Revolution and violence have long been part of Haiti’s history


It can be disturbing to watch a nation whose motto is “Liberté, églalité, fraternité” fall into civil collapse and chaos. There is no liberty, equality or fraternity to be found in the Republic of Haiti right now, the Caribbean nation who shares the same motto as France. In fact, Haiti owes its existence to revolution, but its history of violence and revolution did not stop there.
When Christopher Columbus sailed on his first famous voyage of discovery, after landing at the Bahamas and Cuba, he explored another island he called Hispaniola. One of his famed ships, the Santa María, ran aground there and had to be abandoned. On December 25, 1492, he established a city called La Navidad on the northern coast. Though the colony was wiped out by the native Taino people within a year, it was the first European settlement in the New World in the country that would become Haiti.
Prior to Columbus’ discovery, the island had been occupied by Native American groups, the last being the Taino. Thousands of these native peoples died from Old World-diseases like smallpox, while others became enslaved in the Spanish encomienda system before Spain passed laws to protect and convert them to Catholicism.
Though it is one island, Hispaniola remains divided between French-influenced Haiti to the west and Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic to the east. This divide goes back to the early colonization, when Spain focused on the east, leaving French settlers to encroach upon the western part of the island. This led to violence between these groups. The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 divided the island. Under French rule, enslaved Africans were brought to the island to work the plantations, and with them came the rise of a mixed-race social class of people. Some Africans maintained their traditional Vodou religion, blending it with Catholicism.
When revolution swept through France in the late 1700s, those ideals spread to their Caribbean colony, leading to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). What began as essentially a slave revolt became a 13-year struggle against the Spanish, British and eventually the French under Napoléon Bonaparte along with a brief period of internal fighting. A separate, new nation was established, and slavery abolished. Thousands of European soldiers were killed in the revolution and more died of diseases like yellow fever, while an estimated 350,000 Haitians died, and thousands of white and free blacks fled the country.
Sadly, the bloodshed in Haiti only continued, even down to the modern age. Even as a self-governing nation, issues not easily resolved plagued the fledgling nation from the start. Race-based discrimination caused conflict and bloodshed, and social and economic problems continue to this day. Most of these have little to no solution to satisfy the people of Haiti. Few Haitian leaders have left office of their own volition, most being assassinated, forced out or becoming victims of a coup. Even the last prime minister and acting president — as the office has been vacant since Jovenel Moise, the 43rd president, was assassinated in 2021 — Ariel Henry resigned on April 24. Michel Patrick Boisvert is currently serving as acting prime minister.
Not until 1833 and 1862 did most of the world recognize the state’s independence when Britain and the U.S. did so in those years, respectively. On the other side of the island, the Dominican Republic, annexed by Haiti in 1822, fought for and gained its independence in 1844, though conflicts between it and Haiti continued.
From 1934-1957, the U.S. occupied Haiti. After a mass execution and subsequent uprising threatened American interest in the island nation, President Woodrow Wilson ordered U.S. Marines to the country to restore order. Though American forces did improve infrastructure and agriculture, they did so in a way that caused resentment among the Haitian people, and opposition bands known as cacos formed in the northern part of the country. More than 2,000 Haitians died in the civil unrest.
One of the most ruthless eras followed, however. The Duvalier dynasty, father and son François and Jean-Claude ruled a combined 29 years. Under their rules, corruption flourished; hundreds of thousands of Haitians left the country, tens of thousands were killed. Pope John Paul II visited Haiti during Jean-Claude’s era, and his speech in the capital city of Port-au-Prince furthered discontent until Jean-Claude was forced to leave the country.
Even electing new leaders has been fraught with troubles. Fraudulent elections, low voter turnout and still more overthrows have caused the U.S. to step in again in 1994 to return former Salesian priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency.
Plagued by earthquakes — especially the 7.0 magnitude temblor in 2010 — and tropical storms, the economic situation in Haiti spiraled further down and the people began to protest increased fuel prices under Jovenel Moïse’s presidency in 2018.
By 2020, a coalition of gangs had formed, attacking innocent people in Port-au-Prince in efforts to secure territory. The “G9 alliance,” as it is known, is led by Jimmy Chérizier, nicknamed Barbeque. These gangs have perpetrated violence on and massacred citizens of the capital city. After Moïse was assassinated in his own home in 2021, Chérizier only increased his violent efforts against the government.