Haiti’s regional, historical, and ethnolinguistic position is unique for several reasons. It was the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, as well as being the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. Haiti was the first in Latin America to gain its sovereignty (from France) and is also the region’s only independent Francophone nation (the other French-speaking Latin American countries are all overseas departments of France).
The United States occupied the island from 1915 to 1934. From 1957 to 1986, the Duvalier family reigned as dictators. They created the private army and terrorist death squads known as Tonton Macoutes. Many Haitians fled to exile in the United States and Canada, especially French-speaking Quebec.
In December 1990, the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the presidential election and a decade of misgovernment ensued. In 2004, after several months of popular demonstrations against him because of a poor economy and his corruption, and pressures exerted by the international community, especially by France, the USA and Canada, Aristide went into exile on 29 February 2004. In February 2006, following elections marked by uncertainties and popular demonstrations, René Préval, close to Aristide and former president of the Republic of Haiti between 1995 and 2000, was elected.
Haitian politics have been contentious, violent and corrupt.. France and the United States have repeatedly intervened in Haitian politics since the country’s founding, sometimes at the request of one party or another. People’s awareness of the threat of such intervention also permeates national life. It remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Much of the land has been deforested and fierce hurricanes regularly devastate what little there is of human resources.
Needless to say, the country is quite homophobic and AIDS is a serious health problem.
Read the story about Gay Haiti.