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An Abbreviated Timeline of Haitian History

Gardy Guiteau
Date Published: 
April 1, 2010

Pre-1492: Prior to European arrival, Arawak-speaking Taíno people inhabited an island they referred to by several names, including Ayiti, or “high land.” Numbering roughly 1 million, they were organized into at least five major settlements.

1492: Christopher Columbus lands on the island called Haïti/Ayiti/Quisqueya/Bohio by the Taíno Arawak, changes the name to Hispaniola and destroys the native population within 50 years.

1501: First Africans are brought to Hispaniola as slaves.

1697: The Treaty of Ryswick is signed granting the western part of Hispaniola to France who names this territory Saint Domingue.

1751: Led by François Makandal, slave revolts begin in northern parts of Saint Domingue.

1758: Makandal is captured and publicly executed.

1791: During a Vodou ceremony led by Dutty Boukman and an unidentified priestess, the slave revolt against French colonialism begins.  Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, the enslaved Haitians defeat the French, the Spanish, the British, and the free mulattos who had an interest in continuing the slave system.

1801: Toussaint becomes Governor-General of Saint Domingue and Napoleon sends 22,000 troops to recover the colony.

1804: Napoleonic troops are defeated by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Independence is declared making Haiti an independent Black republic and the second nation-state in the Americas.  The US and allied European powers help France orchestrate diplomatic isolation of Haiti.

1825: Haitian President Boyer signs an agreement with France for recognition in exchange of an indemnity of 150 million francs.  Haiti ultimately pays 90 million francs to France (equivalent to 21 billion US dollars in today’s currency).  This resulted in bankruptcy of Haiti and decades of French control of Haitian finances.

1827: France and Britain begin gunboat diplomacy tactics in relation to Haiti to ensure that foreign interests were being honored by Haiti. Spain, Germany and the US would later use similar tactics.

1862: Under Abraham Lincoln, the US recognizes Haiti.

1904: Haiti’s national debt is estimated at $41 million with more than 80% of the national revenue going to repayment of debt to western nations.

1915: Invoking the Monroe Doctrine, the US invades and occupies Haiti. 

1917: The US rewrites the Haitian constitution to allow foreigners to own land in Haiti.  Displacing peasants, more than 226,000 acres of land are ceded to North American companies who benefited from cheap Haitian labor at 20 cents per day. US investments in Haiti triple during the occupation.

1918: Led by Charlemagne Péralte, peasant-based guerilla warfare against the US marines escalates.

1919: Péralte is assassinated, leading to the end of the peasant insurrection. Ten thousand are estimated to have died.

1934: The US Marines leave Haiti and leave behind a US-trained repressive Haitian army. Haitian national banks and treasury are now owned by National City Bank of New York (now Citibank).

1957: After decades of ineffective governments and several coups d’état, François Duvalier is installed as president by way of a stolen election orchestrated by the Haitian army.  Thus begins several years of cruel repression at the hand of Duvalier.

1964: François Duvalier proclaims himself “President for Life.”

1971: François Duvalier dies, only to be replaced by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier.

1980: Although foreign investments industrialized Port-au-Prince with assembly factories that made Haiti the world’s ninth largest assembler of products for US markets, the Haitian national debt grows to $366 million.

1986: After the killing of four students, a year of sustained national protests against Jean-Claude Duvalier forces him to flee Haiti for France on a US jet.  General Henry Namphy steps into power and establishes a repressive military government.

1988: General Prosper Avril overthrows Namphy and declares himself president.  Two years later he declares a state of emergency and human rights workers and activists are violently persecuted.

1990: Following the killing of an eleven-year-old girl at a protest, demonstrators shut down schools and shops and take to the streets, forcing Avril to resign. Supreme Court Justice Ertha Pascal-Trouillot becomes interim president and presides over election procedures later that year.

1990: On December 16, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest working with Haiti’s poor in the context of the liberation theology movement, becomes Haiti’s first democratically elected president.

1991: After a failed attempt to remove Aristide prior to his inauguration, the Haitian military backed by the CIA successfully executes a coup d’état and Aristide flees to the US.

1992: Marc Bazin, the US-favored candidate in the 1990 elections, is ratified as prime minister by the military government. 

1994: After three years in exile and promising to implement structural adjustment programs proposed by the powerful international development agencies, Aristide returns to Haiti accompanied by US troops to finish out his term.

1995: René Préval is elected president marking the first peaceful transition of power in modern Haitian history.

1996: The Haitian government agrees to implement an economic development package from international agencies that requires lowering tariffs and wages as well as privatization of state-owned entities.

2000: Aristide is reelected president winning 92% of the popular vote.

2001: Aristide begins to develop a partnership with Cuba and Venezuela, which would result in 800 Cuban healthcare workers in Haiti and reduced oil prices from Venezuela.

2003: Aristide demands that France pay Haiti reparations to the tune of $21 billion (the modern day value of the 90 million francs that Haiti originally paid as an indemnity to France).

2004: Following political unrest instigated by critics of Aristide and the uprising of a rebel group funded and trained by the US, Aristide is forced to resign and is removed from Haiti by US troops.  Aristide is forced into exile in South Africa.

2006: René Préval is elected president after an agreement is reached over a controversy around spoiled ballots.

2008: Haitians take to the streets in desperation, impacted by economic policies that have created worldwide food shortages.  Two major hurricanes kill over a thousand people and displace thousands more.

2010: A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti near the capital of Port-au-Prince killing more than 200,000 people, rendering countless others wounded and homeless, destroying homes, businesses, hospitals, schools, and government buildings.

Gardy Guiteau is a Haitian-born US American who studies Haitian history, culture, politics, Haitian women movements and Haitian masculinities.  He holds a M.Ed. in Social Justice Education with a Graduate Certificate in Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies.

Thanks also to Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti (R.I.S.A.).