“Haiti’s History of Misery” [TIME]

In History, The Caribbean, World News on February 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Overheard a conversation about a professor asking a class that wanted to mobilize in support of the victims of the earthquake in Haiti if they actually knew anything about the country. Few in the class, like many of us, knew anything at all. Not that we need to know history to care, but it definitely matters if we want to help.



The Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake is only the latest tragedy in Haiti’s long history of torment and strife.

Striking Gold
Christopher Columbus sights Haiti in 1492. After the island becomes a Spanish colony, disease and harsh working conditions devastate the indigenous population.

Eden Destroyed
Spain cedes Haiti to France in 1697. The island’s ecology is wrecked as slaves clear forests and sugar fields.

A Nation Is Born
Following 13 years of revolution, Haiti becomes independent in 1804. Former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines assumes the title of Emperor. Rebels kill him two years later, and civil war breaks out.

America’s Backyard

Citing the Monroe Doctrine, President Woodrow Wilson orders U.S. Marines to occupy Haiti in 1915. They favor the biracial élite over black Haitians, deepening long-standing tensions. The U.S. withdraws in 1934.

Bad Medicine
Voodoo doctor François Duvalier is elected President in 1957. “Papa Doc” vows to extend power to the black masses but turns the country into a police state. In 1964 Duvalier is proclaimed “President for life,” a title that is passed on to his son Jean-Claude in 1971.

Hopes Dashed
In 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide wins the country’s first free election. He is deposed less than eight months later. Tens of thousands flee for Florida in small boats.

New Era, New Problems
After the ruling military junta agrees to give up power, President Bill Clinton sends in 20,000 U.S. troops in 1994. HIV and entrenched poverty ravage the population.

History Repeats
Aristide returns to power in 2001 but is forced into exile in 2004.

Natural Disasters
Hurricanes in 2004 and 2008 displace hundreds of thousands.

January 12, 2010
At 4:53:09 p.m on Tuesday, Jan. 12, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, centered only 15 miles southwest of Haiti’s capital city, rocked the nation. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people died in the quake.


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