The Haitian Timeline: A History of Military Dictatorship and Civil Rule (Revised and Expanded)

On the 1st of January 1804, following thirteen years of brutal warfare, Haiti became the first ‘black’ independent republic in modern history. Since then Haiti’s history has been dominated by fractious internal politics, military dictatorships and periods of external interference, mainly by the United States. Massive population growth, along with a lack of resources, has not been helped by a U.S. policy that wavers between the extremes of indifference and repeated forms of interventionism. As a result of these factors Haiti is not only the least developed nation in our hemisphere, but also one of the least understood. The following chronology of the political and military volatility that has troubled the small Caribbean francophone nation since its inception provides some sense of how Haiti’s history still bears relevance today.

1503 – First Africans brought to the island of Hispaniola as slave labor.

1625 – France establishes a colony in the north west of Hispaniola, known as Saint-Domingue.

1670 – France authorizes the use of African slave labor, a practice already widespread in the colony. Many Africans escape to the mountainous regions of the colony to establish free Maroon communities.

September 20th 1697 – Under the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially cedes the western third of Hispaniola to France.

1758 – Saint-Domingue, at the time richest colony in the world, executes Maroon leader François Mackandal, after a seven-year rebellion. The colony is home to some 500,000 slaves, 25,000 free blacks and coloreds known collectively as gens de couleur libres (free men of color) and 50,000 whites; and produces 45% of the world’s sugar and 60% of the coffee being consumed in Europe. A high mortality rate attributable to disease and cruelty meant that most of the colony’s slaves are African born.

1778 – The first encounter between the nations that would later become Haiti and the United States of America takes place when just under 1000 Haitian gens de couleur libres volunteer to fight alongside American revolutionaries and French troops during the siege of Savannah. Among them is Henri Christophe who would go on to become a noted strategist during the Haitian revolution and a later ruler of Haiti.

February 25th 1791 – Vincent Oge and Jean-Baptiste Chavannes are publicly executed in Cap-Français. The pair had been proponents of equal rights for gens de couleur libres; inspired by the French Revolution they began an ill fated revolt.

May 1791 – Revolutionary France grants citizenship to all gens de couleur libres.

August 22nd 1791 – Maroons and enslaved Africans in the north of the colony stage a revolt against the French under the leadership of Jamaican born, Dutty Boukman.

1803 – After the death of Boukman, the revolt is lead by a number of competent strategists including Toussaint L’Ouverture, Andre Riguad, Bauvais, Henri Christophe Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Petion and Laplume. With defeat in Haiti imminent, Napoleon abandons his plans for a revived French empire in the New World and instead authorizes the sale of Louisiana. The Louisiana Purchase adds some 828,800 square miles to the United States.

January 1st 1804 – Saint-Domingue is declared independent, under the original Arawak name Haiti, by General Jean-Jaques Dessalines. Following the formal declaration of independence, Dessalines (naming himself Jaques I) repudiates republicanism, preferring Napoleon’s autocratic style of rule.

May 20th 1805 – Dessalines formulates the first constitution of Haiti as an independent country, the Imperial Constitution of 1805. This constitution forbade whites from owning land and restricted the power of the rich gens de couleur, which created friction between Dessalines and notable gens de couleur Petion and Riguad.

Under Dessalines the new Haitian government tries to restart the sugar and coffee industries without slave labor. He enforces a harsh regimen of plantation labour, described by some as caporalisme agraire (agrarian militarism). Dessalines demands that all Haitians work either as soldiers to protect the nation or as laborers on the plantations to generate crops and income. Dessalines pursues tight fiscal regulation, encourages foreign trade, and invites merchants from Britain and the United States to invest in Haiti.

October 17th 1806 – Haiti is on brink of economic collapse as United States and European powers boycott the nation, refusing to grant it recognition and trading rights, least it serves as an example to their own black populations. Dessalines’ economic policies and autocratic style of rule prove unpopular and he is assassinated. After a brief civil war Haiti is divided into a black-controlled autocratic northern kingdom, ruled by Henri Christophe and a mulatto-ruled democratic southern republic, under president Alexandre Petion.

March 31st 1816 – With aid provided by Petion and others, South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar is able to equip an expedition consisting of 6 schooners a sloop, 250 men, mostly officers, and arms for 6,000 troops. Bolivar, after securing the independence of most of South America, reneges on promises to try reconcile U.S. and European policy towards Haiti and instead refuses to recognize Haiti or trade with the nation.

1807-1820– Faced with a rebellion by his own army, Christophe commits suicide, paving the way for gen du couleur Jean-Pierre Boyer to reunify the country and become President of the entire republic in 1820.

1820-1825 – After Boyer unifies Haiti and even occupies the Dominican Republic until 1844. He governs through excluding blacks from power but is finally deposed in a revolt led by Charles Riviere-Herard in 1843, who establishes a parliamentary state based on a new constitution.

3rd July 1825 – A squadron of French ships carrying 500 cannons lays anchor off the Haitian coast and demands a FR150 million indemnity from Haiti for property, i.e. slaves, lost through the revolution, and in return for diplomatic recognition. The indemnity was later reduced to FR90 million (comparable to US$12.7 billion in 2010). Haiti, under threat of reinvasion by France, was left with little choice but to borrow money from American, French and German bankers to pay the sum; these financial sources become increasingly influential in the Haitian economy. France only establishes diplomatic recognition to Haiti in 1834, and refuses to officially trade with the nation. The indemnity was not fully paid until 1947.

1825-1847 – With the treasury bankrupt and army and civil servant wages unpaid revolts soon break out and Haiti falls into anarchy with a series of short-lived presidents until March 1847 when General Faustin Soulouque, a commander during the revolution, becomes the nations head.

1862 – After the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolition of slavery, the United States sees Haiti as less of a threat and formally establishes diplomatic relations with Port-au-Prince and allows some trade.

1867 – A constitutional government is established, but successive presidents Sylvain Salnave and Nissage Saget are deposed in 1869 and 1874 respectively. A new constitution is introduced in 1874 under Michel Domingue, resulting in a period of democratic peace and development until 1910.

1910-1911 – The German community, by now well integrated into Haitian society through commerce and marriage, become embroiled in the nation’s politics, as they bankroll many of the country’s coups. In an effort to restrict German influence in what they see as their back yard, the U.S. State Department helps City Bank of New York to acquire the Banque National d’Haïti, the nation’s only commercial bank, the government treasury and guarantor of most of the debt related to indemnity to France.

July 28th 1915 – American President Wilson orders 3000 Marines to Port-au-Prince, after a uprising threatens U.S. business interests on the island. The commander of the U.S. mission is ordered to ‘protect American and foreign’ interests, but the international community is told that the invasion is designed to ‘re-establish peace and order’. The main concern of U.S. policy makers is that Haiti repays its debt to the United States.

1915-1934 – Representatives from the United States wielded veto power over all governmental decisions in Haiti, and Marine Corps commanders served as administrators in Haitian provinces. United States officials supervise all Haitian administrative and financial institutions such as banks and the national treasury. Haiti is forced to spend 40% of the national income on debt repayment to American and French banks, stunting economic growth and exacerbating the effects of the Great Depression in Haiti.

In 1917, President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature after its members refused to approve a new constitution penned by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The constitution is eventually approved which allows foreigners, in particular Americans, to purchase land. The Marines initiate an extensive road-building program to enhance their military reach and open the country to U.S. investment. To accomplish this they revive a defunct Haitian law, which required peasants to perform labor on local roads in lieu of paying a road tax.

August 1st 1934 – American troops withdraw from Haiti after a 19-year occupation, but the United States maintains fiscal control until 1947 to ensure debt repayment.

1937- Upward of 35,000 Haitians living in the Dominican are massacred by the Dominican armed forces on the orders of President Trujillo; U.S. Secretary of State Hull later declared “President Trujillo is one of the greatest men in Central America and in most of South America.”

January 11th 1946 – President Elie Lescot is overthrown in a military coup d’etat led by Major Paul Eugene Magloire in the wake of economic difficulties on the island. Franck Lavaud, Chairman of the Haiti Military Executive Committee becomes president.

August 16th 1946 – The newly-created Executive Military Committee appoints Léon Dumarsais Estimé president of Haiti for five years.

September 25th 1956 – Physician Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power in a military coup d’état and is elected president a year later.

December 31st 1956 – Daniel Fignolé is elected President of Haiti but is superseded by a Military Council of Government.

1958 – 1964 – Duvalier begins to violently attack his opponents, driving many of them into exile.

December 31st 1964 – The National Assembly votes to accept the Duvalieriste Constitution, establishing Duvalier as President for Life of Haiti. He then launches a dictatorship with the help of the brutal Tontons Macoute militia.

December 31st 1970 – Thousands of Haitians begin to flee by sea amidst poverty and repression throughout the country. Many arrive in southern Florida.

February 28th 1971 – The National Assembly approves an amendment to the constitution, allowing Duvalier to name his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, as his successor

April 21st 1971 – President for Life François Duvalier dies in Port-au-Prince.

April 22nd 1971 – Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier succeeds his father as “President for Life” of Haiti.

August 27th 1983 – The constitution is amended, creating the position of State Minister, permanently allowing the president to name his preferred successor.

February 7th 1986 – President Jean-Claude Duvalier flees Haiti for Talloires, France following a coup d’etat led by General Henri Namphy.

July 17th 1987 – During a ceremony at the Military Academy, the Haitian Armed Forces swear allegiance to the new constitution of 1987.

February 7th 1988 – Leslie Manigat is “elected” president in a tightly military controlled election, but he is ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Prosper Avril, who establishes a civilian front under military control.

January 31st 1990 – President General Prosper Avril declares a state of siege in January.

March 31st 1990 – Prosper Avril is ousted 18 months after seizing power in a coup d’état. A popular uprising forces him to flee the country.

December 16th 1990 – Democratic elections take place. Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest well known throughout the country for his support of the poor, is elected president with nearly seventy percent of the popular vote.

1991-94 – Thousands of Haitian boat people begin to flee violence and repression on the island. Although most are repatriated to Haiti by U.S. government authorities, many manage to enter the United States as refugees.

January 7th 1991 – Haitian General Herard Abraham crushes Roger Lafontant’s attempted coup d’état.

February 7th 1991 – Aristide is sworn in as president of the Republic of Haiti.

September 30th 1991 – President Aristide is overthrown in a coup d’état headed by soon-to-be promoted Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, who installs a harsh military junta.

1992 – Negotiations between the Washington, D.C. based exiled Government, Haiti’s Parliament and representatives of the coup régime headed by General Raoul Cédras lead to the Washington Protocol, which is ultimately scuttled by the coup régime. U.S. President George Bush exempts U.S. factories from the U.S. embargo against the military junta and orders U.S. Coast Guard to interdict all Haitians leaving the island in boats and to return them to Haiti. The OAS embargo fails as goods continue to be smuggled to through neighboring Dominican Republic.

July 3rd 1993 – After a week of talks, Aristide and General Raoul Cedras sign the Governor’s Island Agreement, stipulating the turn over of power from the ruling military to the civilian government.

October 30th 1993 – Haitian Military continues to maintain power over the island. President Aristide is unable to return to Haiti as president, as was stipulated under the Governors Island Agreement. The controversial leadership of the Haitian police and military continues.

September 19th 1994 – The de facto military government is called upon to resign by the U.S. upon which U.S. and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) troops are sent in to occupy Haiti. The United Nations sanctions Operation Uphold Democracy, ordered by President Clinton, which officially begins.

October 15th 1994 – In spite of reluctance by the Clinton administration, a severely limited Jean Bertrand Aristide is reinstated as president of Haiti. In 1994 the Haitian government enters into a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that contains a “medium-term structural adjustment strategy” which “included sweeping trade liberalization measures’. In 1995 when this agreement goes into affect, Haiti’s tariffs on rice imports are cut dramatically from 35% to the current level of 3%. The reduction in tariffs dooms Haiti, which was previously self sufficient in terms of rice, to become the ‘dumping ground’ for rice from the United States. Haiti farmers cannot compete with cheap imports of subsidized rice from the southern United States and many go out of business, leading to massive unemployment.

March 31st 1995 – The U.S. nominally hands over military authority to the United Nations but maintains effective control over the government of the island. Aristide dissolves the Haitian army.

February 7th 1996 – René Garcia Préval assumes the presidency.

February 7th 2001 – Jean Bertrand Aristide is once again elected president of Haiti, but his popularity wanes due to rampant corruption and his inabilities to maintain his authority due to lack of an enforcement mechanism.

December 18th 2001 – Thirty armed men try to seize the National Palace in an apparent coup attempt; 12 people are killed in the raid.

January 2004 – Anti-Aristide protests lead to violent clashes in Port-au-Prince, causing several deaths. In February, a revolt breaks out in the city of Gonaives and spread throughout the country. A mediation team of diplomats presents a plan to reduce Aristide’s power while allowing him to remain in office until the end of his constitutional term. Although Aristide accepts the plan; it is rejected by the opposition.

February 5th 2004 – Aristide is deposed as president of Haiti following a de facto coup d’etat in which the United States demonstrably was involved. An interim government, led by President Boniface Alexandre, with Gérard Latortue as prime minister is installed.

February 7th 2006 – René Garcia Préval is controversially elected as president of Haiti for a second term.

May 18th 2009 – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton to be appointed UN’s special envoy to Haiti.

January 12th, 2010 – Massive earthquake shatters Haiti, causing over 220,000 fatalities.

The Haitian Timeline was compiled with the help of the BBC, COHA Guest Collaborator Dr Kwesi Sansculotte- Greenidge, and COHA Research Associate Matayo Moshi.

Dr. Sanculotte-Greendige is currently a Research Fellow in the Peace Studies Department of the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.

12 thoughts on “The Haitian Timeline: A History of Military Dictatorship and Civil Rule (Revised and Expanded)

  • February 10, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    No mention is made of the "reparations" demanded by France in mid-1800's and supoorted by others such as the USA which destroyed the Haitian economy of the time. While political instability has been part of the Haitian history financial depredations by France, US and others have added to the that instability.

  • February 10, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Not a particularly well informed Time Chronology and well below COHAs usual output?!!
    I support to Bro Johns comments … its also surprising that there is no mention of the date the Haitians provisioned, armed and supported one Simon Bolivar to liberate parts S America??
    As a "source do you mean the British Broadcasting CORPORATION (BBC)?

  • February 11, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Not chronological:

    February 7th 1986
    President Jean-Claude Duvalier flees Haiti for Talloires, France following a coup d’etat led by General Henri Namphy.

    February 25th 1985
    The original blue and red flag of Haiti is raised at the National Palace, replacing the black and red flag of the now defunct Duvalier regime.

  • February 11, 2010 at 3:23 am

    This is a poor account. Not only is the abusive French demand for "reparations" following independence not mentioned, the opposition by the Vatican and by the U.S. and European powers to recognizing Haiti are left out. Errors such as stating that Dessalines "reputed" republicanism and calling Papa Doc Duvalier a "voodoo" physician (Vodou religious leader would be more accurate) are examples of inexcusable errors. It's important that COHA be a reliable source.

  • February 11, 2010 at 6:07 am

    You neglected to include King Henri Christophe, a black former cook, who ruled in the north from 1806 to 1820 and Alexandre Pétion, a mulatto who ruled in the south from 1806 to 1818.

  • February 11, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Terrible chronology. No explicit reference to the important and complex relation with the Dominican Republic.

  • February 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Dear COHA,

    I found your article Military Dictatorship and Civil Rule in Haiti: A Chronology by Matayo Moshi, woefully poor. After the incredibly poorly written piece on Ecuador recently I was somewhat surprised to see another sub-standard piece of work so quickly.

    The article makes no mention of the reparations that Haiti was forced to pay to France, under threat of invasion and reintroduction of slavery. The article, which is presented as a chronology of events that lead 'Haiti's current position', makes does not examine that to pay this reparation they newly independent Republic was forced to incur huge amount of debt, mainly to American business interests. Any competent researcher would have known that it was this debt and not 'black-mulatto friction', that lead to US invasion and occupation of Haiti. The report also does not acknowledge that the fact that the US Marine occupation of Haiti actually reinstituted forced labour in Haiti, an indignity they did not replicate in during any of their other Latin American excursions.

    The article, you may argue only deals with the military, makes no mention of Haiti's assistance to Simon Bolivar and Latin American independence movements. As a thank you Simon Bolivar rather than thank the Haiti government by trying to temper American opinion on the black republic, instead Bolivar refused to recognise the independence of the country that had provided him with diplomatic, moral, material support to pursue the liberation of continental Latin America. In doing so Bolivar allowed the US, France and Britain to isolate Haiti politically and stunt it economically and that is a large part the reason for Haiti's 'current position'.

  • February 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I am glad this was removed and hopefully thoroughly revised, let us not forget, in addition to the other poster's comment the role of the US during the invasion from 1915- 1934 which reorganized the economy to the benefit of the US, saddled Haiti with another $16 million in debts (not paid until 1947) and paved the way for Francois Duvalier terror.

  • February 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    COHA’s New and Improved Haiti Timeline:

    To our readers: Regarding the COHA Haiti Timeline of ill-repute, which was issued to our readers several days ago, which occasioning considerable disgruntlement. Any number of them were good enough to come up with well-targeted criticisms of our timeline’s multiple shortcomings. We very quickly realized that we were facing a major problem with it, particularly after one of our severest critics, Dr. Kwesi Sansculotte- Greenidge of the University of Bradford (England) contacted COHA and proceeded to excoriate the organization over the timeline. We felt that his harsh criticism notwithstanding, he would be the ideal person to lead efforts to rehabilitate our timeline, together with contributions from the BBC and our own Research Associate, Matayo Moshi. Kwesi was gracious enough to agree to help out and I now feel that we have a great Haiti Timeline on our website. We welcome further comments and observations on the Haiti Timeline, as well as thanks to John Mahoney, FM McDonald, Jasrio, Seymour Menton, Ruben, and Victor Rodriguez, who indicated that they care about such subjects to take the time to write to us.

  • February 19, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Please, take the following into account, written by William Blum:
    "[…] Aristide, a reformist priest, was elected to the presidency, then ousted in a military coup eight months later in 1991 by men on the CIA payroll. Ironically, the ousted president wound up in exile in the United States. In 1994 the Clinton White House found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend — because of all their rhetoric about "democracy" — that they supported the democratically-elected Aristide's return to power. After delaying his return for more than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that after his term ended he would not remain in office to make up the time lost because of the coup; that he would not seek to help the poor at the expense of the rich, literally; and that he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its workers receiving starvation wages, literally. If Aristide had thoughts about breaking the agreement forced upon him, he had only to look out his window — US troops were stationed in Haiti for the remainder of his term. 3

    Howard Zinn is quoted above saying "The chief problem in historical honesty is not outright lying. It is omission or de-emphasis of important data." However, that doesn't mean the American mainstream media don't create or perpetuate myths. Here's the New York Times two months ago: "Mr. Aristide, who was overthrown during a 2004 rebellion …" 7 Now what image does the word "rebellion" conjure up in your mind? The Haitian people rising up to throw off the shackles put on them by a dictatorship? Or something staged by the United States?

  • February 19, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Addition (quoting William Blum): On February 28, 2004, during the Bush administration, American military and diplomatic personnel arrived at the home of Aristide, who had been elected to the presidency once again in 2002, to inform him that his private American security agents must either leave immediately to return to the United States or fight and die; that the remaining 25 of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government, who were to arrive the next day, had been blocked by the United States from coming; that foreign and Haitian rebels were nearby, heavily armed, determined and ready to kill thousands of people in a bloodbath. Aristide was then pressured into signing a "letter of resignation" before being kidnaped and flown to exile in Africa by the United States. 4 The leaders and politicians of the world who pontificate endlessly about "democracy" and "self-determination" had virtually nothing to say about this breathtaking act of international thuggery. Indeed, France and Canada were active allies of the United States in pressing Aristide to leave. 5

    And then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the sincerest voice he could muster, told the world that Aristide "was not kidnaped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth." 6 Powell sounded as sincere as he had sounded a year earlier when he gave the UN his now-famous detailed inventory of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that Saddam Hussein was preparing to use.
    Howard Zinn is quoted above saying "The chief problem in historical honesty is not outright lying. It is omission or de-emphasis of important data." However, that doesn't mean the American mainstream media don't create or perpetuate myths. Here's the New York Times two months ago: "Mr. Aristide, who was overthrown during a 2004 rebellion …" 7 Now what image does the word "rebellion" conjure up in your mind? The Haitian people rising up to throw off the shackles put on them by a dictatorship? Or something staged by the United States?

    Aristide has stated that he was able to determine at that crucial moment that the "rebels" were white and foreign. 8 But even if they had been natives, why did Colin Powell not explain why the United States disbanded Aristide's personal security forces? Why did he not explain why the United States was not protecting Aristide from the rebels, which the US could have done with the greatest of ease, without so much as firing a single shot? Nor did he explain why Aristide would "willingly" give up his presidency.

    The massive US military deployment to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake has been criticized in various quarters as more of an occupation than a relief mission, with the airport in the capital city now an American military base, and with American forces blocking various aid missions from entering the country in order, apparently, to serve Washington's own logistical agenda. But the large military presence can also serve to facilitate two items on Washington's political agenda — preventing Haitians from trying to emigrate by sea to the United States and keeping a lid on the numerous supporters of Aristide lest they threaten to take power once again.
    That which can not be spoken
    "The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction," writes Fareed Zakaria, a leading American foreign-policy pundit, editor of Newsweek magazine's international edition, and Washington Post columnist, referring to the "underwear bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his failed attempt to blow up a US airliner on Christmas day. "Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn't work. Alas, this one worked very well. 9 […]" It was published at "dissident voice" and partially at "counter punch" The original you can reach at :

  • January 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    you didn't mentoin Paul Eugene Magloire who was a General-President who overthrown Dumarsais Estime in 1950 and proclamed himself president from 1950to1956


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