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Story Publication logo May 1, 2013

Haiti Has a History of Outside Interference, Erratic Leadership

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An Iowa-based medical team has been traveling to rural Haiti for years, assisting residents with...

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Multiple Authors
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Haitian farmers scratch out a living in mountain areas that have lost much of their tree cover. Image by Mary Chind. Haiti, 2013.

1700s: Slave system powers plantations

French sugar and coffee plantation owners run a particularly brutal slavery system in what would become Haiti. Because so many workers die in the fields, the planters continuously import fresh slaves from Africa.

1791: Slaves revolt; new nation forms

Slaves, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, revolt against plantation owners. Years of fighting ensue, until the new nation of Haiti declares independence in 1804. Other countries, including the United States, wait decades to recognize the new nation, partly because of fears that it could become a model for their slaves. France forces Haiti to pay tens of millions of dollars in reparations, partly for the planters' loss of their slaves.

1915: U.S. Marines rule for 20 years

After a series of coups shakes Haiti's government, the U.S. Marine Corps takes control of the country. The Marines essentially rule Haiti for 20 years. Critics, including some in the U.S. Congress, would contend that Marine commanders sometimes used counterproductive brutality to put down resistance.

1957: Duvalier era marked by terror

Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier takes power in what is widely viewed as a fraudulent election. The U.S. at first supports Duvalier, because he is anti-communist. But that support is withdrawn as he becomes increasingly dictatorial, declaring himself "president for life," ruining the economy and terrorizing opponents with his paramilitary police force. When Duvalier dies in 1971, his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, takes the reins until being driven out of the country in 1986.

1990: Aristide rules, forced to exit twice

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a left-leaning priest, is elected president. He is popular with the poor but despised by the wealthy. A military coup deposes him in 1991. Under U.S. economic and military pressure, Aristide is returned to power in 1994. After sitting out for a term, he is re-elected in 2000, though the election is disputed. He flees into exile in Africa in 2004 amid disapproval by business interests and the U.S. government.

2010: Earthquake, then slow recovery

A huge earthquake hits the most populous part of Haiti, killing or maiming hundreds of thousands of people and destroying countless buildings. Foreign rescue workers and reporters pour in. International donors promise to "build back better" than Haiti was. However, many donors and Haitians later become disappointed by the slow pace of recovery.

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