Haiti

The island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean is discovered by Christopher Columbus on 6 December 1492. It becomes the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas.

By the end of the 16th Century most of the island's original native Indian population is dead. Spanish settlement is thin, with French pirates controlling much of the island. When the pirates found Port-de-Paix in the northwest in 1664 the French West India Company takes possession.

The western third of the island is formally ceded to France by Spain in 1697 and renamed Saint-Domingue. The province prospers on the back of African slave labourers, who by the end of the 18th Century constitute 90% of the population. The French Government abolishes slavery in 1794.

Following years of agitation by the black population the French administration is forced from the island at the end of 1803. The entire island is declared independent on 1 January 1804 under its original Indian name of Haiti. It is only the second country in the Americas, after the United States, to win freedom from colonial rule. It also becomes the world's first black republic.

Though free, Haiti is required to pay enormous reparations to France. The debt will not be cleared until 1947 and will prove ruinous to the fledging republic's economy. By 1900 Haiti will be spending about 80% of its national budget on repayments of loans taken to cover the reparations.

Spanish rule is restored in the eastern two-thirds of the island in 1809, lasting until 1822 when the Haitians again take control. However, the easterners increasingly come to resent the Haitian occupation, launching a successful uprising in February 1844 that establishes the Dominican Republic.

Haiti's subsequent history follows a pattern of violence and political instability, with a succession of rulers being either assassinated or overthrown by revolution.

At the start of the 20th Century the US becomes involved in the country's internal affairs. US marines occupy Haiti from 1915-1934. Indirect US influence lasts to 1947.

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