Hati is on the island Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived and claimed the whole island for Spain. They brought with them Small Pox and other Old World diseases. While setting up a settlement, Columbus's men murdered, raped and enslaved the native Tainos. This was he worst known case of depopulation in the Americas. Hispaniola was rich in natural resources and the Tainos had a lively culture, similar in ways to the Na'vi population in Avatar.
The Spanish began to pillage precious metals and some other resources. Columbus left behind a small settlement but these people where probably killed. The Spanish returned to set up more settlements and they established the capital in Saint-Domingo. There was a major piracy problem, and Spanish interest began to wane when they captured Mexico and South America.
French pirates had long been attacking Spanish ships, and they established a settlement in 1625. Unofficial wars broke out between the Spaniards and the French, of course ignoring the indigenous population. In 1664, the French West India Company was established, and the mercenaries immediately conquered the colony and named it Saint-Domingue. Under the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, the western third of the island, with the most resources was ceded to France.
This marked the beginning of the importation of African slaves. The planters became the majority of Europeans on the island. They began growing cashcrops such as tobacco and cotton. Up until 1756, the French thoroughly robbed Hati of its resources in (of course unsustainable) a methodical way. The slaves had it the hardest, at times, the life expectancy for an arriving slave was about one day. Slave rebellions where frequent because there wasn't much incentive not to rebel. You where brought there in the brutal condition of the slave ship, often stacked like cargo. You got off in the Caribbean, if you survived, knowing you had a pretty good chance of not lasting the week. In 1685, because this system was so efficient, Louis XIV enacted the Code Noir, which said the master had to at least attempt to keep his slaves alive by providing some basic necessities. There was mass murder to go along with slavery, as future Hatian President Henri Christophe's personal secretary noted:
"Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excretement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?"
Many slaves where able to find freedom by escaping to indigenous communities, and there was also a free, mixed race community, resultant from rapes, also known as "Mulattos".
In 1776, (some of) the American colonists rebelled and defeated the British empire. This inspired the 1789 revolution in France. During the French revolution, some slaves began to rebel. By 1792 the slave controlled much of the colony. By this time, Toussaint L'Overture became the leader of the black militia. Toussaint was a self-educated brilliant military strategist and diplomat. He defeated three different colonial powers. He ran the island as an autonomous entity but still had ties to France, at which time France was controlled by revolutionaries, so he saw no need in effectively dissolving those. He was also supported in the United States, albeit cynically. President Thomas Jefferson was a supporter of abolishing slavery. As a result of losing his source of income, Napolean sold Louisiana to the United States. Also, many in the political class in the United States wanted to take over Hati at some point, and it would be easier to take over an independent Hati than a French one. Many white planters moved to New Orleans. Also as a result, Britain abolished the slave trade. In 1804, Hati was officially independent. The U.S. did not recognize its independence. At this point, France had plundered Hati so much that France was know a wealthy country, largely because they plundered Hati, taking its resources.
In 1825, France recognized Hati's independence at the price of an indemity of 90 million gold francs. This fee was the result for "loss property", including slaves. This was so large for Hati it would be the equivalent of the U.S. paying trillions to a foreign power today. They had to do it because Britain and the United States where enforcing a crippling French Embargo under the Monroe Doctrine. To pay this, they had to take out high interest loans, mainly from the United States, and this huge debt, which crippled the government and the economy, was not repaid until after World War II.
The U.S., however did not recognize Hati's independence from France until 1915. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson ordered marines to invade Hati. (This is a perfect example of what is called Wilsonian Idealism) On July 28, 1915, 330 marines arrived at Port-au-Prince to protect American and Foreign "Interests", namely the economic and political power of the mostly Europeanized, white elites, from the population. To avoid criticism, the occupation was labelled as a mission to "restore peace and order".
The marines dissolved the Haitian parliament when it refused to pass progressive legislation. Marine commanders took over as the effective governors of Haiti, with veto power over Haitian institutions. They held a free election, in which 5% of the population voted 99% for the progressive legislation that would have allowed U.S. based corporations to take over the country. The occupation lasted nineteen years. The debt, however, allowed the U.S. government to effectively control Haiti's government until 1947, and you could be sure they where making certain Haiti's government was pursuing policies beneficial to corporate america. There where several rebellions to U.S. rule, but the Marines put them down easily. On the positive note, the marines improved Haiti infrastructure, for obvious reasons. The effect of this occupation was to transfer much of Haiti's economy and remaining wealth to U.S. corporations. The Marines left Haiti on August 14th, 1934, shortly after FDR's vacation there.
In 1937, some 30,000 Haitians where massacred by President Rafael Trujillo, with the authorization of U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull. In 1947, Haiti was finally free from official U.S. control(at the whim of the President the economy could be ruined). From 1947 until 1990, the country was ruled by elites, u.s. created paramilitaries, and the brutal national guards. There was widespread human rights abuses. The economy this time was that Haiti had to import basic commodities and necessities from the U.S., while women and children toiled in U.S. owned assembly plants, which where there after U.S. workers refused to meet demands. Then in 1990, the impoverished masses organized, entered the political arena, and elected their own candidate, a populist Roman Catholic priest, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who won with 67.48% of the vote in an election in which all international observers agreed was free and fair. This came as a major surprise in intellectual circles who expected an easy victory for his main opponent, a former World Bank official. This election threatened these economically rational programs. His platform was on reforestation, increasing access to healthcare and education, increasing adult literacy, protecting civil liberties, prohibiting human trafficking, disbanding the military, doubling the minimum wage, building low cost housing, reducing government corruption, instituting land reform among other things.
The elites of course where not going to stand still, and neither was the army. He was overthrown in a coup d'etat. The UN passed an embargo, which had the effect of crippling the economy while strengthening the military junta. The U.S. ignored this embargo when Bill Clinton authorized oil companies to ship gasoline to the junta, who otherwise would have run out. Nonetheless, Clinton agreed to send troops, when Aristide lost three years of his term, to restore his rule, on the condition he accept the program of the candidate he defeated. This was cynically referred to as "Operation Uphold Democracy".
When it came time for the next election, the Constitution of Haiti prevented a second term. However, there was a debate about whether or not he should get the three years he lost in the coup. A power struggle ensued, but Aristide got to serve the three years. In the 2000s parliamentary and presidential election, Aristide's party won while only 10% of the vote turned out. They ignored the requirement of the run-off election.
Was Aristide a saint? No. But even if he was, the same series of events would have happened. Human Rights Watch claimed that arbitrary detention, summary executions and police brutality became everyday reality. When in fact, these abuses greatly decreased under Aristide, who disbanded the Army. These abuses had been around for decades, they where not going to disappear over night. He has been accused of drug trafficking, but that has not been substantiated. He has also been accused of corruption, which he of course denies, and there isn't much evidence for. These accusations where made by the government that overthrew him.
In 2004, there was yet another coup, when President Aristide was overthrown again. He asked France to repay the indemnity, and they refused. He began to refuse to adhere to the Washington Consensus. In 2003, there was a conference in Montreal to decide Haiti's future, although no Haitians where invited. Journalists reported that officials at the conference wanted regime change. During the 3rd week of the rebellion, Aristide left Haiti on a US military plane to the Central African Republic. The U.S. said he left voluntarily. He says he was kidnapped. The Associated Press reported that the Central African Republic tried to pressure him to stop making his charges to the press. Amnesty International began to observe severe human rights abuses on the increase. He left behind a "resignation letter" but denies this. Brazil then sent troops to help with the situation.
In 2006, Rene Preval was elected President. By this time, Haiti had lost the capacity to feed itself. Haitian rice farmers are remarkably efficient despite poverty and lack of capital. Still, they could not compete with U.S. Agribusiness even without the huge government subsidies U.S. Agribusiness relies on. Corporate Agribusiness can withstand price fluctuation. Small farmers can't. Poor peasants can't tell their kids we will eat next year, not this year, so they import factory made food. The farmers go out of business, the land and capital become idle and can't be used without major investment that they don't have. This is as a result of the program Clinton forced on Aristide, called "The Plan of Death" in Haiti, among the policies there must be no protection for the economy. While Haiti is dependent on the U.S. for food, they are vulnerable to the political and economic situation in the U.S..
Ethanol mandates and the global financial crisis greatly increased food prices, leaving the Haitian market no longer viable. This resulted in a sever food crisis, which has since spread through ought the southern hemisphere. The major powers met in Rome to discuss a plan to combat this crisis. 12 billion dollars was pledged, with tight restrictions, and only 1 billion was delivered. This is better understood in context of the TARP bailout. 700 billion was given as low interest loans with no purpose or strings attached to the major financial institutions. This also pails in comparison to similar international efforts or the massive intervention of the Federal Reserve.
This crisis went unreported in the U.S.. Then in 2010, this week, there was an Earthquake exceeding a 7.0. The results where just devastating. Haiti's poverty clearly was not the result of Communism, as Rush Limbaugh claimed. The U.S. military has taken over the airport in Port-au-Prince, a dicey but necessary move. President Obama had already appointed Bill Clinton as US envoy to Haiti, as Clinton has taken a special interest in Haiti, as I have covered. Hopefully the government will pursue meaningful policies, such as permanent resident status for all Haitians, in accordance with their rights under international law. (Like the U.S. has done for Cubans) That means allowing these people to work and freeing those in jail who have not been convicted of a crime. France should repay the indemnity and both countries should pay reparations for this history. Public money, not donations, should be used to offset this crisis. Finally, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide should be allowed to return and have a major role in the relief and development efforts.