Caribbean Weekly: Haiti – The Path to Freedom
It is pretty common knowledge that Haiti has a history of revolts, strikes and general political upheaval. But what, on one hand, could be looked upon in the past as the instability of a young nation building could on the other be seen as the machinations of a rudderless failed state. However, what can not be denied is that all what has happened has shaped République d’Haiti into the nation it is now, good or bad. So that being said what we are doing today is looking over some key events politically from just before the Haitian Revolution right up to the present day.
By the French Revolution of 1789, the colony of Saint Domingue, now known as Haiti, furnished two-thirds of France’s overseas trade, employed one thousand ships and fifteen thousand French sailors and was a pivotal market for the African slave trade. But the free people of colour and slaves wanted complete freedom and the civil rights to go with it. In August of 1791 an organized slave rebellion broke out in the northern plains, marking the start of a twelve-year resistance to obtain human rights. Some of the rebellion’s leaders include Dutty Boukman, Georges Biassou, Toussaint Louverture, Jeannot Bullet, Jean-François Papillon, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Cristophe all who would help to guide the Revolution down its torturous, bloody road to complete success.
Toussaint was appointed governor in 1796 and he continued to follow his ideas for an autonomous black- led San Domingo. By January 1802, Toussaint was the head of a semi-independent San Domingo. Napoleon saw this as a threat and sent his brother-in-law Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc from France with 20,000 troops to capture Toussaint, and re-establish slavery in the colony. Toussaint was captured and shipped off to France but the fight continued and by late 1803 the north and south arenas of the island united and defeated the French under Rochambeau. Dessalines, Toussaint’s former lieutenant proclaimed the independence of the country of Haiti and declared himself Emperor.
Post revolution saw Haiti being divided between the north and south. Saint Domingue as it was known was split between the Kingdom of Haiti in the north and was run by Henri Cristophe, who was now being called Henri I and a republic of south which was controlled by Alexandre Pétion. Henri Christophe established a semi-feudal corvée system, with a rigid education and economic code. President Pétion gave military and financial assistance to the revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar, helping him to liberate parts of South America from Spain. When Pétion died in 1818, Jean-Pierre Boyer replaced him as the second President of the Republic. Boyer successfully reunited the north and south in 1821 after the death of Henri Christophe a year earlier. Boyer was also important for the unification of Hispaniola for a brief time and was instrumental in the payment of indemnity to France.
The indemnity treaty stated that France would recognize Haiti as an independent country in return for 150 million francs paid within five years. While this sum was later reduced to 90 million francs (in 1838), it was a crushing economic blow to Haiti, which essentially had to buy its independence after having defeated French forces.