Scholastic Kids Press Corps
The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation.  The interactive site brings daily news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.
Illustration: Jim McMahon

History of Haiti

null null , null

From Grolier Online
The New Book of Knowledge

History of Haiti

The island of Hispaniola, which is home to the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was originally inhabited by the Arawak Indians.

Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain in 1492. He established the first Spanish settlement in the Americas near the site of Cap-Haïtian. Spanish soldiers, missionaries, and colonists soon followed.

By the mid-1500's, the Indians had all but died out from disease. France gained control of the western third of Hispaniola (then called Saint-Domingue) in 1697. With the forced labor of nearly 500,000 West African slaves, Haiti became France's richest colony in the Western Hemisphere.

Revolution and Independence

In 1791, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a soldier and former slave, led a long and bloody revolt to free the slaves from the French. But in 1802, the French sent troops to restore order. Toussaint was captured and taken to France.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, another former slave, took up the fight. He restored the Indian name of Haiti, which means “mountainous land.” He declared independence from France in 1804.

When Dessaline died, Haiti was divided between two rulers. The country was later reunited under Jean-Pierre Boyer, who ruled until his death in 1844.

Intervention and Dictatorship

Since its independence, Haiti has had numerous governments. In the early 1900's, the country was disorganized and bankrupt. It could not pay its debts to France or Germany. Both countries threatened to send troops to protect their investments

To enforce the Monroe Doctrine against European intrusion into the Americas and to secure its own interests, in 1915 the United States sent Marines to Haiti. The U.S. military stayed until 1934. Finances, sanitation, education, and transportation were greatly improved during this time. But Haitians had little say in their government.

After a brief period of reform, the country returned to its old pattern of dictatorship, this time under François Duvalier. Elected president in 1957, he used violence to enforce his rule. He was widely criticized in the international community for human rights abuses.

In 1964 a new constitution made Duvalier president of Haiti for life. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to overthrow him before he died in 1971. He was succeeded as president for life by his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Fall of Duvalier: Recent Events

The long rule of the Duvaliers in Haiti ended in 1986, when, after widespread protests, Jean-Claude Duvalier and his family fled the country. A provisional (temporary) government was established under General Henri Namphy. A new constitution was approved in 1987, but elections for the presidency had to be canceled, following bloody street riots. New elections were held in 1988, in which Leslie Manigat was declared the winner. But he was soon ousted by Namphy, who himself was deposed by the military.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest, was elected president in 1990. In 1991, Aristide, too, was ousted by the army. But the threat of a U.S. invasion in 1994 forced the military to back down. Aristide, aided by U.S. troops, was restored to office. In 1995 he was succeeded by René Garcia Préval.

In 1999, after almost two years of political deadlock, Préval formed a new government by decree. Elections were finally held in 2000. Aristide and his Lavalas Family Party won, putting Aristide back in control.

Political opponents said the election was rigged. Amid increasing turmoil, a rebel army sought to oust Aristide. He resigned on February 29, 2004, claiming the United States had forced him out.

A U.S.-backed commission chose an interim president and prime minister until democratic elections could be held. A force of 6,700 United Nations soldiers took over peacekeeping duties for the United States in June. Meantime, a series of floods and hurricanes caused further upheaval. Thousands of people were killed, and many more were left homeless and starving.

In 2006, former president Préval was re-elected to lead the country. As the candidate of his own party, Lespwa (Hope), he pledged to restore order and rebuild the devastated country. His work was complicated by rising world food prices, which sparked riots among the poor in 2008.

John F. Lounsbury
Arizona State University

How to cite this article:

MLA (Modern Language Association) style:
Lounsbury, John F. "Haiti." The New Book of Knowledge®. 2010. Grolier Online. 15 Jan. 2010 .

Chicago Manual of Style:

Lounsbury, John F. "Haiti." The New Book of Knowledge®. Grolier Online (accessed January 15, 2010).

APA (American Psychological Association) style:
Lounsbury, J. F. (2010). Haiti. The New Book of Knowledge®. Retrieved January 15, 2010, from Grolier Online


Check out the Kid Reporters' special report Crisis in Haiti for more information on the country and how to help.


Get the latest on national and international events, movies, television, music, sports, and more from the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

Privacy Policy




Here's something interesting from