1, 1771 km of coastline.

Haiti has a land area of 27,560 square kilometers and 190 square kilometer of water. The land is comprised of three fourths mountainous country marked by great fertile valleys, extensive plateaus and small plains. The climate is mainly tropical but the eastern side is semi desert as mountains block the trade winds. Rainfall varies in the country and averages between 1,370 mm with two rainy seasons between April and June and October and November (Jermyn and Ngcheong-Lum). The country is geographically situated in the hurricane region and therefore prone to strong storms between June and October, flooding is another phenomenon characterizing the country with earthquakes and floods also being common.


The population of Haiti is estimated to be 9,648,924 by 2010 and is estimated to reach 9,719,932 by July 2011 according to the US Bureau of the Census (Eurostat). This averages about 250 people per square kilometer and concentrated mainly in urban areas, valleys and coastal plains. The population is largely composed of Haitians of West African ancestry, mulattos and small number of Asians, Arabs and white communities. There are also Hispanic people mainly from Cuba and Dominican Republic (Eurostat). The CIA fact book reports that the age structure of 0-14 years comprise 38% of the total [population and 15-65 years making up 58.5% and those above 65 years to be 3.4% of the population. The population growth rate is low at 0.787 % per annum according to this report.

Social problems in Haiti


Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 80% of the population is estimated to live in absolute poverty. A look at the capital city Port-au-prince gives a grim picture of the poverty in the country (Kelly). Most of the population lives in slums which are overcrowded and prone to diseases. In this city most of the population of people who work earn less than two US dollars a day this is hardly enough to cater for the basic necessities like food and health care. The Pan-American Health Organization (Eurostat) reports that child mortality, communicable diseases are very prevalent mainly due to poverty. This situation has been aggravated by the biggest natural disaster in its 200 years history, the January 2010 earthquake that shook the country capital to its core and caused hundreds of thousand of lost life. The president of the country is quoted saying that the parliament had collapsed, tax office, Schools and hospitals and the destruction of the capital as unimaginable. This was followed by a hurricane, which saw an outbreak of cholera that claimed even more life (Kelly).

Unequal distribution of wealth

In this country, a small elite group mainly of elites and ruling class composed of several thousand families are extremely wealthy while 80% of the population is estimated to live in absolute poverty. There exist a small middle class group consisting of civil servants and other government employees but the gap between the majority black and the minority lighter skinned people is very wide (Kelly). This has existed since colonization. The minority wealthy live in cooler mountainsides where education and medical services are exclusively private. Their children attend schools abroad either in Paris or United States with most of the families holding bank accounts in United States. In comparison the rural folks live in small remote villages or settlements where they have no access to clean water, electricity, education and other social services. In comparison to the wealthy children, the rural kids have access to elementary education provided by either the churches or charitable organizations. The rural children travel long distances to school, cannot afford the books and uniform and have to work at an early age. This only increases illiteracy levels among the poor with estimation that half the adult population is illiterate. Health services are another thing they cannot afford and some areas depend entirely on relief food from aid agencies.

Racial divisions

Racial divisions in the country are another problem although 95% of the population is composed of black people (Kelly). The divisions occur between the largely black people of the African decent and the mulattoes who act as the ruling class. The mulattoes are wealthy and identify with wealthy classes in other countries and have little to do with the Haitian poor. The country has an underdeveloped social, economic and political institutions and mostly education system which do not allow for upward social mobility making the difference even wider. This is further aggravated by isolation of rural populations from the urban ones with reports indicating that 79% of Haitians have no or little contact with Port-au-Prince or other major towns, which are centers of change.

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