Haiti‘s present is a product of its history; the nation’s founding by enslaved people who overthrew their masters and freed themselves from the slave system. the country reminds of the hostility that the Haitian Revolution generated among the colonial powers surrounding the country and the intense struggle within Haiti to define its freedom and realize its promise. One of the major causes of discontent and rebellion appears to have been the settlement of the dispute with France, which had been negotiated in 1825 . Another important event in the history of Haiti is its relationship with the United States and the way the US occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934. The Duvalier dictatorship between 1957 and 1986 are also a significant event in the history of Haiti. In the decades post Duvalier dictatorship, a succession of economic troubles has reinforced negative stereotypes. After the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has become a place of disaster, poverty, instability and suffering populated by desperate people trying to escape .
In the mid nineteenth century, emancipation discourse was the experience of Haiti. The Africans in Haiti revolted, destroyed the slave system, took control of their destiny and declared the liberty of African people as an act of self-actualization . The long and destructive war resulted in the unilateral declaration of independence and Haiti came to symbolize all that the European world resented. While France refused to recognize the 1804 Declaration of Independence, so did the other nations. French recognition was a prerequisite to the official recognition and the French demanded compensation for the loss of their property, both human and inanimate. The Haitians refused to comply for about 21 years but finally capitulated in 1825 under the weight of unprecedented international diplomatic pressure. The terms of settlement that Haiti made with French government in 1825 was that France would recognize the independent state in return for compensation fixed at 150 million gold francs . For over 100 years, the Haitian government paid the indemnity by emptying the national treasury.
For a long time, Haiti remained an outcast nation in the international community. Foreign investors had no confidence in a nation like Haiti, which had not received any recognition and where foreign ownership of land was emphatically prohibited in the constitution. However, the US occupation of Haiti in the year 1915 transformed Haiti in ways that are still paying out today. While the US justified the occupation of Haiti as a project to improve and democratize the political institutions of the nation, it ultimately worsened the situation within the society. As more and more US agricultural companies entered Haiti, they deprived peasants of their land. This resulted in a large number of Haitians leaving the country for work in the nearby Caribbean islands and beyond . In the later decades, the capital’s growth continued in Haiti, in an uncontrolled and ultimately disastrous way, while the countryside suffered increasing immiseration.
The US occupation also deepened Haiti’s political and economic dependence on outside powers. During the second half of the twentieth century, the extent of foreign support has often been one of the most significant factors determining the political destiny of Haitian rulers. Francois Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude, the Haitian dictators whose regimes were legendary for their brutality and terror made use of US support to stay in power for decades while driving hundreds of thousands of Haitians into exile . With the occupation of the US into Haiti, the issues of citizenship, nationhood, human and civil rights, and national sovereignty embraced the thinking of the Haitians. The contents of politics started to degenerate catastrophically even after the departure of the Americans in 1934. While American attitudes towards Haitians derived from the nineteenth century Indian wars, banana wars and experience with the blacks in the US, the circumstances of the intervention resulted in the emergence of the US as a dominant power in the Caribbean . Today, the influence of US over Haiti is so immense and unremarkable.
In Haiti, the reality of American actions contradicted the liberal protestations of the Haitians. Racist preconceptions reinforced the political institutions of Haiti and placed the Haitians far below the levels, which the Americans considered necessary for self-government, democracy and constitutionalism. The occupation of Haiti gave first priority to the US in terms of political, economic and military interests. A succession of American military regimes has left the country with almost no functioning social infrastructure. The US occupation of Haiti consistently suppressed the local democratic institutions and refused fundamental political liberties. It resulted in the establishment of the American-sponsored Constitution of Haiti in the year 1918, which undertook provisions, such as alien land ownership, suspension of the bicameral Haitian legislature and legalization of all acts of American military occupation . It was after the 1929 uprisings that the US decided to leave Haiti and finally left the country in the year 1935.
In Haiti, from 1957 to 1964, Duvalier unleashed a reign of terror without sparing the tyrannical and unpredictable violence of the state, including men, women, children and families from all classes . Duvalier sought to extend his power over all major state and civil society institutions, from the military to the legislature. The Duvalier regime shifted the balance of the political power in favor of the black and the middle class. However, Duvalier could not do so without the support of the US. Therefore, he maintained good relations with the US by offering all the necessary advantages to foreign capital, such as tax exemptions, cheap labor and labor peace by the suppression of independent labor organizations and banning all sorts of strikes . In return, Duvalier expected foreign economic and military assistance from the US without the interference of the country in the governance of Haiti. After Duvalier’s death in 1971, his son Jean-Claude succeeded to the presidency and ruled Haiti in the same way as his father until 1986, when protests and oppositions grew enormously and radicalized the democratic movement of Haiti.
When one of the deadliest earthquakes struck Haiti in 2010, the country lost over 316,000 people and millions of people became homeless . The tragedy gripped not only Haiti, but also the world. It is a manifestation of the social ills that beset the island nation in the diplomatic and geopolitical shadow of the United States. Much of Haiti’s death toll links to the extreme density of Port-au-Prince. After a constant stagnation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the population of Haiti exploded during the transition to capitalism. With billions of dollars at stake in the provision of daily necessities of water and the long-term rebuilding and reconstruction contracts, the earthquake presented an opportunity for disaster capitalism. It was a human disaster rather than a natural calamity. Due to the historic events that took place in Haiti in the preceding years of the earthquake, Haiti had no access to adequate healthcare, education, sanitation, jobs, housing and water facilities . However, one ray of hope in Haiti is the emergence of new social movements, whose interference would challenge the Haitians to think about politics from outside rather than the usual top-down perspective. Therefore, the Haiti‘s present is a product of its history, which involves a series of remarkable events, such as the French settlement of 1825, the US occupation between 1915 and 1934 and Duvalier dictatorships between 1957 and 1986.
Dubois, L. (2012). Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. Macmillan.
Dupuy, A. (2014). Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens. New York, NY: Routledge Publications.
McCloy, S. T. (2015). The Negro in the French West Indies. University Press of Kentucky.
Schmidt, H. (1971). The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. Rutgers University Press.