Haiti Country Information
- Posted Jan 27, 2011
Cultural life, Daily life
Haitian towns are hives of informal-sector activity, with small workshops, street markets, and food stalls providing thousands of day-to-day jobs. There is no social security or taxation in this precarious world, and many children are paid near-starvation wages to perform menial tasks. But many Haitians prefer to take their chance in Port-au-Prince's slums rather than eke out a meager living from remote hillside farms. In the rural areas the hours are even longer and the money scarcer, because eroded and infertile plots produce barely enough food for subsistence. Most farmers live in small wooden-frame houses with thatched or corrugated-metal roofs that are generally enclosed within a compound of four mud-daubed wattle walls. There is little furniture. Cash surpluses, when they exist, are invested in land, cattle, or voodoo ceremonies or are used to pay the school fees for children. Few farmers have their own means of transportation. Such hardship is far removed from the lifestyle of Haiti's few wealthy elite, who commute from their cool mountainside villas to air-conditioned offices in costly four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Staple foods include beans, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas and plantains, corn (maize), cassava, and taro (a tropical tuber locally known as malangá). However, many of Haiti's urban poor have difficulty obtaining basic foodstuffs and adequate amounts of potable water. Whenever resources permit, Haitians prepare food with locally grown spices, including thyme, anise, oregano, black pepper, and cloves. Almost every street corner has a stall selling fritay (fried pieces of pork, fish, or plantain) or shaved ice flavoured with sweet cordials.
Rice and beans are considered the national dish and are the most commonly eaten meal in urban areas. Traditional rural staples are sweet potatoes, manioc, yams, corn, rice, pigeon peas, cowpeas, bread, and coffee. More recently, a wheat-soy blend from the United States has been incorporated into the diet.
Important treats include sugarcane, mangoes, sweetbread, peanut and sesame seed clusters made from melted brown sugar, and candies made from bittermanioc flour. People make a crude but highly nutritious sugar paste called rapadou .
Haitians generally eat two meals a day: a small breakfast of coffee and bread, juice, or an egg and a large afternoon meal dominated by a carbohydrate source such as manioc, sweet potatoes, or rice. The afternoon meal always includes beans or a bean sauce, and there is usually a small amount of poultry, fish, goat, or, less commonly, beef or mutton, typically prepared as a sauce with a tomato paste base. Fruits are prized as between-meal snacks. Non-elite people do not necessarily have community or family meals, and individuals eat wherever they are comfortable. A snack customarily is eaten at night before one goes to sleep.
In both rural and urban areas, men monopolize the job market. Only men work as jewelers, construction workers, general laborers, mechanics, and chauffeurs. Most doctors, teachers, and politicians are men, although women have made inroads into the elite professions, particularly medicine. Virtually all pastors are male, as are most school directors. Men also prevail, although not entirely, in the professions of spiritual healer and herbal practitioner. In the domestic sphere, men are primarily responsible for the care of livestock and gardens.
Women are responsible for domestic activities such as cooking, housecleaning and washing clothes by hand. Rural women and children are responsible for securing water and firewood, women help with planting and harvesting. The few wage-earning opportunities open to women are in health care, in which nursing is exclusively a female occupation, and, to a far lesser extent, teaching. In marketing, women dominate most sectors, particularly in goods such as tobacco, garden produce, and fish. The most economically active women are skillful entrepreneurs on whom other market women heavily depend. Usually specialists in a particular commodity, these marchann travel between rural and urban areas, buying in bulk at one market and redistributing the goods, often on credit, to lower-level female retailers in other markets.
Rural women are commonly thought by outsiders to be severely repressed. Urban middle-class and elite women have a status equivalent to that of women in developed countries, but among the impoverished urban majority, the scarcity of jobs and the low pay for female domestic services have led to widespread promiscuity and the abuse of women. However, rural women play a prominent economic role in the household and family. In most areas, men plant gardens, but women are thought of as the owners of harvests and, because they are marketers, typically control the husband's earnings.
Marriage is expected among the elite and the middle classes, but less than forty percent of the non-elite population marries (an increase compared with the past resulting from recent Protestant conversions). However, with or without legal marriage, a union typically is considered complete and gets the respect of the community when a man has built a house for the woman and after the first child has been born. When marriage does occur, it is usually later in a couple's relationship, long after a household has been established and the children have begun to reach adulthood. Couples usually live on property belonging to the man's parents. Living on or near the wife's family's property is common in fishing communities and areas where male migration is very high.
Although it is not legal, at any given time about 10 percent of men have more than a single wife, and these relationships are acknowledged as legitimate by the community. The women live with their children in separate homesteads that are provided for by the man.
Extra residential mating relationships that do not involve the establishment of independent households are common among wealthy rural and urban men and less fortunate women. Incest restrictions extend to first cousins. There is no brideprice or dowry, although women generally are expected to bring certain domestic items into the union and men must provide a house and garden plots.
Households typically are made up of nuclear family members and adopted children or young relatives. Elderly widows and widowers may live with their children and grandchildren. The husband is thought of as the owner of the house and must plant gardens and tend livestock. However, the house typically is associated with the woman, and a sexually faithful woman cannot be expelled from a household and is thought of as the manager of the property and the decision maker regarding use of funds from the sale of garden produce and household animals.
In some areas infants are given purgatives immediately after birth, and in some regions the breast is withheld from newborns for the first twelve to forty-eight hours, a practice that has been linked to instruction from misinformed Western-trained nurses. Liquid supplements usually are introduced within the first two weeks of life, and food supplements often are begun thirty days after birth and sometimes earlier. Infants are fully weaned at eighteen months.
Very young children are indulged, but by the age of seven or eight most rural children engage in serious work. Children are important in retrieving household water and firewood and helping to cook and clean around the house. Children look after livestock, help their parents in the garden, and run errands. Parents and guardians are often harsh disciplinarians, and working-age children may be whipped severely. Children are expected to be respectful to adults and obedient to family members, even to siblings only a few years older than themselves. They are not allowed to talk back or stare at adults when being scolded. They are expected to say thank you and please. If a child is given a piece of fruit or bread, he or she must immediately begin breaking the food and distributing it to other children. The offspring of elite families are notoriously spoiled and are reared from an early age to lord it over their less fortunate compatriots.
Tremendous importance and prestige are attached to education. Most rural parents try to send their children at least to primary school, and a child who excels and whose parents can afford the costs is quickly exempted from the work demands levied on other children.
Cultural life > Sports and recreation
Haitians do not generally have access to the types of organized recreational activities prevalent in other countries, and sporting facilities are limited. Nevertheless, they celebrate a colorful pre-Lenten Carnival—although perhaps not as elaborately as in other Caribbean nations.
Sports and gambling tend to go hand in hand in Haiti. Card games and dominoes are popular pastimes, but the most passion-inspiring gaming is provided by cockfighting, which takes place every Sunday in almost every village and neighborhood across the country. Considerable sums of money pass hands at these gatherings, and a successful trainer can become a powerful figure in the community. Another popular form of gambling is borlette, a street-corner lottery found throughout the country.
Football (soccer) draws sizable crowds to matches in Port-au-Prince, as well as to potholed city streets and rural roads. In 1974 Haiti became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the World Cup finals, and some Haitian footballers, such as Joe Gaetjens, have played for teams in the United States and Europe. Haiti's elite class has produced a handful of international-level tennis players, and cycling is popular among those who can afford bicycles. Swimming is more accessible to ordinary Haitians.
Most of Haiti’s farmers work small plots of land on which they raise food for their families. Any excess is sold at markets. The land is overworked and overcrowded, and soil erosion is a major agricultural problem. Hurricanes, flooding, and drought also take their toll on crops.
Coffee, cacao, and mangoes are the major crops grown in Haiti for export. Sugarcane long ranked second to coffee among commercial crops, but competition and falling sugar prices forced Haiti’s sugar refineries to close in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Haiti also grows vetiver, a grass that yields oils used in the manufacture of perfume. The main crops grown for food are corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, rice, and plantains. Chickens are the most common livestock, but cattle, goats, and pigs are also raised.
Haiti’s poverty has meant that manufacturing was long limited primarily to processing food products, such as coffee, sugar, flour, and beverages, for local use. Factories also produce cement, shoes, and textiles. Foreign-owned plants in Haiti assemble electronic goods for export and produce sports equipment and clothing. Further industrialization in Haiti has been obstructed by an uncertain electrical supply, waste disposal problems, limited transportation, a lack of capital and skilled labor, and government policies.
The petite industrie, or handicraft industry, is an important source of income for many Haitians. Houses in the shantytowns around Port-au-Prince double as shops where artisans carve wood, weave cloth, or make a variety of other handicrafts to sell to tourists.
Currency, Banking, and Trade
The gourde, consisting of 100 centimes, is the basic unit of currency in Haiti (40.40 gourdes equal U.S.$1; 2005 average). United States currency is recognized as legal tender. The national Bank of Haiti is government-owned and performs commercial and central bank functions. French, U.S., and Canadian banks operate on a small scale.
In the early 2000s Haiti’s major exports were coffee and assembled manufactured goods, such as electronics and clothing. The country’s chief imports were machinery and manufactured goods, food and beverages, fuel, and chemicals. The United States was Haiti’s primary trading partner. In 2000 exports were valued at $164 million and imports at $1.04 billion.
Haiti is a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free-trade organization, and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), an organization that promotes regional unity and coordinates economic and foreign policy among Caribbean nations.
Most of Haiti’s communications network is clustered in Port-au-Prince. International communications tend to be better than domestic. In 2000 there were 6 television sets and in 199753 radios in use for every 1,000 residents. Haiti had 17 telephone mainlines per 1,000 people in 2004. There were 4 daily newspapers in 1996, with an average circulation of about 20,000, or about 3 papers per 1,000 inhabitants. Most of the newspapers and broadcast stations are in Port-au-Prince, and these cater to the capital’s wealthier inhabitants.
Tourism has been an important source of revenue for Haiti in the past. In the mid-1980s stories about AIDS on the island scared away many potential tourists. In the 1990s and early 2000s Haiti’s unstable political scene deterred travelers from visiting the island. Yet tourist attractions abound, from the country’s beautiful beaches to its vibrant culture and colorful towns and cities. In 2005, some 112,000 tourists visited Haiti.
The labor force consists of 3.7 million mostly unskilled workers. Women outnumber men as factory workers. A few labor unions exist, but poverty and years of dictatorship have prevented labor groups from organizing, although they are legal. Industrial wages of less than $2 per day are the lowest in the Caribbean.
History > Early period
The island that now includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic was first inhabited about 5000 BC, and farming villages were established about 300 BC. Arawak Indians and some other indigenous peoples later developed large communities there. The Taino, an Arawak group, became dominant; also notable were the Ciboney Indians. In the 15th century between 100,000 and several million Taino and Ciboney lived on the island, which the Taino called Quisqueya. They based their economies on cassava farming, fishing, and interisland trade (gold jewelry, pottery, and other goods).
Christopher Columbus sighted Quisqueya on December 6, 1492, and named it La Isla Española (“The Spanish Island,” anglicized as Hispaniola). Over the next few decades, the Spanish enslaved vast numbers of Indians to mine for gold. European diseases and brutal working conditions devastated the indigenous population, which fell to about 30,000 by 1514; by the end of the 16th century, the group had virtually vanished. Thousands of slaves imported from other Caribbean islands met the same fate. The Spanish altered the landscape by introducing cattle, pigs, and horses, which multiplied into large herds. Spanish settlement was mostly restricted to the eastern end of the island, and many Spaniards left Hispaniola after the main gold mines were exhausted.
In the mid-16th century, French pirates entrenched themselves firmly on Tortue (Tortuga) and other islands off the western end of Hispaniola. Subsequently, both French and British buccaneers held bases there. Permanent settlements began to develop, including plantations. In the 1660s the French founded Port-de-Paix in the northwest, and the French West Indies Corporation took control of the area. Landowners in western Hispaniola imported increasing numbers of African slaves, which totaled about 5,000 in the late 17th century.
History > French colonial rule > Plantations and slaves
The Treaty of Rijswijk (1697) formally ceded the western third of the island from Spain to France, which renamed it Saint-Domingue. The colony's population and economic output grew rapidly during the 18th century, and it became France's most prosperous New World possession, exporting sugar and smaller amounts of coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton. By the 1780s nearly two-thirds of France's foreign investments were based on Saint-Domingue, and the number of stopovers by oceangoing vessels sometimes exceeded 700 per year.
The development of plantation agriculture profoundly affected the island's ecology. African slaves toiled ceaselessly to clear forests for sugar fields, and massive erosion ensued, particularly on the steep marginal slopes that had been allocated to slaves for their subsistence crops. Soil productivity declined markedly in many areas, and formerly bountiful streams dried up; however, European investors and landowners remained unconcerned about or unaware of the long-term consequences of their actions, believing instead that an overpopulation of slaves was the key to wringing more profits from the region.
In 1789 Saint-Domingue had an estimated population of 556,000, including roughly 500,000 African slaves—a hundredfold increase over the previous century—32,000 European colonists, and 24,000 affranchis (free mulattoes or blacks). Haitian society was deeply fragmented by skin colour, class, and gender. The white population comprised grands blancs (elite merchants and landowners, often of royal lineage), petits blancs (overseers, craftsmen, and the like), and blancs menants (laborers and peasants). The affranchis, who were mostly mulattoes, were sometimes slave owners themselves. They aspired to the economic and social levels of the whites, and they feared and spurned the slave majority; however, whites generally discriminated against them, and the affranchis' aspirations became a major factor in the colony's struggle for independence. The slave population, most of which was bosal (African-born), was an admixture of West African ethnic groups. The vast majority were field workers; more specialized groups included household servants, boilermen (at the sugar mills), and even slave drivers. Slaves in the colony, like those throughout the Caribbean, endured lengthy, backbreaking workdays and often died from injuries, infections, and tropical diseases. Malnutrition and starvation also were common, because plantation owners failed to plan adequately for food shortages, drought, and natural disasters, and slaves were allowed scarce time to tend their own crops. Some slaves managed to escape into the mountainous interior, where they became known as Maroons and fought guerrilla battles against colonial militia. Large numbers of slaves, Maroons, and affranchis found solace in voodoo (voudou), a syncretic religion incorporating West African belief systems. Others became fervent adherents of Roman Catholicism, and many began to practice both religions.
History > French colonial rule > The Haitian Revolution
The revolution was actually a series of conflicts during the period 1791–1804 that involved shifting alliances of Haitian slaves, affranchis, mulattoes, and whites, as well as British and French army troops. Several factors precipitated the event, including the affranchis' frustrations with a racist society, the French Revolution, nationalistic rhetoric expressed during voodoo ceremonies, the continuing brutality of slave owners, and wars between European powers. Vincent Ogé, a mulatto who had lobbied the Parisian assembly for colonial reforms, led an uprising in late 1790 but was captured, tortured, and executed. In May 1791 the French revolutionary government granted citizenship to the wealthier affranchis, but Haiti's whites refused to comply with the law. Within two months isolated fighting broke out between whites and affranchis, and in August thousands of slaves rose in rebellion. Whites attempted to appease the mulattoes in order to quell the slave revolt, and the French assembly granted citizenship to all affranchis in April 1792. The country was torn by rival factions, some of which were supported by Spanish colonists in Santo Domingo (on the eastern side of the island, which later became the Dominican Republic) or by British troops from Jamaica. In 1793 Léger Félicité Sonthonax, who was sent from France to maintain order, offered freedom to slaves who joined his army; he soon abolished slavery altogether, and the following year the French government confirmed his decision. Spain ceded the rest of the island to France in the Treaty of Basel (1795), but war in Europe precluded the actual transfer of possession.
In the late 1790s Toussaint-Louverture, a military leader and former slave, gained control of several areas and earned the initial support of French agents. He gave nominal allegiance to France while pursuing his own political and military designs, which included negotiating with the British, and in May 1801 he had himself named “governor-general for life.” Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon I), wishing to maintain control of the island, attempted to restore the old regime (and white rule) by sending his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc, with an experienced force from Saint-Domingue that included several exiled mulatto officers. Toussaint struggled for several months against Leclerc's forces before agreeing to an armistice in May 1802; however, the French broke the agreement and imprisoned him in France. He died on April 7, 1803.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe led a black army against the French in 1802, following evidence that Napoleon intended to restore slavery in Saint-Domingue as he had done in other French possessions. They defeated the French commander and a large part of his army, and in November 1803 the viscount de Rochambeau surrendered the remnant of the expedition. The French withdrew from Haiti but maintained a presence in the eastern part of the island until 1809.
History > Independent Haiti > Trials of a young nation
On January 1, 1804, the entire island was declared independent under the Arawak-derived name of Haiti. The young nation had a shaky start; the war had laid waste many plantations and towns, and Haiti was plagued with civil unrest, economic uncertainties, and a lack of skilled planners, craftsmen, and administrators. Many European powers and their Caribbean surrogates ostracized Haiti, fearing the spread of slave revolts, whereas reaction in the United States was mixed, as slave-owning states did all they could to suppress news of the rebellion, but merchants in the free states hoped to trade with Haiti rather than with European powers. More important, nearly the entire population was utterly destitute—a legacy of slavery that has continued to have a profound impact on Haitian history.
In October 1804 Dessalines assumed the title of Emperor Jacques I, but in October 1806 he was killed while trying to put down a mulatto revolt, and Henry Christophe took control of the kingdom from his capital in the north. Civil war then broke out between Christophe and Alexandre Sabès Pétion, who was based at Port-au-Prince in the south. As the civil war raged, the Spanish, with British help, restored their rule in Santo Domingo in 1809. Christophe, who declared himself King Henry I in 1811, managed to improve the country's economy but at the cost of forcing former slaves to return to work on the plantations. He built a spectacular palace (Sans Souci) as well as an imposing fortress (the Citadel) in the hills to the south of Cap-Haïtien, where, with mutinous soldiers almost at his door, he committed suicide in 1820.
Jean-Pierre Boyer, who had succeeded to the presidency of the mulatto-led south on Pétion's death in 1818, became president of the entire country after Christophe's death. In 1822 he invaded and conquered Santo Domingo, which had declared itself independent from Spain the previous year and was then engaged in fighting the Spaniards. Boyer abolished slavery there and confiscated church property; it was not until 1844 that the Haitians were expelled by a popular uprising. The occupation created a tradition of distrust between the two nations, and subsequent generations of Dominicans regarded the period as a backward era.
France recognized Haitian independence in 1825, in return for a large indemnity (nearly 100 million francs) that was to be paid at an annual rate until 1887. Britain recognized the state in 1833, followed by the United States in 1862, after the secession of the Southern slave states.
Boyer was overthrown in 1843. Between then and 1915 a succession of 20 rulers followed, 16 of whom were overthrown by revolution or were assassinated. Faustin-Élie Soulouque became president in 1847 and “emperor for life” in 1849. He turned on his mulatto sponsors and became particularly repressive; however, his regime was in some ways a return to power for the blacks. He tried unsuccessfully to annex the Dominican Republic, and in 1859 one of his generals, Fabre Geffrard, overthrew him. Geffrard encouraged educated mulattoes to join his government and established Haitian respectability abroad.
Throughout the 19th century a huge gulf developed between the small urban elite, who were mostly light-skinned and French-speaking, and the vast majority of black, Creole-speaking peasants. Social services and communication were almost nonexistent in the countryside, while Port-au-Prince was the centre of culture, business, and political intrigue.
In the 1890s the United States attempted to gain additional military and commercial privileges in Haiti. In 1905 it took control of Haiti's customs operations, and, prior to World War I, American business interests gained a secure financial foothold and valuable concessions.
History > Independent Haiti > U.S. Occupation
From 1915 to 1934 Haiti was occupied by U.S. Marines. The United States claimed that its action was justified under the Monroe Doctrine as well as on humanitarian grounds. However, many Haitians believed that the Marines had really been sent to protect U.S. investments and to establish a base to protect the approaches to the Panama Canal. Haiti signed a treaty with the United States—originally for 10 years but later extended—establishing U.S. financial and political domination. In 1918, in an election supervised by the Marines, a new constitution was introduced that permitted foreigners to own land in Haiti.
One effect of the Marine occupation was the nominal reestablishment of the mulatto elite's control of the government. Black Haitians, in contrast, felt that they were excluded from public office and subjected to racist indignities at the hands of the Marines, including the corvée, an old law permitting forced labour for road construction; in response, peasant cacos (guerrillas) carried out a series of attacks. The Marines' public works program also included building new health clinics and sewerage systems, but most Haitians felt the effort inadequate.
In October 1930 Haitians chose a national assembly for the first time since 1918. It in turn elected as president Sténio Joseph Vincent. In August 1934 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew the Marines; however, the United States maintained direct fiscal control until 1941 and indirect control over Haiti until 1947. In 1935 a plebiscite extended Vincent's term to 1941 and amended the constitution so that future presidents would be elected by popular vote.
History > Independent Haiti > Military regimes and the Duvaliers
In October 1937 troops and police from the Dominican Republic massacred thousands of Haitian laborers living near the border. The Dominican government agreed to compensate the slain workers' relatives the following year, but only part of the promised amount was actually paid. The enmity between the two countries had long historical roots and racist underpinnings: Dominicans, with their Spanish culture and largely European ancestry, looked disdainfully upon black Haitian laborers; however, the Dominican economy depended on cheap Haitian labor.
In 1946 Haitian workers and students held strikes and violent demonstrations in opposition to the president, Élie Lescot, who had succeeded Vincent in 1941. Three military officers seized power, and under their supervision Dumarsais Estimé was elected president. In 1950, after Estimé sought to extend his term, the military took control. In October Colonel Paul E. Magloire was elected president in a plebiscite.
Magloire was forced to resign in 1956, and considerable unrest and several provisional presidents followed. François Duvalier (called “Papa Doc”)—a physician with an interest in voodoo—was elected president in September 1957. He promised to end domination by the mulatto elite and to extend political and economic power to the black masses. Violence continued, and, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Duvalier in July 1958, he organized a paramilitary group—the so-called Tontons Macoutes (“Bogeymen”)—to terrorize the population. In 1964 Duvalier, by then firmly in control, had himself elected president for life. Haiti under Duvalier was, in effect, a police state.
During Duvalier's time in power, Haiti experienced increasing international isolation, renewed friction with the Dominican Republic, and a marked exodus of Haitian professionals. The regime was characterized by corruption and human rights abuses, but a personality cult developed around Duvalier himself, and some sectors of society strongly supported him, including a small upwardly mobile black middle class.
Near the end of his life, Duvalier faced a contracting economy, withdrawal of most U.S. aid, and a decline in tourism; in response he relaxed some of the severe repression and terror that had characterized his early regime. Before his death in 1971, he designated his son, Jean-Claude, aged 19 and nicknamed “Baby Doc” by the foreign media, to succeed him as president for life.
The regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier sought international respectability. Repression diminished, and tourism, U.S. aid, and the economy revived somewhat. Opponents, however, saw little change in the regime's basic nature.
By the mid-1980s the ranks of the Tontons Macoutes had swelled to some 15,000 men, but they failed to silence a series of nationwide demonstrations against high unemployment, poor living conditions, and the lack of political freedom. In February 1986 Duvalier fled Haiti, with U.S. assistance, for France.
Two public health scares adversely affected Haiti in the 1980s. First, U.S. agricultural authorities oversaw the mass eradication of Haiti's pig population in response to an outbreak of swine fever. The extermination caused widespread hardship among the peasant population, many of whom had bred pigs as an investment. This coincided with reports that AIDS was becoming a major problem in Haiti. As a result of these health concerns and ongoing political unrest, the nation's tourism industry virtually collapsed.
History > Independent Haiti > Democratic Aspirations
After Duvalier's departure, a five-member civilian-military council led by Lieutenant General Henri Namphy took charge, promising elections and democratic reforms. The first attempt at elections, in November 1987, ended when some three dozen voters were killed. In January 1988 Leslie Manigat won elections that were widely considered fraudulent, and Namphy overthrew him in June. A few months later Lieutenant General Prosper Avril took power, but his unstable regime ended in March 1990.
On December 16, 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftist Roman Catholic priest, won the presidency by a landslide in what were widely reported to be the first free elections in Haiti's history. Legislative elections in January 1991 gave Aristide supporters a plurality in Haiti's parliament. However, Aristide's reformist policies alienated the wealthy elite, and, after he had been in office less than eight months, Brigadier General Raoul Cédras deposed him and began to repress political opposition. The United States and other nations imposed a trade embargo, but it was partly circumvented by smuggling through the Dominican Republic. Tens of thousands of Haitians attempted to flee their country in small boats bound for the U.S. state of Florida, but the vast majority were returned to Haiti.
In September 1994 the de facto government agreed to step down and allow some 20,000 U.S. troops to occupy the country. Aristide returned the following month, whereas Cédras and other coup leaders went into exile. Aristide dismantled the Haitian military—an act that would have been impossible without the presence of the U.S. military—and, under pressure from the United States and other nations, pressed for free-market reforms. Haiti benefited economically from a large influx of international aid and loans, but many of its farmers (the largest component of its workforce) struggled to compete with cheaper imported foodstuffs. The United States and United Nations began forming a new Haitian police force, but the bulk of U.S. forces were soon withdrawn. The Haitian police were thrust into their duties with inadequate preparation and were soon criticized for high incidences of corruption and unwarranted violence.
Elections in 1995 brought about the first peaceful transfer of power between elected presidents in Haiti's history when René Préval, an associate of Aristide, was chosen to succeed him. Préval, faced with political infighting among the groups that had supported Aristide, dissolved the parliament in 1999. The following year, in allegedly fraudulent elections, Préval's supporters took control of the legislature, and Aristide again claimed the presidency.
Aristide faced serious economic and political problems on his return to power in 2001. International aid sanctions, imposed after the 2000 elections, helped fuel a downward economic spiral that further impoverished an already desperate population. Instances of disease (including HIV/AIDS) rose sharply, as did levels of lawlessness and violence. Open opposition to Aristide's rule broke out in 2003. The bicentennial observance of Haiti's independence, on January 1, 2004, was muted and was marked by street demonstrations; by late February Aristide had fled the country in the face of a rebel insurgency and the loss of U.S. and French support.
The President of Haiti is the head of state of the Republic of Haiti. Presidents are elected by popular vote to five-year terms and may serve no more than two terms. Each term begins and ends on the first February 7 after presidential elections are held. The current president is René Préval, who took office in 2006. He had previously served as president from 1996 to 2001. Since Préval has met the two-term limit, a new president is expected to take office on February 7, 2011.