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Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook

Haiti is a country situated on the western third of the island of Hispaniola and the smaller islands of La Gonâve, La Tortue (Tortuga), Grande Caye, and Ile a Vache in the Caribbean Sea, east of Cuba; the Dominican Republic shares Hispaniola with Haiti. Its total land area is 10,714 square miles (27,750 square km) and its capital is Port-au-Prince on the main island of Hispaniola.

A former French colony, it was the first country in the Americas after the United States to declare its independence. In spite of its longevity, it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Freed Blacks and mulattos joined with slaves against Napoleonic France to achieve the Carribean's first successful revolution for independance. The largely Black nation remained isolated politically throughout the 19th century, though penetrated economically by international capitalism.

American President Woodrow Wilson sent the first sailors and marines to Port-au-Prince on July 28, 1915. Within six weeks, representatives from the United States controlled Haitian customs houses and administrative institutions. For the next nineteen years, Haiti's powerful neighbor to the north guided and governed the country. During this period the legal government of Haiti was (both technically and effectively) the U.S. Marine Corps. The specific order from the Navy to the invasion commander, Admiral William Deville Bundy, was to "protect American and foreign" interests.

Opposition to the Occupation began right after the Marines enterd Haiti in 1915. The rebels, vehemently tried to resist American control of Haiti. In response, the Haitian and American governments began a vigorous campaign to disband the rebel armies. Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave, the mulatto president of the Senate, agreed to accept the presidency of Haiti after several other candidates had refused on principle. With a figurehead installed in the National Palace and other institutions maintained in form if not in function, Admiral Caperton declared martial law, a condition that persisted until 1929.

The occupation by the United States had several effects on Haiti. An early period of unrest culminated in a 1918 rebellion by up to 40,000 former cacos and other disgruntled people. The scale of the uprising overwhelmed the Gendarmerie, but marine reinforcements helped put down the revolt at the estimated cost of 2,000 Haitian lives. Thereafter, order prevailed to a degree that most Haitians had never witnessed. The occupation greatly improved some of Haiti's infrastructure. Roads were improved and expanded through the use of forced-labour gangs. This violent form of "corvee labour", with chain-gangs and armed guards permitted to shoot anyone who fled compulsory service, was widely regarded as tantamount to slavery. The education system was re-designed from the ground up; however, this involved the destruction of the pre-existing system of "Liberal Arts" education inherited (and adapted) from the French.

The occupation of Haiti continued after World War I, despite the embarrassment that it caused Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace conference in 1919 and the scrutiny of a congressional inquiry in 1922. By 1930 President Herbert Hoover had become concerned about the effects of the occupation, particularly after a December 1929 incident in Les Cayes in which marines killed at least ten Haitian peasants during a march to protest local economic conditions. Hoover appointed two commissions to study the situation. The Hoover administration did not implement fully the recommendations of the Forbes Commission, but United States withdrawal was under way by 1932, when Hoover lost the presidency to Roosevelt, the presumed author of the most recent Haitian constitution. On a visit to Cap Haïtien in July 1934, Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of marines departed in mid-August, after a formal transfer of authority to the Garde. As in other countries occupied by the United States in the early twentieth century, the local (U.S.-trained) military was often the only cohesive and effective institution left in the wake of withdrawal. This sowed the seeds for a sequence of military-backed dictatorships, all attached to American patronage, which would define the next 50 years of Haiti's history.

A medical doctor, François Duvalier was not allowed to establish his own practice due to racist customs in Haiti (he was black). After securing employment with an American medical project that was fighting widespread tuberculosis, Duvalier had the opportunity to see the poverty that existed in the countryside. This fueled his interest in politics, and despite the fact that the Haitian government was predominantly mulatto, Duvalier was able to gain a following and joined forces with powerful union leader Daniel Fignole. Together they formed the popular Mouvement Ouvriers Paysans (MOP) party. They continued to gain public support and waited for their moment to seize the power. Both men wanted to take the top job of President, therefore the party was split and in 1957 Fignole became president of Haiti. His position lasted only 18 days, however, because Duvalier was able to overthrow him and began what was to become a 29-year dynasty.

In the late 1970s, a time of increasing militancy against the brutal regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Aristide urged change and often found himself at odds with his superiors in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1986, the year Duvalier was driven from power, Aristide survived the first of many assassination attempts. In 1990, when a notorious Duvalierist announced his candidacy for president, progressive-centre forces united to urge Aristide to run for the office. He was elected in Haiti's first free democratic election on Dec. 16, 1990, with an overwhelming 67% of the vote. Aristide's campaign motto, "Lavalas" (Creole for "flood"), became the name for a diverse coalition of parties that symbolized hope for the Haitian people (80% of whom earned less than $150 a year).

In May 2000, Haiti held legislative and local government elections. The Family Lavalas Party won over 50% of the vote in nearly all the contests but a dispute arose about the method used to tabulate the percentages for the Senate elections. The OAS and the international community condemned the results for the Senate elections as fradulent. The Haitian government refused to re-calculate the percentages. In response, most of the opposition parties refused to acknowledge the results or take part in second-round run-offs. In the months leading up to the Presidential election at the end of the year, numerous negotiations failed to produce a settlement. Therefore, most opposition groups boycotted the Presidential election. Aristide easily won this election, but due to the earlier dispute, the opposition parties never accepted his victory as legitimate.

Aristide took office on February 7, 2001, but his presidency was mired in controversy, and his government was undermined by the political impasse and the use of armed gangs, called 'chimeres', to enforce his rule. By 2003, the country was deeply divided between pro-and anti-Aristide camps.This finally led to an armed conflict which increased in intensity on February 5, 2004, 200 years after the Haitian Revolution, when an armed rebel group calling itself the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front took control of the Gonaïves police station. This rebellion then spread throughout the central Artibonite province by February 17 and was joined by opponents of the government who had been in exile in the Dominican Republic. Aristide was forced to resign and go into exile again (Central African Republic, Jamaica, South Africa).


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