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The International Writers Magazine: Historical Background to Haiti

Haiti (Ayiti 'land of high mountains' – Creole)
Norman Rubin


We rang the bells to herald in the year 2010 hoping that it will a better and more peaceful year than the last, but unfortunately the opposite was true. At the beginning of January we narrowly escaped from a terrorist suicide attack on an airline. Suicide bombings still wracked havoc, death and injury in Pakistan and Iraq.  And climate change was felt in the countries of the Middle East with destructive floods (As usual the Palestinians blamed Israel for flooding Gaza.) Then on January 12 in the early morning hours an earthquake of 7.O magnitude wrecked havoc on the country of Haiti, a catastrophe of major proportions for the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation causing devastation and destruction and heavy loss of life and injury. Over 400,000 of its citizens were made homeless; the infrastructure of the country was destroyed causing the need of relief supplies for the entire citizenry, especially water and the nations of the world from the U.S.A to tiny Israel responded quickly with the needed aid.


The Island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea is today occupied by two independent nations – Haiti and the Dominican Republic; The name Haiti for many years applied to island as a whole until the Spaniards occupied the western part of the island calling it Hispaniola; Subsequently, European diseases and slavery were introduced by the Spanish conquistadors, and the indigenous Arawak peoples were almost wiped out.


The eastern part was left to Amerindians who live by hunting. In the seventieth century an adventurous band of French rovers (buccaneers*) established a foothold on this part of the island. They made a tidy living preying on the Spanish galleons carrying gold and other riches to Spain and the colony flourished. Then other Frenchman joined them laying out plantations of sugar and brought in Negro slaves from Africa to work on the land. The Spaniards could never win a foothold on the island and they gave it up to the French in 1697.

*The buccaneers (boucaniers) meaning meat driers as the first rovers came to the island to get supplies of smoked meat. 


Then ninety years later the French Revolution followed, which declared 'all men are equal'. A great Negro, a former slave, Toussaint l'Ouverture now came to fore. The French recognized his ability and made him commander of the native troops. He was instrumental of forcing the Spaniards to quite the island and to drive out the British who made a landing on the island during their war on the French. For his courage in battle the French authorities made him governor-general.


As time passed by Toussaint exercised more power and at last he proclaimed the absolute independence of the island. The French did not like this state of affairs and sent in a large force to subdue and crush the Negro slave's revolt. Though he was treacherously seized, his men fought on and drove out the French.


The Haitians in 1804 declared their independence, and General Dessalines was proclaimed president for life. Soon he declared himself emperor under the title of Jean Jacque I, but he was such a brute that his own soldiers waylaid him and killed him. Over the years many chiefs and tyrants fought over the throne of Haiti. One of these contestants, Henri Christophe established himself in the northern part of the island and had himself proclaimed king of Haiti, known as Henri I. He tried to restore the ravages of the many conflicts; he erected many building mainly for size and not for purpose of any kind. Like his predecessors was cruel ruler and finally the populace rose up against him; in despair the despot killed himself (1820). He never was able to rule the whole Island; it was not until 1822 the whole of the Island was united under one Republic of Haiti. Then there was a split in 1884 and the old Spanish colony became the Dominican Republic.


The little Republic of Haiti had, through the years till today, had a stormy history since its separation from the Dominican Republic. There have been many revolutions and many Haiti's rulers - emperors and presidents – have met death by violence. In the twentieth century it got progressively worse, calling for the intervention one time or other by either the U.S. Marines or the UN peacekeeping units.

**From 1957 to 1986, Dr. Francois Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc", was the President of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971; he was succeeded by his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, also known as "Baby Doc", who ruled from 1971 until his ouster in 1986. The Duvalier corrupt and murderous regimes created the private army and terrorist death squads known as 'Touton Macoutes' ("Uncle Gunnysack – Haitian Creole mythology of a bogeyman who walked the streets and kidnapped children.), that they used for both political murder and expulsion to suppress their opponents.. 


To sum up this article I will quote a few facts. The population of Hait (before the quake)i was about 8,490,200. The capitol of the country is Port-au-Prince with a population of 1.4 million and is situated on a large bay and has an excellent harbor.

   The main industries of Haiti are mostly agriculture; the most important crop is coffee, which is considered quite excellent.  -  and when there was peace in the county a good tourism industry was in order. Also a geological survey indicated there are undeveloped mineral resources of silver, gold, copper, sulphur, etc. Development of these resources has been hampered by the continual strife that plagued the country.


As to the future of Haiti I will quote part of Ecclesiastes 3:

"For everything it's season, and for every activity under heaven its time:

A time to be born and a time to die;

A time to plant and time to uproot;

A time to pull down and a time to pull up;

A time to weep and a time to laugh;

A time for mourning and a time for dancing:

'A time to tear and a time to mend.'……

© Norman A Rubin Jan 27th 2010

American Red Cross Appeal
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