Haiti is a Caribbean nation which occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola. Named Ayiti, meaning land of many mountains in the native language of the indigenous Taino tribe, Haiti became the name as it is known today after the island was invaded by the Europeans.
Haiti was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 who claimed the island for Spain. His famous vessel, the Santa Maria, ran aground there forcing Columbus to leave several of his troops there. When the newcomers created the settlement of La Navidad, the Taino resisted the Spanish conquest forcing Columbus east into what is known today as the Dominican Republic.
At the helm when La Navidad was destroyed was Queen Anacaona. She successfully resisted for many years until she was captured and killed in front of her subjects. Today, she is revered as one of the founders of Haiti.
As the Europeans flocked to the southern island geologically rich in gold, they brought many infectious diseases along with them. The Taino eventually succumbed due to the widespread illnesses. The first case of smallpox in the Americas is recorded as happening on Hispaniola in 1507.
Spain tried to set up a code of laws but found enforcement difficult from their oversight being so far north. Therefore, in the 16th and 17th centuries, pirates sought refuge on the island as its location is at the forefront of the Caribbean. One of those buccaneers was Bertrand d’Ogeron.
D’Ogeron became successful at growing tobacco. His prominence attracted other Frenchmen to Hispaniola. Soon, several conflicts ensued between the Spanish and French settlers. The fighting came to a halt with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. The division of the island, still current, gave the French the eastern third while the Spanish occupied the rest. Haiti is the only country in the Caribbean where the official language is French.
The French became successful at not only growing tobacco, but many other crops as well. Rapid growth forced the business owners to import African slaves. Soon, the population of Africans tripled that of the French. The slaves soon sought more freedom and civil rights and several revolts occurred. In the late 18th century, France sent government officials to the island to create a sense of order, but the effort was short-lived as France and Great Britain went to war.
The slave population started to mix with the French as the French were declining in numbers due to war, illness, and no continued immigration. Soon, the most common natives of Haiti were of mixed heritage. They were called “the people of color.” As their numbers grew, their quest for emancipation and independence continued to gain steam.
France sent Napoleon Bonaparte to the island with 20,000 troops to reclaim order, and restore and enforce the laws of France. However, the slaves were successful in resisting. In 1804, the first and only country born of slave revolt was established.
The revolution caused a mass exodus. Many French still held slaves and relocated to the southern United States. Several adopted Louisiana as their new home. This is where the heavy influence of New Orleans’ French-Creole culture was established.
Throughout the 19th century, the Haitians continued to defend their independence. From 1821 to 1843, President Jean Pierre Boyer maintained some consistency within the country. In 1825, King Charles X of France attacked Haiti once again. President Boyer agreed to pay the French government in order to maintain freedom.
After Boyer was ousted by the elite for being too liberal, Haiti was overcome by many coup attempts by nations trying to capture the country for commercial reasons. From 1915-1934, the U.S. occupied Haiti in order to guide the country into a systematic government that was effective in putting an end to internal rebellion, outside coup attempts, and political disorder.
A series of Haitian presidents and government officials worked with the U.S until President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew U.S. troops from the island. In 1957, former minister of health and labor, Dr. Francois Duvalier was elected to lead the country. His son, Jean-Claude succeeded him until 1986 when he was ousted and exiled to France.
Turmoil ensued within the country. In 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President. Once again, it was a leadership that was fraught with unrest, attempted murder, and threat of revolt. The Aristide regime started to become violent against the opposition. There were accusations of human rights violations. Any peace the country attained was unraveled.
In 2004, a modern coup d’état occurred forcing Aristide into exile. The United Nations sent peacekeepers into the country that remain today.
Haiti has also been victimized by natural disasters such as deadly hurricanes. Then, as elections were being held in 2010, a devastating earthquake destroyed the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Aid was sent from all over the world as Haitians will not recover for several years to come.
The United States maintains presence in Haiti and is committed to see its people through the disaster. Today, as the country tries to rebuild, President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Garry Conille hold elected office.
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