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Reply #155: A Short History of Haiti [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-23-08 02:40 PM
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155. A Short History of Haiti

Christopher 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 Domingo.
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 Vertires marks the ultimate victory of the former slaves over the French.

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 country."

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 Ption. 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 corve labor building roads. Peasant resistance to the occupiers grows under the leadership of Charlemagne Peralt, who is betrayed and assassinated by Marines in 1919.

Since the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick between the kingdoms of Spain and France in 1697, the island of Hispaniola (La Isla Espaola) has played host to two separate and distinct societies that we now know as the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At first encounter, and without the benefit of historical background and context, most students or observers find it incongruous that two such disparate nations--one speaking French and Creole, the other Spanish--should coexist within such limited confines. When viewed in light of the bitter struggle among European colonial powers for wealth and influence both on the continent and in the New World, however, the phenomenon becomes less puzzling. By the late seventeenth century, Spain was a declining power. Although that country would maintain its vast holdings in mainland North America and South America, Spain found itself hard pressed by British, Dutch, and French forces in the Caribbean. The Treaty of Ryswick was but one result of this competition, as the British eventually took Jamaica and established a foothold in Central America. The French eventually proved the value of Caribbean colonization, in an economic as well as a maritime and strategic sense, by developing modern-day Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, into the most productive colony in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world.

Although the other European powers envied the French their island jewel, Saint-Domingue eventually was lost not to a colonial rival, but to an idea. That idea, inspired by the American Revolution and the French Revolution, was freedom; its power was such as to convince a bitterly oppressed population of African slaves that anything--reprisal, repression, even death-- was preferable to its denial. This positive impulse, liberally leavened with hatred for the white men, who had seized them, shipped them like cargo across the ocean, tortured and abused them, and forced women into concubinage and men into arduous labor, impelled the black population of Saint-Domingue to an achievement still unmatched in history: the overthrow of a slaveholding colonial power and the establishment of a revolutionary black republic.

The saga of the Haitian Revolution is so dramatic that it is surprising that it has never served as the scenario for a Hollywood production. Its images are varied and intense: the voodoo ceremony and pact sealed in the Bois Cayman (Alligator Woods) in anticipation of the slave revolt of 1791; the blazing, bloody revolt itself; foreign intervention by British and Spanish forces; the charismatic figure of Franois-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, his rise and fateful decision to switch his allegiance from Spain to France, his surprisingly effective command of troops in the field, the relative restraint with which he treated white survivors and prisoners, the competence of his brief stint as ruler; the French expedition of 1802, of which Toussaint exclaimed, "All France has come to invade us"; Toussaint's betrayal and seizure by the French; and the ensuing revolution led by Jean-Jacque Dessalines, Henri (Henry) Christophe, and Alexandre Ption.

Given the distinctive and auspicious origins of the Haitian republic, there is some irony in that the Dominicans commemorate as their independence day the date of their overthrow of Haitian rule. The Dominican revolt, however, came as a response to annexation by a Haitian state that had passed from the promise of orderly administration under Toussaint to the hard-handed despotism of Dessalines and had then experienced division, both racial and political, between the forces of Christophe and Ption. By the time of its conquest of Santo Domingo (later to become the Dominican Republic), Haiti had come under the comparatively stable, but uninspired, stewardship of Jean-Pierre Boyer. Although viewed, both at the time and today, by most Dominicans as a crude and oppressive state dominated by the military, the Haiti that occupied both eastern and western Hispaniola from 1822 to 1844 can itself be seen as a victim of international political and economic isolation. Because they either resented the existence of a black republic or feared a similar uprising in their own slave-owning regions, the European colonial powers and the United States shunned relations with Haiti; in the process, they contributed to the establishment of an impoverished society, ruled by the military, guided by the gun rather than the ballot, and controlled by a small, mostly mulatto, ruling group that lived well, while their countrymen either struggled to eke out a subsistence-level existence on small plots of land or flocked to the banners of regional strongmen in the seemingly never-ending contest for power. To be sure, the French colonial experience had left the Haitians completely unprepared for orderly democratic self-government, but the isolation of the post-independence period assured the exclusion of liberalizing influences that might have guided Haiti along a somewhat different path of political and economic development. By the same token, however, it may be that Western governments of the time, and even those of the early twentieth century, were incapable of dealing with a black republic on an equal basis. The United States occupation of Haiti (1915-34) certainly brought little of lasting value to the country's political culture or institutions, in part because the Americans saw the Haitians as uncivilized lackeys and treated them as such.

Writer's Note: I limited the chronological coverage to the beginning of the 20th Century. I wanted to emphasize the early history of Haiti and the international political and economic isolation it suffered then and to the present. Haiti did not become one of the world's poorest countries by sheer accident. The rest of the world shunned Haiti (especially the US) in order to avoid unrest in their slaveholding regions. The political and economic isolation created the conditions for poor and tyrannical leadership that created the economic and social downward spiral. Power and money is held by the rich elite few while the rest struggle to survive.
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