U.S. Involvement in Haiti

I've spent the last few months focusing on straightening out the complicated and often jumbled timeline of Haitian history in my head. I've been reading a lot about the incredibly entrenched U.S. involvement in Haiti and, at the risk of offending people, I am convinced that the United States is directly responsible for undermining democracy and inciting instability in Haiti, especially within the last century. I'm not saying that we're the only cause; there are definitely plenty of others within Haiti responsible. But I will venture that U.S. policy is a principle reason that Haiti has endured generations of instability, poverty, and suffering.

In defense of that statement, I've put together a timeline highlighting U.S. involvement in Haiti. The main text comes from the BBC chronology here, but I've expanded it with multiple sources that I include at the bottom.

Haiti History Timeline

U.S. Involvement in Italics

1492 - Christopher Columbus lands and names the island Hispaniola, or Little Spain.

1496 - Spanish establish first European settlement in western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, now capital of Dominican Republic.

1697 - Spain cedes western part of Hispaniola to France, and this becomes Haiti, or Land of Mountains.

1801 - A former black slave who became a guerrilla leader, Toussaint Louverture, conquers Haiti, abolishing slavery and proclaiming himself governor-general of an autonomous government over all Hispaniola.

1802 - French force led by Napoleon's brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, fails to conquer Haitian interior.


1804 - Haiti becomes independent; former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines declares himself emperor.

France forces Haiti to pay massive debt in return for independence, crippling the nation. Haiti fully paid by 1879, but the debt made it impossible for them to develop. France promised that Haiti would be granted international recognition in return, which never really happened. The U.S. supported this debt. In 2004, Aristide called for France to repay what, with inflation & interest, amounted to $21,685,135,571.48.

1806 - Dessalines assassinated and Haiti divided into a black-controlled north and a mulatto-ruled south

1818-43 - Pierre Boyer unifies Haiti, but excludes blacks from power.

U.S. Refuses to recognize Haiti as an independent state for 60 years (until 1864), fearing the “Slave Republic” of Haiti would inspire black slaves in the southern U.S. This caused crippling inability for Haiti to export/trade and lent to the devastation of their early economy.

1915 - US invades Haiti following black-mulatto friction and an uprising among the elites in Haiti. The U.S. thought the friction endangered its property and investments in the country. U.S. declared Haiti “unfit to rule itself” and created an army and police force, which led to destruction later on when dictators gained control of the U.S.-created army.

1934 - US withdraws troops from Haiti, but maintains fiscal control until 1947.

Duvalier dictatorships

1956 - Voodoo physician Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier seizes power in military coup and is elected president a year later.

1964 - Duvalier declares himself president-for-life and establishes a dictatorship with the help of the Tontons Macoute militia.

Papa Doc received over $40 million from the U.S. in his first four-and bloodiest-years in power. The U.S. also sent marines to protect the regime.

1971 - Duvalier dies and is succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude, or "Baby Doc", who also declares himself president-for-life.

1986 - Baby Doc flees Haiti in the wake of mounting popular discontent, led by a flood of poor people called “Lavalas” and is replaced by Lieutenant-General Henri Namphy as head of a governing council. Baby Doc fled Haiti on an American cargo plane.

1988 - Leslie Manigat becomes president, but is ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Prosper Avril, who installs a civilian government under military control.

Democracy, coup and intervention

1990 - Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Catholic priest, elected president in Haiti's first free and peaceful polls. Aristide earns 67% of the popular vote and created literacy programs & began democratic reforms, including a fight to raise minimum wages.

While Aristide’s reforms impressed international banks and violence & refugees were reduced, the U.S. media painted a negative picture, focusing on human rights abuses by the Lavalas group (not sanctioned by Aristide), but failing to recognize that human rights abuses had actually been reduced by 75% after the U.S.-supported dictatorships ended.

1991 - Aristide ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Raoul Cedras, triggering sanctions by the US and the Organisation of American States.

Haitians flee to the U.S. George Bush Sr. responds by enacting a trade and immigrant embargo against Haiti, forcing repatriation to all refugees without interviewing them or keeping them in GTMO without trial for up to 2 years. Hundreds of HIV-positive refugees languish in a prison-like camp in Guantanamo Bay. When charged with violating a number of U.S. & UN laws, Bush administration lawyers claimed that because GTMO isn’t U.S. soil, international & U.S. law didn’t protect refugees.

1994 – April. Massive massacre in Raboteau by anti-Aristide forces kills dozens of resistance leaders, women, children. A trial to prosecute military leaders involved in the massacre is one of Haiti’s judicial victories- but goes unnoticed by U.S.

Military regime relinquishes power in the face of an imminent US invasion; US forces (under Clinton) oversee a transition to a civilian government; Aristide returns. One of the first things that Aristide does is disband the military.

In return for reinstating him, U.S/IMF/World bank force Aristide to accept conditions such as:

· Appoint a businessman from the ruling elite as prime minister.

· Lower tariffs to benefit U.S. trade. Haiti is flooded with subsidized crops from U.S. & Haitian farmers are driven out of business (similar to effects of NAFTA on Mexico).

· U.S. wants Aristide to privatize state-owned resources to benefit rich elite.

· U.S. does not capture or prosecute the fleeing military coup leaders. Clinton administration grants safe haven to Toto Constant, paramilitary leader of FRAPH. Toto still lives as a free man in Queens, NY despite a 1995 deportation order. U.S. State Department advised delay of deportation.

· U.S. steals 160,000 documents documenting tortures by FRAPH, the paramilitary force founded by the U.S. CIA & Toto Constant. U.S. says they will only return documents with pages blacked out because U.S. paid FRAPH leaders. Documents not returned until 2001 after intense legal battle. Lack of documents make Raboteau trial (finished in 2000) difficult, but Haiti still succeeds in prosecuting many military leaders, but some are still granted amnesty in U.S. even after Raboteau conviction.

1995 - UN peacekeepers begin to replace US troops; Aristide supporters win parliamentary elections

Rene Preval, from Aristide's Lavalas party, is elected in December to replace Aristide as president.

1997-99 - Serious political deadlock; new government named.

1999 - Preval declares that parliament's term has expired and begins ruling by decree following a series of disagreements with deputies.

Aristide's second term


May- Legislative elections happen amid allegations of irregularities.

November - Aristide elected president for a second non-consecutive term. Convergence Democratique, the anti-Aristide elites, boycott election and Aristide wins with 92% of the vote.

· Convergence Democratique has little support in Haiti but is funded by the U.S. International Republican Institude, which is associated with the Republican party.

U.S. boycotts Aristide government because of May Legislative elections, not even because of presidential elections. Aristide encourages those elected incorrectly to resign and they all step down. However, U.S. maintains embargos.

Election irregularities cause U.S. under George W. Bush to block essential loans from IDB (International Development Bank) for health and education programs. IDB then requires Haiti to pay commission fees even before they receive loan money. Haiti may end up paying more in fees than they receive.

U.S. decision not to send aid/loans to government weakens government & strengthens opposition.

2001 July - Presidential spokesman accuses former army officers of trying to overthrow the government after armed men attack three locations, killing four police officers.

2001 December - 30 armed men try to seize the National Palace in an apparent coup attempt; 12 people are killed in the raid, which the government blames on former army members.

2002 July - Haiti is approved as a full member of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc.

2003 April - Voodoo recognised as a religion, on a par with other faiths.

Human rights groups become partisan and refuse to investigate abuses by anti-Aristide groups, leading to biased reports in the U.S. media focusing only on abuses from pro-Aristide Lavalas group.

2004 January-February

Paramilitary guerillas (linked to Convergence Democratique, supported by Republican party) attack throughout Haiti on the basis that Aristide isn’t legitimate leader because his opposition had boycotted the 2000 election. In a 2000 poll, only 8% of population oppose Aristide.

· Gangs use U.S.-made M-16 weapons in attacks.

Bush administration released statement blaming Aristide for attacks/unrest. Bush administration encourages Aristide to leave the country by calling into question his “fitness to continue to govern Haiti.”

Celebrations marking 200 years of independence turn into uprising against President Aristide, who is forced into exile. An interim government takes over.

· Aristide claims U.S. Military forces him to leave, saying “if I don’t leave they would start shooting, and be killing in a matter of time.”

· Aristide exiled to Central African Republic aboard a U.S. jet. Aristide is only told of his destination 30 min before arriving & denied ability to communicate with outside world.

2004 May - Severe floods in south, and in parts of neighbouring Dominican Republic, leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared.

2004 June - First UN peacekeepers arrive, to take over security duties from US-led force and to help flood survivors.

2004 July - International donors pledge more than $1bn in aid.

2004 September - Nearly 3,000 killed in flooding in the north, in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne.

late 2004 - Rising levels of deadly political and gang violence in the capital; armed gangs loyal to former President Aristide are said to be responsible for many killings.

2005 April - Prominent rebel leader Ravix Remissainthe is killed by police in the capital.

2005 July - Hurricane Dennis kills at least 45 people.

Preval wins elections

2006 February - General elections, the first since former President Aristide was overthrown in 2004. Rene Preval is declared the winner of the presidential vote after a deal is reached over spoiled ballot papers.

2006 June - A democratically-elected government headed by Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis takes office.

2006 September - Launch of a UN-run scheme to disarm gang members in return for grants, job training.

2006 October - US partially lifts an arms embargo, imposed in 1991.

2007 January - UN troops launch tough new offensive against armed gangs in Cite Soleil, one of the capital's largest and most violent shantytowns.

2008 April - Food riots. Government announces emergency plan to cut price of rice in bid to halt unrest. Parliament dismisses Prime Minister Alexis.

U.S.-subsidized rice imports undermine local farmers, creating more poverty & hunger.

2008 May - US and World Bank announce extra food aid totalling 30m dollars.

In response to plea from President Preval for more police to help combat wave of kidnappings-for-ransom, Brazil agrees to boost its peacekeeping force.

Tropical storms/Disasters

2008 August/September - Nearly 800 people are killed and hundreds are left injured as Haiti is hit by a series of devastating storms and hurricanes, destroying 80% of Haiti’s economy.

2008 September - Michele Pierre-Louis succeeds Jacques-Edouard Alexis as prime minister.

2008 November - A school in Port-au-Prince collapses with around 500 pupils and teachers inside. The authorities blame poor construction methods.

2009 May - Former US President Bill Clinton appointed UN special envoy to Haiti.

2009 July - World Bank and International Monetary Fund cancel $1.2bn of Haiti's debt - 80% of the total - after judging it to have fulfilled economic reform and poverty reduction conditions.

2009 October-November - Jean-Max Bellerive becomes prime minister after the Senate passes censure motion against his predecessor, Michelle Pierre-Louis.

2010 January - Up to 300,000 people are killed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the capital Port-au-Prince and its wider region - the worst in Haiti in 200 years.

US takes control of the main airport to ensure orderly arrival of aid flights.

2010 March - International donors pledge $5.3 billion for post-quake reconstruction at a donor conference at UN headquarters.

2010 July - Popular anger grows over slow pace of reconstruction six months after quake, aid workers report.

Pathologies of Power, book by Paul Farmer (mostly from chapter 2: Pestilence and Restraint).
Haiti: Global Issues. (Lots of good quotes & sources here).


  1. Good job!This is really helpful!

    P.S.: I totally agree with your opinion stated in the introduction! Unfortunately, Haiti is one of the many countries USA plundered...

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  3. You might want to rectify that 1697 timeline, as the country didn't get named Haiti until 1803, after the Haitian Revolution. Back then, it was Saint-Domingue.
    That said, interesting timeline. I learned a few things.


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