The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804

Following modern history’s only successful slave revolution, the U.S. government refused to recognize Haiti upon its 1804 declaration of independence. This reflects the intense hostility of the U.S. (and the other big powers) to the Haitian Revolution and the mortal fear of its revolt spreading to slaves in the U.S and throughout the Americas. the United States did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War.

The 1825 Indemnity

Following Haiti’s revolution, French imperial leaders continually plotted to reconquer the former colony. In 1825, French warships threatened the Haitian government in Port-au-Prince and cajoled Haitian President Boyer to pay an indemnity of 150 million gold francs.

The First U.S. Occupation

In 1915, U.S. troops invaded Haiti for the first time. U.S. forces immediately seized all the gold in the Haitian treasury and placed the new Haitian national bank under the control of National City Bank of New York. The U.S. military put down an armed, rural insurrection known as the Caco Rebellion. The U.S. occupation authority used forced labor to conduct some infrastructure projects. Decreed during the U.S. occupation, the Haitian Constitution of 1919 was the first to overturn the 1804 Constitution’s law which forbade any foreigner from owning land in Haiti. Then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed authorship of Haiti’s 1919 Constitution. The U.S. occupation lasted from 1915 to 1934.

The Duvalier Years

In 1957, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier came to power. Despite occasional diplomatic conflicts with U.S. administrations, the Duvalier regime was strongly supported by the United States as an “anti-communist” ally. With the death of Papa Doc in 1971, his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier became the new dictator. Under Baby Doc, U.S.-owned sweatshops grew in importance.

Foreign Rice and the Loss of Agricultural Self-Sufficiency

In the years after the Revolution, Haitian farmers produced most of the food needed to feed the country. Haiti was mostly self-sufficient in rice production through the early 1980s. Because of IMF-sponsored trade liberalization and tariff reduction – and the aggressive marketing of heavily subsidized U.S. rice – the Haitian rice industry lost out. As in other poor countries around the world, liberalization in Haiti has meant the decimation of the peasantry and increased dependence on agriculture controlled by the rich countries.

The First Aristide Coup

In 1990, left-wing populist, anti-Duvalier leader, and former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won Haiti’s presidential elections by a wide majority. Enraged and fearful sections of the Haitian elite violently overthrew Aristide in September of 1991. From 1991 through 1994, thousands of Haitians were killed by right-wing dictatorships. Tens of thousands of Haitians took to the seas to escape, but most were returned by the U.S., which maintained racist, exclusionary policies towards Haitian political refugees.

The Second Aristide Coup

President Bill Clinton’s government brought Aristide back to Haiti in 1994 in a U.S. invasion – but only on the condition that Aristide sign on to U.S.-backed neo-liberal economic reforms and migration policies. Aristide was subsequently elected to the presidency twice. However, in early 2004, a right-wing insurgency took over most of the country, and the U.S. government forced president Aristide to board a plane and leave into exile. After Aristide was spirited out of the country, the United Nations convened an “International Peace-Keeping Mission” to occupy Haiti. Shortly after the coup, 1,000 U.S. Marines entered Haiti as the vanguard force for the UN Stabilization Mission or MINUSTAH. Following the coup, MINUSTAH forces have been accused of extensive human rights violations including well-documented killings of civilians during crackdowns in the slums of Port-au-Prince. It was MINUSTAH who were in charge in Haiti at the time of the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

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