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Background on Haiti

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UPDATED: 10/21/2007
Le Palais National d'Haiti
Haiti's National Palace



How serious is the Haiti's file?
(By Gabriel Dorcely) 03/14/2005
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Map of Haiti
Republic of Haiti

National name: République d'Haïti

President: Boniface Alexandre (interim) (2004)

Prime Minister: Gérard Latortue (interim) (2004)

Area: 10,714 sq mi (27,750 sq km)

Population (2004 est.): 7,656,166 (growth rate: 1.7%); birth rate: 33.8/1000; infant mortality rate: 74.4/1000; life expectancy: 51.8; density per sq mi: 715

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Port-au-Prince, 1,764,000 (metro. area), 1,119,000 (city proper)

Monetary unit: Gourde

Languages: Creole and French (both official)

Ethnicity/race: black 95%, mulatto and white 5%

Religions: Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%), other 3%, none 1%. Note: roughly half the population practices Vaudou.

Literacy rate: 53% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2003 est.): $12.18 billion; per capita $1,600. Real growth rate: –1%. Inflation: 37.3%. Unemployment: widespread unemployment and underemployment; more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs (2002 est.). Arable land: 20%. Agriculture: coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum; wood. Labor force: 3.6 million; note: shortage of skilled labor, unskilled labor abundant; agriculture 66%, services 25%, industry 9%. Industries: sugar refining, flour milling, textiles, cement, light assembly industries based on imported parts. Natural resources: bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, hydropower. Exports: $321 million (f.o.b., 2003 est.): manufactures, coffee, oils, cocoa. Imports: $1.028 million (f.o.b., 2003 est.): food, manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment, fuels, raw materials. Major trading partners: U.S., Dominican Republic, Canada, Colombia.

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 60,000 (1995); mobile cellular: over 180,000 (January 2003). Radio broadcast stations: AM 41, FM 26, shortwave 0 (1999). Radios: 415,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 2 (plus a cable TV service) (1997). Televisions: 38,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 3 (2000). Internet users: 30,000 (2002).

Transportation: Railways: total: 40 km (single track; privately owned industrial line); closed in early 1990s (2001 est.). Highways: total: 4,160 km; paved: 1,011 km; unpaved: 3,149 km (1999 est.). Waterways: less than 100 km navigable. Ports and harbors: Cap-Haitien, Gonaives, Jacmel, Jeremie, Les Cayes, Miragoane, Port-au-Prince, Port-de-Paix, Saint-Marc. Airports: 12 (2002).

International disputes: despite efforts to control illegal migration, destitute Haitians continue to cross into Dominican Republic; claims U.S.-administered Navassa Island.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Haiti

Geography & POLITICS

Haiti, in the West Indies, occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. About the size of Maryland, Haiti is two-thirds mountainous, with the rest of the country marked by great valleys, extensive plateaus, and small plains.


Republic with an elected government.


Explored by Columbus on Dec. 6, 1492, Haiti's native Arawaks fell victim to Spanish rule. In 1697, 1/3 of the Island of Haiti became the French Colony of Saint-Domingue, which became a leading sugarcane producer dependent on slaves (Free Labor). The other 2/3 remain under the Spanish rules until the Constitution of 1801 by Toussaint "L'Ouverture" (he had a mind to make an opening to each situation of his time). By 1789 the French Revolution galvanized the politicat theater of France and impacted the world politics. France was Governed by the interim Government called "Le directoire". Life in St-Domingue remained the same although Liberty bells have been heard throughout French territories. In 1791, an insurrection erupted among the slave population of 480,000, resulting in a declaration of independence by Pierre-Dominique Toussaint l'Ouverture in 1801. Napoléon Bonaparte's efforts to suppress the independence movement failed. The latter eventually triumphed in 1803 under Jean-Jacques Dessalines, to form a new nation, a new State in the land the Arawaks tribes named Haiti. It was and remains the world's first independent African descent  Republic, the second Independent State in the Americas, the pioneer in the Pan-Americanism ehich gave wings to the conference of Punta Del Este and eventually the sense to Monroe's doctrine "Americas to Americans", the League of Nations and the United Nations.

The Revolution wrecked the Island's economy. Years of strife between the light-skinned mulattos who inherited their father's wealth, dominated the economy and the majority the Dark skin, African descents population, who were refused access to education. Both colonies, the French and the Spanish of the Island were freed from legal slavery since the Constitution of 1801 but the language differences and barriers not being improved was the root of an inevitable secession plus disputes with Easterners who form a new state, under the name of Republica Dominicana in 1844, and internal frictions continued to hurt the nation's development. 56 years later, the need to have an educational system could no longer remain silent, the Government of Geffrard call for help to the Vatican and signed the "Concordat of 1860" which provides for the Catholic religion to be declared the Official religion of the nation and monopolize the National Education. The succession of dictatorships that started out the nation continued despite of all efforts to introduce democratical principle to the Haitians. In 1874 an emerging powerful Germany made an attempt to set foot to the Americas by holding up the Haitian nations in the so called "Affaire Luders". Bankruptcy seemed to inevitable. Haiti negotiated with Americans to found a National Bank together with an accepted U.S. customs receivership from 1883. Haiti was the weakest link of the Nations of Americas. Not only she incapable of paying her debts but also an emerging greed for power caused the murder of 4 presidents in 2 years and the burning of diplomatic office in Port-au-prince. To prevent the worst, The U.S. Marines took over Haiti to protect their backyard from European intervention, right in the middle of the WWI, in 1915-1934. That military occupation by U.S. Marines from 1915 to 1934 brought stability, but with the indignation of the Cacos, under Charlemagne Peralte's leadership. Haiti's high population growth made it the most densely populated nation in the hemisphere, not to mention out of the 28750 Km2, 2/3 are just Rocky mountains, barely capable of sustaining urban life. In some aspects, Haiti has only approcximately 10,000km2 of normal land available for her cities, her farms, her Hiways, and her recreative parks. Haitians are suffocating the only natural breathing would be to emigrate but the political isolation, the langauage barriers amon her neighboring nations was and still is an additional handicap to bear by the Haitian people until 1979-80, a large part of the population sail their small embarcations toward the Floridian soil, coincidently with some Cubans to form what is called the "Marial boats".

The American Military left Haiti on August 1, 1934 while since 1918 they establishe a mmilitary school, and set an Army with the sons of the Haitian under the leadership of commissioned and non-commissioned Military officers of the U.S. Marices Corps. They left an Army of approximately the size of a Regiment plus. It took 12 years for the Politicians to domesticate the Army for their political ambitions and corrupt the other social and political inherited from the occupation. By 1946, emerged a socio-political revolution with a congressman from Verrettes, Dumarsais Estime, a High school Professor from Lycee Petion, Daniel Fignole, a U.S. trained physician, Francois Duvalier and others.  In 1949, after four years of democratic facade by elected President Dumarsais Estimé, backup by the military muscles, the Army seized power and exiled Estime who died in New York. A Triumvirat Junta took over under Levelt pretexting they will onloy organized new elections of which a member of the triumvirat, Gen. Paul E. Magloire, become President from 1950-1956. He revised and amended the constitution of 1946. For the first time, provision for the president to be elected by universal or popular votes and right for women to votes were adopted but effective until the next electoral session. Magloire, failed to prepare the new elections at the end of his term and his presidential power expires on December 6, 1956. A series of protest claiming the people want to go to the polls lead to a constitutional crisis. Magloire accepted to go back to the Army as the Chief and wanted to drop the presidential power to the Supreme Court. The first two Justices declined if they could not have the military support and finally Magloire has to go into exile like his predecessor. He was succeeded by a series of interim Governments until the nationwide election of September 22, 1957 by which Dr. François Duvalier, nicknamed “Papa Doc,” began his first term for 6 years in 1957. Two year prior to the end of his first terme, Duvalier dismissed his cabinet, organized new election and was re-elected for a new six years term until 1967. Three years later, He arranged to be proclaimed President for-life. On My 22nd. He took the oath for life. In 1967, he convinced the vatican to Haitianiza the clergy. In 1970, his terminal illnes diagnotics brought another crisis in the political theater and he presented his 19 years old son who succeeded him on April 22, 1971. Duvalier's secret police, the V.S.N. (Volontaire de la Securite Nationale) aka "La Milice" aka the “Tontons Macoutes,” ensured political stability with brutal efficiency. Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude, or “Baby Doc,” succeeded his father when he died in 1971 as ruler of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The second half of the 70s witnessed some good changes in Haiti's affairs. For the first time Haiti was listed as a developing country. National hiways were revamped and new one were added such "La route de l'amitie" Port-au-Prince-Jacmel (1974), "La route du Sud" Port-au-Prince - Cayes (1972), The central Hydro-Electric of Peligre (1971), The first International Airport of Mais-Gate (1965), the high productivity of tourism in the national economy could not do better at all times since 1949 for the festivities celebrating the bi-centenary of the foundation of Port-au-Prince; The Satellite dishes to feed a National Television Station (1976), The creation of a Nationwide Radio Station (1975). The multiplication of magazine and newspaper nationwide criticizing officials of the Government (Le petit Samedi Soir de Rene Philotecte 1976) as impacted by the U.S. political theme of Jimmy Carter (Humans rights), The emergence of chess, ping-pong and Haitian soccer teams to Regional and World class beautify the developing signals. In the early 1980s, Haiti became one of the first countries to face an AIDS epidemic, as devilished by the American media. Probably insinuated by the U.S.C.I.A as U.S. Government may have been in need of covering some experimental disaster. Fear of the disease caused tourists to stay away, and the tourist industry collapsed, causing rising unemployment. Unrest generated by the economic crisis forced Baby Doc to flee the country in 1986.

Throughout the 1990s the international community used democracy as their primary focus to Haiti but failed. They claim having tried to establish democracy in Haiti.Only Historians can dig burried documents to justify or infirm that claim. The country's, officially, first elected chief executive, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with poor political and managerial skills, a trained a leftist Roman Catholic priest,  who seemed to promise a new era in Haiti, took office in Feb. 1991. Aristide, in fact, by the perception of his highly intellectual training and his carisma of non partisan, seems rather to make the affairs of more than one to be portrayed as the Christ of the empoverishe haitians.  The Seventys military class, however, discovered the real Aristide, denounced him but no one listen, so the  class of 1971 of the sole Military Academy of the country, Raul Cedras, Alix Silva, Himler Rebu, Guy Francois, Serge Francois, Joseph Pierre antoine and others took control in a coup nine months later, exiled Aristide to Caracas. Efforts from the International community began to negotiated the return of Democracy, meaning the return of Aristide. In October 1974, A UN peacekeeping force, led by the U.S.—Operation Uphold Democracy—arrived in 1994. Aristide was restored to office. He dismantled and dismissed the Army all together in December the same year, in violation of the Constitution. and at the end of his term, after failing to hold the office, he promote his prime Minister, René Preval, who became his successor in 1996 so called elections. Behind the scene, Aristid was the real chief executive, preparing to offically gain the office again for the next election. U.S. soldiers and UN peacekeepers left in 2000. Haiti's government, however, remained ineffectve and the economy was in ruins, mainly by the non precedented structural disintegration enhanced by open corruption. With widespread unemployment, Haiti produces not enough to satisfy the need of its population. Malnutrition, ineffective or lack of systematic national health care nourich migratorial thoughts. So a steady flow of refugees, mostly to the U.S. and the Dominican Republic was inevitable. 

In 2000, former president Aristide was reelected president in elections boycotted by the opposition and questioned by many foreign observers. The U.S. and other countries threatened Haiti, already one of the Western hemisphere's poorest countries, with sanctions unless democratic procedures are strengthened. Haiti has the highest rates of AIDS, malnutrition, and infant mortality in the region. Aristide, once a legendary charismatic champion of democracy, grew more authoritarian and seemed incapable of improving the need of his people while his bank accounts florish on the international banking system. Longt negotiations with the "Convergence democratic", Violent protests, questionable also, rocked the country in Jan. 2004, the month of Haiti's bicentennial, with protestors demanding Aristide resign. By February, a full-blown armed revolt was underway from the North and the Plateau Central, apparently with scattered members of the dismissed Army coming from the neighboring east of the Island, and Aristide's hold on power continued to slip down. The protests include the opposition, groups of armed rebels, and French and American diplomates pressures led to the official resignation and the ousting of Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. Thereafter a U.S.-led international force of 2,300 entered the chaos-engulfed country to restore order, and an interim government took over. In July, the international community pledged $1 billion in aid. In September, Hurricane Jeanne ravaged Haiti, Death toll reach from 2,400to 3000 people, In the region of Gonaives. Most of them were mass graves because of poor sanitation condition to hold the bodies longer than 48 hrs for proper identification. Haiti was also defaulted in his internation debts for more than three months and her credit was as bad as John Doe. By December 2004, the current interim Government was able to paid 43 millions in arriered interest and a credit of 73 millions was approved in January 2005. The case of Haiti is serious, more serious for Haiti but also for our neighbors, including the U.S. Approximately 15 millions arms in Haiti, capable and willing to endure hard labor to survive and possibly live. By themselves they calculated production is only 1.7%  while the estimated 3 millions who live in cosmopolitans life style in America, France, Quebec etc... produce 5 times more. If it were not for the Haitian emigrants who transfer hard cash to their family members, international money would have disappeared longtime ago in Haiti. Haiti needs serious people for serious work of assessment to be done and seious effort to identify the available resources to bring relief to this beautiful island that could be a paradise if it was not populated by African descent, children of slaves, a defiant nation to the established world power. The history of Haiti was kept out of the American territories as a tool to keep control of the American slavery system in the South. As we know today, we all need help from someone else. No one can make it alone. We can safely ask: When the isolation for Haiti will end? (By Gabriel Dorcely)





by Robert Louis Stein
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Rutherford, 1985 ISBN # 0-8386-3218-1

Leger Felicite Sonthonax, son of a prosperous French merchant, was a born-again Revolutionary. He rose in the ranks during the French Revolution and in 1792 was sent to Saint Domingue as part of the Second Civil Commission. This was a group of three men sent to oversee the interests of France in Saint Domingue. Sonthonax conceived the mission of the Commission as having two primary aims:

  • enforce the new French law of April 4, 1792 which gave full rights of French citizenship to free men of color
  • save Saint Domingue for France.

These were two extraordinarily difficult tasks. The slaves had just revolted in the north and held most of the plain. It was feared that they would move toward independence. The whites of Saint Domingue were strongly resisting giving any rights to free men of color, and there was a great deal of discussion among the whites of declaring independence for France. Thus the problem was to return the slaves to the plantations and to save Saint Domingue for France.

Sonthonax took over. He formed close associations with the free men of color and worked tirelessly for their full citizenship. However, the main goal was always to preserve the colony for France. He exiled many radical whites and made great progress in giving citizenship to the men of color. He didn't defeat the slave rebellion, but was able to contain in to the northern plain.

By early 1793 Sonthonax had greatly succeeded three primary aims: pacifying, or at least containing the slave rebellion; defeating the primary white resistance to rights for free men of color; holding the colony for France.

In February 1793 France declared war on Britain. This presented a new problem for Sonthonax, preparing to save the colony from foreign invaders. His most famous action was related to this Republican aim of saving the colony for France. On Aug. 29, 1793 Sonthonax freed the slaves. Robert Stein says: "It was the most radical step of the Haitian Revolution and perhaps even of the French Revolution. Sonthonax took it alone and without hesitation."

Sonthonax seems to have been motivated by three things: a genuine belief that the principle of the French Revolution were incompatible with slavery (or racism of any form); the desire to further the French Revolution and bring Saint Domingue under the revolutionary banner; and the calculated move of soliciting the new freed men to the banner of France against the British invasion of the colony.

Things, however, did not go as Sonthonax hoped. The white colonists continued their fight against Sonthonax, and now were joined by many of the free men of color, who, while desiring their own full citizenship, had no desire to see slavery ended. The slaves on their part didn't trust Sonthonax (it was several months before France agreed with Sonthonax and formally freed the slaves), and they leaned toward independence from the French.

Sonthonax was recalled to France to defend his actions. When he returned in Spring, 1796 as head of the Third Civil Commission. However, he no longer trusted the loyalty to France of the free men of color and through his efforts toward the "citizens of Aug. 29th," the freed slaves. His efforts in the this period were similar to the earlier period--save Saint Domingue for France and extend full citizen rights to the freed slaves.

Obviously he lost. The slaves ultimately chose independence from France and turned against Sonthonax. Toussaint Louverture arranged to have Sonthonax sent back to France and after he left on Aug. 24, 1797 there was a steady movement toward Haitian independence.

Leger Felicite Sonthonax is a controversial figure of the revolutionary period. His critics denounce him as being vain, power hungry and duplicitous. Thomas Madiou, one of Haiti's most famous historians, writing in the middle of the 19th century reported that the old people spoke very well of Sonthonax claiming that he was "needed to regenerate the new freedman."

Robert Stein's wonderful and readable book is not quite a biography of Sonthonax, though it is that too. Rather, it is a history of the Haitian and French Revolutions from 1792 to 1797 told from the perspective of Sonthonax' involvement. While every page, every story is Sonthonax' story, nonetheless the book works as a general history of the two revolutions, and is simply excellent for understanding the interrelationship between the two revolutions.

Stein's portrait of Sonthonax is generally quite favorable. He seems Sonthonax as a dedicated French Republican, a patriot wanting to save an important asset for the Republic, a principled believer in the Rights Of Man, wanting to extend them both to the free men of color and the slaves. On the other hand, he does not protect Sonthonax from his own mistakes or failures of character.

Certainly this is a scholarly work, a specialized book and isn't for everyone. For many general readers it may well be more than you ever wanted to know about the Haitian and French Revolutions. Yet it is an enjoyable and imminently readable book. All serious students of Haiti should read it. The book is still in print and should be available through your local book store.

  • p. 154 By 1796 Toussaint was fully in control of northern blacks.
  • p. 160. Sept. 1795.


Leger Felicite Sonthonax

SONTHONAX, Leger Felicite, French commissioner, born in Oyonnax, Ain, 17 March, 1763; died there, 28 July. 1818. He practised law at Bourg, and going to Paris at the beginning of the French revolution, to become a member of the noted club, "Les amis des noirs," lectured and issued pamphlets in advocacy of the enfranchisement of the slaves in the French dominions. The negroes having rebelled in Santo Domingo, Sonthonax, Etienne Polverel, and Jean Ailhaud were appointed high commissioners to the Leeward islands. They sailed from La Rochelle in July, 1791, with an army of 6,000 men, and landed at Cape Francais on 19 September Ailhaud soon returned to France, and Sonthonax and Polverel, after a brilliant campaign, divided the colony into two governments. General Galbaud arrived from France in June, 1798, to assume the command of the French forces, but was opposed by Sonthonax and removed from office. Galbaud then attacked Cape Francais, and, securing possession of the arsenal, compelled Sonthonax to take refuge in the interior. But the latter made his junction with Polverel, and, returning, issued his famous decree of 29 August, 1793, which enfranchised the slaves forever. Through the help of the negroes Galbaud was finally defeated, and sailed for the United States. Sonthonax's opposition to the whites continued meanwhile, and they asked succor from the authorities at Jamaica. An English expedition landed at Mole Saint Nicholas, and soon occupied the principal parts of the colony ; Sonthonax retired to Jacmel, and sailed in 1794 for France, where he had been indicted for his conduct. But he easily justified himself before the convention, and was again appointed in 1796 high commissioner to Santo Domingo. After removing General Rochambeau he was compelled to appoint Toussaint L'Ouverture commander-in-chief, and finally left the island in July, 1797, having been elected a deputy to the assembly of the five hundred by the colony. He was exiled after the coup d'etat of 1799, and again in 1803 for having criticised the appointment of General Rochambeau as commander-in-chief in Santo Domingo. Napoleon forbade him to remain in Paris after 1810, and he retired to his estate at Oyonnax.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM


By Robert Louis Stein

  • Born: March 17, 1763
  • Died: July 28, 1813
  • June 2, 1792 appointed one of the commissioners to St. Domingue
  • July 22, 1792 Sonthonax left France. 29 years old. he wanted to enforce the law of April 4, 1792.
  • Sept. 18, 1792 landed.
  • Aug. 29, 1793 Sonthonax freed the slaves of the north. from Stein on p. 79 "It was the most radical step of the Haitian Revolution and perhaps even of the French Revolution."
  • 1795 Sonthonax wrote: quoted in Stein, p. 64 "We were perfectly forgotten by the government; we were the lost sentinels of the Republic in the colonies."
  • Aug. 24, 1797 Sonthonax left colonies for the final time.
  • 1838 Louis Seguy de' Villevaleix, stepson of Sonthonax was Haiti's official who secured the final ratification of the treaty of independence with France.
  • From Mary Hassal's SECRET LETTERS "...Sonthonax, a name which will always fill every Frenchman's breast with horror..." p. 74.

Links on history of haiti:

  Haiti:  Revolutionary War 
1791 - 1803


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