For most of history, Haiti was not the country that we know today. For starters, its name was not always Haiti, it was Saint Domingue. Saint Domingue was a dark place. It was a French colony “home” to half a million slaves. The slaves worked on plantations owned by the wealthy French. Their major cash crops were tobacco, cotton, and cacao. It was a very prosperous place, much different than it is today. However, freedom of the people trumps the economical state of the island. From 1791-1804, the slaves of Saint Domingue revolted against the French government. In the end, they were successful.
The Haitian Revolution was the first of its kind due to the fact that it was a slave-led revolution. Not only did they end slavery on the island, but the revolution is credited with the title of ending slavery in all other colonies in Latin America and ending slavery in most parts in the world. Haiti has changed a lot as a country in the forms of its government, economy, and foreign relations heavily due to its revolution. The government and leadership of Haiti has significantly shifted since its days of slavery. Toussaint Louverture was the first non-French leader of Saint Domingue.
At this point in time, the revolution is not over, but Louverture pledged allegiance to the French. In 1795, he became president of the colony when the Spanish took over the territory. He formed a constitution that pronounced him governor for life. Although Louverture opposed slavery in his colony, slavery operated under a different name; Cultivators. Cultivators were not slaves, were not allowed to be whipped and were paid a small amount of money. However, they were not able to leave the plantations they worked on. When Napoleon Bonaparte got into power, he decided to remove Louverture from power.
Louverture pledged his allegiance to the French, while ordering future leader, Dessalines, to burn down cities. Dessalines betrayed Louverture by telling the French that fighting was going to resume, causing the French to capture Louverture and take him out of power. “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe led a black army against the French in 1802, following evidence that Napoleon intended to restore slavery in Saint-Domingue as he had done in other French possessions. ” (Robert Lawless). The African American rebels succeeded in the rebellion in 1804.
From then on, the new country was to be called, “Haiti”. Haiti became the first African American led country in the world. Dessalines, the first leader of the new nation, assumed power after the rebellion, but was killed in 1806 while trying to suppress a revolt. Henri Christophe then took power of northern Haiti. Under his rule, a civil war broke out with the southern half, led by Alexandre Sabes Petion. The civil war led to weakness in the nation, leading to the Spanish resuming control of the southern half the nation in 1809. This land later became the Dominican Republic.
Christophe declared himself king in 1811. Henri Christophe committed suicide and John-Pierre Boyer takes control of both orthern and southern Haiti in 1822. Boyer abolished slavery in the southern half. He was overthrown in 1843. In 1844, the Haitians were expelled from the Dominican Republic (southern half of Haiti). Between Boyer being overthrown and 1915, there were about 20 rulers who were either overthrown or assassinated. In 1915 to 1934, Haiti was occupied by the US Marines. In 1918, the marines supervised an election regarding the new constitution.
The outcome of the US Marines involvement was a government controlled by lighter skinned Haitians, while the African American Haitians felt as if they were eing excluded from public office. This shows that although slavery has ended, racism and racial biases have not, much like here in the United States. In 1930, the Haitians choose a national assembly for the second time in the country’s history. Four years after that, US President FDR withdrew the marines from Haiti. The national assembly chose that the president would elected through a popular vote. If only we had that in the US)
In 1957, Francois Duvalier comes to power in a military coup in Haiti. His rule led to corruption and the country worsened significantly in 1971, when Duvalier’s child, Jean-Claude Duvalier omes into power. Duvalier was forced out of power in 1986. After the Duvaliers, a constitution is ratified that calls for an elected president and a parliament. After the Duvaliers came Jean-Bertrand Aristide. However, after seven months of an Aristide presidency, he was overthrown and forced to exile into the United States. Haiti went into turmoil after Aristide’s abolishment.
That same year, “The U. S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea, more than the previous 10 years combined” (Matthew Vree). This caused the UN to to facilitate the country to have it return to its diplomatic state. Aristide eturned to Haiti and officially stepped down from power. Rene Preval was elected president. After Rene Preval, Aristide ruled again, until he was exiled… again. Now, Michel Martelly is the President of Haiti and has been since 2011. Most of Haiti’s constitution was approved in the days of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but was not put into effect until 1995. Murdo J. MacLeod).
The constitution provides a president, with a five year term, who head of state and the country’s main power holder. The head of government is the prime minister, who is appointed by the president and the parliament. The Haitian parliament consists f a senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Senators have six year terms and deputies have four. The Court of Cassation is the Supreme court of Haiti. The legal system in Haiti is based on the Napoleonic Code, which was developed during the rule of Francois Duvalier. This system is heavily flawed.
Along with a change in government, Haiti also had a dramatic change in economy since its revolution. During the time of Saint Domingue, which was ruled by the French, Haiti was a major cash cow. They were one of the most prosperous colonies in existence. They gained their riches primarily through coffee exports to Europe. The economy was dependant on a free workforce of half a million slaves. However, after the revolution, many of the former slaves did not want to go back to working on plantations. For them, going back onto the plantations would feel like they fought the war for nothing.
After the revolution, Haiti’s economy was suffering. The former slaves were forced to go back to planting, although this time it was different. Opposed to working on plantations, the Haitian people created small plots of land on which they would grow food for themselves and their families. Some of the food was even sold to local markets. Although many countries refused to trade with them, their economy still flourished. However, this came to an end when Francois Duvalier came into power through a military coup.
Under Duvalier, widespread corruption, drug trafficking, illegal resale, manipulation of government contracts, and pilferage of development of food aides all contributed to the downfall of the Haitian economy. The problems did not get better when Jean- Claude Duvalier took power after his father’s death. Haiti was economic downfalls for most of its life. However, when Rene Preval became president, Haiti saw six years of economic mprovement. However, when Aristide comes into power, the economy falls. The problems get even worse when he gets exiled from Haiti.
Today, twenty five percent of the citizens in Haiti are in extreme poverty (Heritage). Haiti is now seeing a two thirds unemployment rate. (Schoen). The economic problems in Haiti are so bad that their inflation rate is almost two and a half percent higher than ours. According to the Council of Foreign relations, the effort to build a stable economy in Haiti will require more than a decade of commitment. This is mostly because of the devastating natural disasters that occur in Haiti. As it has struggled to pull itself out of poverty, Haiti has sustained numerous blows in recent years.
In May 2004, three days of heavy rains and floods killed more than 2,600. Later that year, Tropical Storm Jeanne brought floods and landslides killing 1,900 and leaving 200,000 homeless. In 2008, three hurricanes and a tropical storm killed some 800, devastated crops and caused $1 billion in damage. ” (Schoen). The natural disasters in Haiti are causing an economic setback, despite all of the relief funds they receive. Similarly with economy, the foreign relations of Haiti has changed since its French rule. During its French rule, American merchants, along with European merchants thad a healthy trade with Saint Domingue.
However, after the revolution, many nations despised Haiti and did not recognize them as a country. US President Thomas Jefferson refused recognition of the country, primarily because the French did not recognize them. The same thing was seen in many countries across the globe. This had negative effects on Haiti’s economy, as it caused many countries to avoid trading with them. Although stable, Haiti’s good economical state at the time would not be able to last long without recognition from other ountries. Because of this, Haiti paid one hundred fifty million francs to France.
This number was later reduced to 60 million). Eventually, the US marines supervise Haiti’s election, and countries begin to recognize them as a sovereign state. In 1825, the French recognized Haiti as a country because of Haiti’s 150 million franc deal. This caused other countries to recognize Haiti as well. The US, currently using slavery, felt they could not recognize a country that had a slave-led revolt. However, in 1862, three years before the US eliminates slavery, they begin to recognize Haiti as a country. Under Ronald Reagan, the president of Haiti was Aristide.
A member of the Reagan administration deemed Aristide, “Less Christian than Communist”. One week after President Aristide was removed from power, Brazil pledged over one thousand troops to Haiti under the UN’s mission to restabilize the country’s government. Today, efforts are being made by the US and other members of the UN to help Haiti’s government and provide them with food aid because of natural disaster. Through its government, economy, and foreign relations, Haiti has changed heavily since its days of revolution and French rule.
Abolishing slavery in Haiti was worth the risk of its economic downfall. Not only did Haiti abolish slavery within itself, but their revolution led to other slave-led revolutions across the Caribbean and other parts of the world. Freedom will always be worth the risk, even it it means having a country dependent on foreign aid. If the slaves in Saint Domingue did not rebel against the French, slavery could still be around today in some countries. And for that reason, we, the free people of this world, are thankful for Haitian efforts to end the global phenomenon known as slavery.