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     Toussaint L'Ouverture
     Chaos and intervention
     The Duvalier dynasty
     The struggle for democracy

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Toussaint L'Ouverture and independent Haiti: 1791-1843

Toussaint L'Ouverture is a slave in Saint-Domingue who has served his master as a coachman and has achieved some degree of literacy. He emerges as one of the leaders of the first independence movement in the West Indies.

The rebellion of the slaves against their French masters in 1791 is not fully successful until Toussaint L'Ouverture and others join an army invading Saint-Domingue in 1793 from the Spanish half of the island (Santo Domingo, forming the eastern end of Hispaniola). Thereafter Toussaint steadily establishes himself as the strongest of the various black leaders. By 1800 he is master of French Saint-Domingue. In 1801 he invades Santo Domingo and achieves control over the entire island.


A hero perfectly suited to the Romantic era (a noble savage winning liberty for his people), Toussaint adjusts with skill to his adopted role as ruler of the island. Continuing to profess allegiance to France, he nevertheless declares himself governor general of the island for life. As such he signs trade agreements with powers such as the United States and Britain.

Toussaint is flexible enough to invite several former French colonists to return to their plantations, and yet strict enough to ensure that their ex-slaves get to work in a disciplined fashion as free labourers.


Toussaint's good fortune is that the war with Britain makes it impossible for France to send out troops to suppress his insurrection. But his luck runs out in 1801, when the two exhausted European enemies agree to the peace of Amiens.

In December 1801 a French army of 25,000 men arrives in Saint Domingue under the command of Napoleon's brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc. The expedition proves a disaster for the French. Within two years most of the soldiers have died of yellow fever. But meanwhile this is a well-armed force too strong for Toussaint and his followers to resist. Early in 1802 they surrender in return for a generous truce offered by Leclerc. In Toussaint's case this trust is betrayed. He is arrested and sent to France, where he dies in prison in 1803.


The renewal of war with Britain in 1803, combined with the ravages of yellow fever, means that France is unable to hold her newly recovered colony. Another black revolution in 1803 proves conclusive. And its leaders are very much more extreme than Toussaint L'Ouverture.

On 1 January 1804 Jean Jacques Dessalines proclaims the independence of Saint Domingue under its old Arawak Indian name of Haiti. He massacres those French who still remain on the island and declares himself emperor, as Jacques I. His brutal rule soon provokes unrest and he dies in 1806 when attempting to put down a revolt. His crown is inherited by one of his generals, Henri Christophe, who more modestly calls himself King Henry I.


Haiti achieves some degree of stability under Jean Pierre Boyer, who wins power after the death of Henri Christophe in 1820. Two years later Boyer invades and overwhelms the eastern half of the island, Santo Domingo, where the inhabitants have in 1821 risen in rebellion against Spain.

Boyer rules French-speaking Haiti, and governs Spanish-speaking Santo Domingo as a conquered province, until he is overthrown in a revolution in 1843. The upheaval of that year also gives Santo Domingo the chance to throw off the yoke of Haiti. The eastern half of the island proclaims its independence, as the Dominican Republic, in 1844. Hispaniola, the oldest European colony in the western hemisphere, becomes also the first region to be free.


Chaos and intervention: 1843-1934

The revolution which overthrows Boyer in 1843 is followed by another which brings his faction back to power in 1844. This pattern of political instability prevails in Haiti into the early 20th century.

There is profound hostility between two racial groups, the elite minority of mulattos or half-castes, whose members provide the early leaders of the republic, and the poorer majority of African-Americans with pure descent from the island's slave population. There is also the usual 19th-century struggle between Liberal and conservative factions, disagreeing profoundly over the proper role of government.


A bewildering succession of coups bring in varying blends of these competing factions, many of them violently repressive, until in 1915 the murder of 167 political prisoners, followed by the assasination of the republic's president, prompts Woodrow Wilson to send in the US marines.

The US remains as a military government until the marines finally leave the island in 1934. After their departure Haiti soon reverts to its customary chaos. Presidents are forcibly ejected and replaced in 1946, 1950 and 1956 until in 1957 a country doctor, François Duvalier, is elected president by a massive popular majority. For a moment it seems as though there may be cause for optimism.


The Duvalier dynasty: 1957-1986

Duvalier, popularly known from his medical background as Papa Doc, soon makes it plain that the election which he won so handsomely is likely to be the last for some time. His control over the country is strengthened by a brutal gang of armed thugs, operating as something between a private army and a local mafia and known as the Tontons Macoutes.

In 1964 Duvalier alters the constitution to make himself president for life. In January 1971, when his health is deteriorating, he amends it again - lowering the legal age for the president of Haiti somewhat drastically from forty to eighteen. The new level is far from arbitrary. Duvalier's son, Jean Claude, is nineteen at the time.


Papa Doc dies just three months after effecting this change, and his son is immediately sworn in as president. The younger Duvalier at first promises some degree of reform in Haiti's political life, but he remains in power for a surprisingly long time (fifteen years) precisely by continuing his father's methods.

Eventually popular unrest makes Baby Doc's position untenable. In 1986 he escapes in a US air force jet to exile in France. But his departure does little other than plunge Haiti back into the pattern of upheaval familiar from earlier times.


The struggle for democracy: from1986

In the first four years after Duvalier's departure Haiti has five different governments. Four are led by military factions and one is the result of elections, in 1988, which are widely condemned as fraudulent.

In 1990 a new election sweeps into power, with 67% of the vote, a 37-year-old Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He introduces a programme of reform which is ended by another military coup in 1991, as a result of which Aristide flees from the country to take refuge in the USA. This suppression of the first clear sign of democracy in Haiti, followed eventually by the murder of as many as 4000 pro-democracy activists, prompts the United Nations to intervene.


Economic pressure and a naval blockade lead finally to the return of Aristide, under U.N. protection, in 1994. The constitution prevents him serving a second consecutive term as president but his party, Lavalas ('torrent' in Creole), wins a majority in 1995 elections to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

Similarly the Lavalas candidate, René Préval, wins the 1995 presidential election. Four years later there has been no further upheaval or military coup, although there is an exceptionally high level of crime and violence. Haiti, at the end of the century, seems to stand a somewhat better chance of peaceful progress than has usually been the case.


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