The island was originally inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people, who originated in South America. The first Europeans arrived on 5 December 1492 during the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, who initially believed he had found India or China. Columbus subsequently founded the first European settlement in the Americas, La Navidad, on what is now the northeastern coast of Haiti. The island was claimed by Spain and named La Española, forming part of the Spanish Empire until the early 17th century. However, competing claims and settlements by the French led to the western portion of the island being ceded to France in 1697, which was subsequently named Saint-Domingue. French colonists established lucrative sugarcaneplantations, worked by vast numbers of slaves brought from Africa, which made the colony one of the richest in the world.
In the midst of the French Revolution (1789–99), slaves and free people of color launched the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), led by a former slave and the first black general of the French Army, Toussaint Louverture. After 12 years of conflict, Napoleon Bonaparte's forces were defeated by Louverture's successor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (later Emperor Jacques I), who declared Haiti's sovereignty on 1 January 1804—the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, the first country to abolish slavery, and the only state in history established by a successful slave revolt. Apart from Alexandre Pétion, the first President of the Republic, all of Haiti's first leaders were former slaves. After a brief period in which the country was split in two, President Jean-Pierre Boyer united the country and then attempted to bring the whole of Hispaniola under Haitian control, precipitating a long series of wars that ended in the 1870s when Haiti formally recognized the independence of the Dominican Republic. Haiti's first century of independence was characterized by political instability, ostracism by the international community and the payment of a crippling debt to France. Political volatility and foreign economic influence in the country prompted the U.S. to occupy the country from 1915 to 1934. Following a series of short-lived presidencies, François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier took power in 1956, ushering in a long period of autocratic rule that was continued by his son Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier that lasted until 1986; the period was characterized by state-sanctioned violence against the opposition and civilians, corruption, and economic stagnation. Since 1986 Haiti has been attempting to establish a more democratic political system.
Jean's highly publicized efforts to raise relief funds after the 2010 Haitian earthquake were channeled through his charitable organization, Yéle Haiti. The charity, which conducted education and welfare activities in Haiti between 2005 and 2010, effectively closed in 2012. Yéle was investigated for failure to file tax returns and mismanagement of funds; a high proportion of its money went to travel and administrative expense. The New York Times reported that much of the money raised by the organization in the Hope for Haiti Nowtelethon was retained by Jean for his own benefit. (Full article...)
...that in 2004, Hurricane Jeanne hit the coastal city of Gonaïves, where it affected about 80,000 of the city's 100,000 residents? And that official reports counted 3,006 people dead, with 2,826 of those in Gonaïves alone?
...that former President of HaitiJean-Claude Duvalier, also known as "Baby Doc" was exiled to France after his disposition in 1986? And that he lost most of his wealth due to his divorce from his wife Michèle?
...that Restavec refers to a social system in Haiti whereby parents unable to care for their children send them to relatives or strangers? And that while some restavecs receive food and housing (and sometimes an education) in exchange for light housework, others have alleged widespread abuses within the system?
Staff of the German legation and the Hamburg-Amerika Line agency at Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1900. The agency was involved in the staffing and management of the legation. German nationals were comparatively numerous in Haiti and heavily involved in the Haitian economy until World War I.