The Haitian Timeline: A History of Military Dictatorship and Civil Rule (Revised and Expanded)

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On the 1st of January 1804, following thirteen years of brutal warfare, Haiti became the first ‘black’ independent republic in modern history. Since then Haiti’s history has been dominated by fractious internal politics, military dictatorships and periods of external interference, mainly by the United States. Massive population growth, along with a lack of resources, has not been helped by a U.S. policy that wavers between the extremes of indifference and repeated forms of interventionism. As a result of these factors Haiti is not only the least developed nation in our hemisphere, but also one of the least understood. The following chronology of the political and military volatility that has troubled the small Caribbean francophone nation since its inception provides some sense of how Haiti’s history still bears relevance today.

1503 – First Africans brought to the island of Hispaniola as slave labor.

1625 – France establishes a colony in the north west of Hispaniola, known as Saint-Domingue.

1670 – France authorizes the use of African slave labor, a practice already widespread in the colony. Many Africans escape to the mountainous regions of the colony to establish free Maroon communities.

September 20th 1697 – Under the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially cedes the western third of Hispaniola to France.

1758 – Saint-Domingue, at the time richest colony in the world, executes Maroon leader François Mackandal, after a seven-year rebellion. The colony is home to some 500,000 slaves, 25,000 free blacks and coloreds known collectively as gens de couleur libres (free men of color) and 50,000 whites; and produces 45% of the world’s sugar and 60% of the coffee being consumed in Europe. A high mortality rate attributable to disease and cruelty meant that most of the colony’s slaves are African born.

1778 – The first encounter between the nations that would later become Haiti and the United States of America takes place when just under 1000 Haitian gens de couleur libres volunteer to fight alongside American revolutionaries and French troops during the siege of Savannah. Among them is Henri Christophe who would go on to become a noted strategist during the Haitian revolution and a later ruler of Haiti.

February 25th 1791 – Vincent Oge and Jean-Baptiste Chavannes are publicly executed in Cap-Français. The pair had been proponents of equal rights for gens de couleur libres; inspired by the French Revolution they began an ill fated revolt.

May 1791 – Revolutionary France grants citizenship to all gens de couleur libres.

August 22nd 1791 – Maroons and enslaved Africans in the north of the colony stage a revolt against the French under the leadership of Jamaican born, Dutty Boukman.

1803 – After the death of Boukman, the revolt is lead by a number of competent strategists including Toussaint L’Ouverture, Andre Riguad, Bauvais, Henri Christophe Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Petion and Laplume. With defeat in Haiti imminent, Napoleon abandons his plans for a revived French empire in the New World and instead authorizes the sale of Louisiana. The Louisiana Purchase adds some 828,800 square miles to the United States.

January 1st 1804 – Saint-Domingue is declared independent, under the original Arawak name Haiti, by General Jean-Jaques Dessalines. Following the formal declaration of independence, Dessalines (naming himself Jaques I) repudiates republicanism, preferring Napoleon’s autocratic style of rule.

May 20th 1805 – Dessalines formulates the first constitution of Haiti as an independent country, the Imperial Constitution of 1805. This constitution forbade whites from owning land and restricted the power of the rich gens de couleur, which created friction between Dessalines and notable gens de couleur Petion and Riguad.

Under Dessalines the new Haitian government tries to restart the sugar and coffee industries without slave labor. He enforces a harsh regimen of plantation labour, described by some as caporalisme agraire (agrarian militarism). Dessalines demands that all Haitians work either as soldiers to protect the nation or as laborers on the plantations to generate crops and income. Dessalines pursues tight fiscal regulation, encourages foreign trade, and invites merchants from Britain and the United States to invest in Haiti.

October 17th 1806 – Haiti is on brink of economic collapse as United States and European powers boycott the nation, refusing to grant it recognition and trading rights, least it serves as an example to their own black populations. Dessalines’ economic policies and autocratic style of rule prove unpopular and he is assassinated. After a brief civil war Haiti is divided into a black-controlled autocratic northern kingdom, ruled by Henri Christophe and a mulatto-ruled democratic southern republic, under president Alexandre Petion.

March 31st 1816 – With aid provided by Petion and others, South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar is able to equip an expedition consisting of 6 schooners a sloop, 250 men, mostly officers, and arms for 6,000 troops. Bolivar, after securing the independence of most of South America, reneges on promises to try reconcile U.S. and European policy towards Haiti and instead refuses to recognize Haiti or trade with the nation.

1807-1820– Faced with a rebellion by his own army, Christophe commits suicide, paving the way for gen du couleur Jean-Pierre Boyer to reunify the country and become President of the entire republic in 1820.

1820-1825 – After Boyer unifies Haiti and even occupies the Dominican Republic until 1844. He governs through excluding blacks from power but is finally deposed in a revolt led by Charles Riviere-Herard in 1843, who establishes a parliamentary state based on a new constitution.

3rd July 1825 – A squadron of French ships carrying 500 cannons lays anchor off the Haitian coast and demands a FR150 million indemnity from Haiti for property, i.e. slaves, lost through the revolution, and in return for diplomatic recognition. The indemnity was later reduced to FR90 million (comparable to US$12.7 billion in 2010). Haiti, under threat of reinvasion by France, was left with little choice but to borrow money from American, French and German bankers to pay the sum; these financial sources become increasingly influential in the Haitian economy. France only establishes diplomatic recognition to Haiti in 1834, and refuses to officially trade with the nation. The indemnity was not fully paid until 1947.

1825-1847 – With the treasury bankrupt and army and civil servant wages unpaid revolts soon break out and Haiti falls into anarchy with a series of short-lived presidents until March 1847 when General Faustin Soulouque, a commander during the revolution, becomes the nations head.

1862 – After the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolition of slavery, the United States sees Haiti as less of a threat and formally establishes diplomatic relations with Port-au-Prince and allows some trade.

1867 – A constitutional government is established, but successive presidents Sylvain Salnave and Nissage Saget are deposed in 1869 and 1874 respectively. A new constitution is introduced in 1874 under Michel Domingue, resulting in a period of democratic peace and development until 1910.

1910-1911 – The German community, by now well integrated into Haitian society through commerce and marriage, become embroiled in the nation’s politics, as they bankroll many of the country’s coups. In an effort to restrict German influence in what they see as their back yard, the U.S. State Department helps City Bank of New York to acquire the Banque National d’Haïti, the nation’s only commercial bank, the government treasury and guarantor of most of the debt related to indemnity to France.

July 28th 1915 – American President Wilson orders 3000 Marines to Port-au-Prince, after a uprising threatens U.S. business interests on the island. The commander of the U.S. mission is ordered to ‘protect American and foreign’ interests, but the international community is told that the invasion is designed to ‘re-establish peace and order’. The main concern of U.S. policy makers is that Haiti repays its debt to the United States.

1915-1934 – Representatives from the United States wielded veto power over all governmental decisions in Haiti, and Marine Corps commanders served as administrators in Haitian provinces. United States officials supervise all Haitian administrative and financial institutions such as banks and the national treasury. Haiti is forced to spend 40% of the national income on debt repayment to American and French banks, stunting economic growth and exacerbating the effects of the Great Depression in Haiti.

In 1917, President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature after its members refused to approve a new constitution penned by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The constitution is eventually approved which allows foreigners, in particular Americans, to purchase land. The Marines initiate an extensive road-building program to enhance their military reach and open the country to U.S. investment. To accomplish this they revive a defunct Haitian law, which required peasants to perform labor on local roads in lieu of paying a road tax.

August 1st 1934 – American troops withdraw from Haiti after a 19-year occupation, but the United States maintains fiscal control until 1947 to ensure debt repayment.

1937- Upward of 35,000 Haitians living in the Dominican are massacred by the Dominican armed forces on the orders of President Trujillo; U.S. Secretary of State Hull later declared “President Trujillo is one of the greatest men in Central America and in most of South America.”

January 11th 1946 – President Elie Lescot is overthrown in a military coup d’etat led by Major Paul Eugene Magloire in the wake of economic difficulties on the island. Franck Lavaud, Chairman of the Haiti Military Executive Committee becomes president.

August 16th 1946 – The newly-created Executive Military Committee appoints Léon Dumarsais Estimé president of Haiti for five years.

September 25th 1956 – Physician Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power in a military coup d’état and is elected president a year later.

December 31st 1956 – Daniel Fignolé is elected President of Haiti but is superseded by a Military Council of Government.

1958 – 1964 – Duvalier begins to violently attack his opponents, driving many of them into exile.

December 31st 1964 – The National Assembly votes to accept the Duvalieriste Constitution, establishing Duvalier as President for Life of Haiti. He then launches a dictatorship with the help of the brutal Tontons Macoute militia.

December 31st 1970 – Thousands of Haitians begin to flee by sea amidst poverty and repression throughout the country. Many arrive in southern Florida.

February 28th 1971 – The National Assembly approves an amendment to the constitution, allowing Duvalier to name his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, as his successor

April 21st 1971 – President for Life François Duvalier dies in Port-au-Prince.

April 22nd 1971 – Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier succeeds his father as “President for Life” of Haiti.

August 27th 1983 – The constitution is amended, creating the position of State Minister, permanently allowing the president to name his preferred successor.

February 7th 1986 – President Jean-Claude Duvalier flees Haiti for Talloires, France following a coup d’etat led by General Henri Namphy.

July 17th 1987 – During a ceremony at the Military Academy, the Haitian Armed Forces swear allegiance to the new constitution of 1987.

February 7th 1988 – Leslie Manigat is “elected” president in a tightly military controlled election, but he is ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Prosper Avril, who establishes a civilian front under military control.

January 31st 1990 – President General Prosper Avril declares a state of siege in January.

March 31st 1990 – Prosper Avril is ousted 18 months after seizing power in a coup d’état. A popular uprising forces him to flee the country.

December 16th 1990 – Democratic elections take place. Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest well known throughout the country for his support of the poor, is elected president with nearly seventy percent of the popular vote.

1991-94 – Thousands of Haitian boat people begin to flee violence and repression on the island. Although most are repatriated to Haiti by U.S. government authorities, many manage to enter the United States as refugees.

January 7th 1991 – Haitian General Herard Abraham crushes Roger Lafontant’s attempted coup d’état.

February 7th 1991 – Aristide is sworn in as president of the Republic of Haiti.

September 30th 1991 – President Aristide is overthrown in a coup d’état headed by soon-to-be promoted Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, who installs a harsh military junta.

1992 – Negotiations between the Washington, D.C. based exiled Government, Haiti’s Parliament and representatives of the coup régime headed by General Raoul Cédras lead to the Washington Protocol, which is ultimately scuttled by the coup régime. U.S. President George Bush exempts U.S. factories from the U.S. embargo against the military junta and orders U.S. Coast Guard to interdict all Haitians leaving the island in boats and to return them to Haiti. The OAS embargo fails as goods continue to be smuggled to through neighboring Dominican Republic.

July 3rd 1993 – After a week of talks, Aristide and General Raoul Cedras sign the Governor’s Island Agreement, stipulating the turn over of power from the ruling military to the civilian government.

October 30th 1993 – Haitian Military continues to maintain power over the island. President Aristide is unable to return to Haiti as president, as was stipulated under the Governors Island Agreement. The controversial leadership of the Haitian police and military continues.

September 19th 1994 – The de facto military government is called upon to resign by the U.S. upon which U.S. and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) troops are sent in to occupy Haiti. The United Nations sanctions Operation Uphold Democracy, ordered by President Clinton, which officially begins.

October 15th 1994 – In spite of reluctance by the Clinton administration, a severely limited Jean Bertrand Aristide is reinstated as president of Haiti. In 1994 the Haitian government enters into a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that contains a “medium-term structural adjustment strategy” which “included sweeping trade liberalization measures’. In 1995 when this agreement goes into affect, Haiti’s tariffs on rice imports are cut dramatically from 35% to the current level of 3%. The reduction in tariffs dooms Haiti, which was previously self sufficient in terms of rice, to become the ‘dumping ground’ for rice from the United States. Haiti farmers cannot compete with cheap imports of subsidized rice from the southern United States and many go out of business, leading to massive unemployment.

March 31st 1995 – The U.S. nominally hands over military authority to the United Nations but maintains effective control over the government of the island. Aristide dissolves the Haitian army.

February 7th 1996 – René Garcia Préval assumes the presidency.

February 7th 2001 – Jean Bertrand Aristide is once again elected president of Haiti, but his popularity wanes due to rampant corruption and his inabilities to maintain his authority due to lack of an enforcement mechanism.

December 18th 2001 – Thirty armed men try to seize the National Palace in an apparent coup attempt; 12 people are killed in the raid.

January 2004 – Anti-Aristide protests lead to violent clashes in Port-au-Prince, causing several deaths. In February, a revolt breaks out in the city of Gonaives and spread throughout the country. A mediation team of diplomats presents a plan to reduce Aristide’s power while allowing him to remain in office until the end of his constitutional term. Although Aristide accepts the plan; it is rejected by the opposition.

February 5th 2004 – Aristide is deposed as president of Haiti following a de facto coup d’etat in which the United States demonstrably was involved. An interim government, led by President Boniface Alexandre, with Gérard Latortue as prime minister is installed.

February 7th 2006 – René Garcia Préval is controversially elected as president of Haiti for a second term.

May 18th 2009 – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton to be appointed UN’s special envoy to Haiti.

January 12th, 2010 – Massive earthquake shatters Haiti, causing over 220,000 fatalities.

The Haitian Timeline was compiled with the help of the BBC, COHA Guest Collaborator Dr Kwesi Sansculotte- Greenidge, and COHA Research Associate Matayo Moshi.

Dr. Sanculotte-Greendige is currently a Research Fellow in the Peace Studies Department of the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.