Haiti Conflict History
Head of State: President René Préval (May 2006 - )
Prime Minister: Jean-Max Bellerive (November 2009 - )
Haiti emerged from French colonial rule after slave population rose in revolt and declared independence in January 1804, becoming the world’s first black republic. Separate regimes in north and south unified in 1820; Haiti occupied eastern, Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola island in 1822, but it eventually declared independence as Dominican Republic in 1844
Haiti dogged by political turmoil with 22 changes of government from 1843 until U.S. intervened militarily in 1915 and occupied country for 19 years. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier elected president in 1957 and declared himself president-for-life in 1964. His rule marked by increasing violence and repression as his own Tontons Macoutes paramilitary force killed thousands of civilians. Upon his death in 1971, son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier succeeded and continued repressive regime until he was forced to flee to France in 1986 amidst a popular uprising. Period immediately after saw mob vengeance against lower-ranking members of Tontons Macoutes. New constitution banning all Duvalierists from participating in politics for 10 years overwhelmingly approved March 1987.
Series of military-backed governments ruled during violent and turbulent transition stage until 1990 elections. Former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, backed by centre-left coalition, won landslide 67% in vote declared free and fair by international observers; Aristide supported by vast majority of poor, Creole-speaking population, but opposed by business elite and military. Aristide ousted in military coup 30 September 1991; following 3 years of military rule marked by return of state-sponsored repression with 3,000-5,000 Aristide supporters killed by right-wing death squads. Diplomatic efforts by OAS and UN largely ineffective until organisations deployed joint human rights mission MICIVIH in February 1993. Junta agreed to the restoration of constitutional rule by 30 October 1993. However, regime reneged, prompting UNSC to in July 1994 authorise U.S.-led multinational force to oust junta and restore legitimate government; force entered Haiti unopposed September 1994, and Aristide returned 15 October to widespread celebrations.
The hopes raised by Aristide’s return were soon dashed by his increasingly authoritarian tendencies and refusal to build apolitical state institutions. UN mission UNMIH deployed in September 1993 with mandate to sustain stabilisation and create new civilian police force Haitian National Police (HNP). Organised crime and drug trafficking increased as many ex-officers from disbanded national army entered criminal organisations.
Pro-Aristide coalition Organisation Politique Lavalas (OPL) swept June 1995 local and parliamentary elections. Despite reports of significant electoral fraud, the U.S., OAS and UN all accepted the vote, setting a dangerous precedent on electoral transparency. Aristide constitutionally barred from standing for second term, reluctantly stepped down in December 1995 under strong U.S. pressure; Aristide’s hand-picked successor René Préval took over as president. Aristide clung on to power even out of office: in November 1996 he withdrew his supporters from OPL to form own Fanmi Lavalas party. Government brought to a standstill following September 1997 legislative elections after OPL accused Fanmi Lavals of fraud, preventing second round. Following year-long political crisis undermined government’s authority and international commitment to Haiti as all multilateral development funding was put on hold. Emergence of chimères from 1999 – new version of traditional paramilitary gangs acting as government enforcers.
Opposition parties boycotted November 2000 presidential elections, causing Aristide to win with landslide 92% of vote, but low turnout of only some 10% raised serious questions about legitimacy of vote. OAS attempts to negotiate the political crisis fruitless over following years; political violence rose with several influential opposition figures killed; first mass demonstration explicitly calling for Aristide’s resignation held in Cap Haitien in November 2002.
Aristide eventually ousted in armed insurgency from February 2004 as newly formed Front de Résistance announced its intention to fight for president’s removal. The insurgents took control of several towns, including second city Cap Haitien, often with little resistance from police. Following violence and mass anti-government demonstrations, Aristide resigned on 29 February and flew to Central African Republic in U.S. chartered plane; later claimed he was kidnapped by U.S. soldiers and the victim of a coup. Relative calm eventually re-established under interim government of Boniface Alexandre, deployment of U.S.-led IMF peacekeeping force. More than 100 people were killed in a new wave of violence from 30 September 2004, mainly in slum areas in shootouts between police and gangs.
Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping operation MINUSTAH formally established on 1 June 2004, consisting of 6,700 troops and 1,622 civilian police and staff. Initially criticised for inaction, but from late 2004 began more assertive campaign to quell violence in slums. Security situation remained dire throughout the year, with scores of casualties in clashes between MINUSTAH and rebels and dramatic increase in kidnappings. Presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for November had to be postponed several times amidst growing violence; eventually held 7 February 2006, René Préval declared winner with 51% of the vote under generally free and fair conditions. Security gradually improved after poll as joint MINUSTAH and HNP operations made progress in tackling gang violence.
PM Alexis ousted on 12 April 2008 after at least six people were killed in violent riots over rising food prices; economist Michele Pierre-Louise elected new PM in late July after senate had rejected Préval’s first two nominations. More than 800 people killed during fall after series of devastating storms hit island. April and June 2009 senate elections marked by very low turnout, Préval’s Lespwa party won 6 of 11 seats; controversy over Provisional Electoral Council’s decision to reject candidature of Fanmi Lavalas, despite frequent street protests demanding end to President Aristide’s exile. Pierre-Louis dismissed as PM by Senate on 30 October for “inefficiency in office”, replaced by Jean-Max Bellerive in November.
Devastating earthquake struck the island on 12 January 2010, leaving at least 230,000 dead and more than 1.3 million displaced. Damages estimated to some US$14 billion; widespread destruction of infrastructure and government institutions largely reversed limited progress made on institutional strengthening in recent years. Donors pledged US$5.3bn in short-term aid over next 2 years at 31 March UN-led donors conference, additional US$3.7bn in long-term aid; but donors have been criticised for not following through on pledges. Massive international post-quake effort largely praised for supplying immediate aid and for maintaining security situation, but criticism has mounted over slow reconstruction process.
Some 13,500 US troops deployed post-earthquake to provide security; all but 500 withdrawn by late April. United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) assumed larger role in providing stability; mandate extended through October 2011. IDP camps saw increased gang control and violence, often gender-based. Camps criticized as ill-equipped to deal with storm season.
Earthquake delayed February 2010 parliamentary elections rescheduled for 28 November together with presidential elections to replace Préval, who reiterated intention to step down at the end of his five-year term on 7 February 2011, assuming that a successor been elected by that date. Since Préval was not inaugurated on that date in 2006, his five years in office actually concludes on 14 May 2011. Emergency law was approved by the parliament specifying the 14 May date as the end of his term, although opponents argued the law is unconstitutional. 2,000 protestors called for Préval to step down; tear gas used to disperse crowd.
Préval endorsed head of government construction company, Jude Célestin, as official candidate of ruling INITE party. November 28 elections marred by fraud and logistical failures; 12 of 18 presidential candidates initially denounced vote as invalid. Controversy flared over which candidates should stand for second-round election: government declared Mirlande Manigat and Jude Célestin to be two leading candidates, but OAS-led international panel, reviewing numerous claims of fraud, recommended Michel Martelly replace pro-government Célestin. Célestin initially refused to withdraw; Haiti’s electoral council eventually excluded Célestin from official ballot. Run-off between Manigat and Martelly scheduled for 20 March.
Cholera epidemic broke out in October 2010; UN warned that 200,000 at risk of infection. Thousands killed by end of the year. Rumors that the disease was introduced by UN peacekeepers triggered violent protests. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ordered investigation into origins of the outbreak. By January 2011, UN received one-quarter of requested aid to combat cholera.
One-year anniversary of earthquake brought fresh criticism of slow pace of reconstruction. 1 million still displaced. 5 percent of rubble cleared.
Updated February 2011