At just over 10,600 square miles of land, Haiti is a small country overflowing with an abundance of history. Tales of triumph, conquer, disaster, and the endurance to come together and rebuild frequently ring through the ears of those who call Haiti home. After the election of President Michel Martelly in 2011, Haiti has progressed in leaps and bounds. While the rest of the world was predicting its downfall, Haiti pulled through showing signs of strength and hope.
From the Beginning
Throughout history, invasions from greedy countries across the globe have created quite a few inadequacies surrounding the truth behind a country's beginning. The "facts" available online credit Haiti's "beginning" to December 6, 1492, the day Christopher Columbus stepped foot onto the peaceful land and wreaked havoc. It doesn't make sense to diminish the value of the rich culture of the country's native Arawak people because it was destroyed by European invaders. So much so, that we won't.
Haiti's history is much larger Columbus. Historians estimated the first settlement of the small but mighty country dates as far back as 5000 B.C. Native residents developed plush and thriving means of agriculture with leagues of farming communities as early as 300 B.C.
The aboriginal inhabitants were first known as the Taino, then the Ciboney. Haiti's original culture thrived from a primarily agrarian way of life, farming and trading crops like cassava root, fish, and hand crafted delicacies as currency.
Fast forward a few generations, and you'll land upon the interruption of Haiti's balanced and harmonious existence. Christopher Columbus led the assassination of innocent people and renamed the island, "La Isla Espanola", or Hispaniola. He gave himself the right to seize the country in the name of Spain and orchestrate the development of the island's first European settlement, Navidad.
The unsuspecting Taino were originally welcoming and hospitable, but the European need for total-control and corruption put a quick end to that. The natives were soon enslaved and forced to work in gold mines. Those who resisted were murdered or shipped off to slavery in other parts of the Colonial "New World". Life as they knew it would never be the same.
Estimates rank Haiti's original Taino and Ciboney population to have begun within a range of several hundred thousand to even millions of residents. Just 60 years after the Spanish landed, there were less than 150 left due to the slavery, the European illnesses and disease, as well as the defeat of brave groups who resisted Spanish control.
Colonists continued to rape Haiti for its resources. "The Gateway to the Caribbean", Hispaniola was frequently harassed by trespassers from France, the Netherlands, and Britain. Spain's influence was weakened and the French took control of 1/3 of the land in 1697, renaming their territory to Saint-Domingue.
In 1789, Saint-Domingue consisted of a population of 556,000. European colonists only made up approximately 32,000 of the total. About 24,000 of the inhabitants were free blacks or mixed-raced residents or affranchis. The rest were all enslaved Africans. Conflict between the three groups surmounted. Slews of rebellions, wars, and revolts plagued the country for many decades to come. Napolean Bonaparte's brother, General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, was sent with orders to maintain European control. He was unsuccessful. After being defeated by the black military, Saint-Domingue was finally free. January 1, 1804 will forever be known as Haiti's official birthday.
The revolution was detrimental to Haiti's economy. The mulattos and the much larger black population refused to put aside their differences. Falling into the hands of a string of untrustworthy dictators did not make the situation any better. Officially bankrupt and all out of alternatives, Haiti agreed to a U.S. customs receivership.
Beginning in 1905 and ending in 1941, Haiti began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of democratic President Dumarsais Estimé's term, Haiti was again a dictatorship under the rule of General Paul Magloire. The next 40 years were full of tormenting police brutality. Even worse, Haiti became one of the world's first country's to become plagued by AIDS. Horror stories eradicated the nation's tourism industry, causing an astounding 70% unemployment rate.
Civil unrest forced political leaders to flee the country, posing the opportunity to reinstate democracy. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected Haiti's chief executive in 1991. Nine months later, he was overthrown by the Haitian military. In 1994, Operation Uphold Democracy restored him to office. President Aristide turned authoritarian and the people didn't take it lightly. The year of Haiti's bicentennial was also a year full of protests and demands for Aristide's resignation. Their wish was soon granted.
Without proper leadership, chaos was overwhelming. Led by the U.S., 2,300 soldiers intervened to restore order. September of the same year brought yet another chilling nightmare to life, Hurricane Jeanne engulfed the country. Over 2,400 people lost their lives and desperation brought drastic increases in lawlessness.
Six years later, still struggling to recover, January 2010 brought yet another catastrophic event. Just southwest of the capital Port-au-Prince, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake erupted. For miles, hundreds of homes, schools, and prominent buildings crumbled. This final blow officially made Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Cholera was yet another deadly attack on Haitian citizens. Before the end of 2010, nearly 17,000 people were treated for symptoms of the disease and over 1,000 lost their lives.
Bringing Back Politics
Haiti attempted to continue with its politics, but the subsequent November elections were highly scrutinized. Claims of dishonest political practices fell on deaf ears. Michel Martelly, clearly the most popular local candidate, did not advance to the second round of voting in favor of Jude Célestin and Mirlande Manigat. Again, protesters flooded the streets to oppose this obvious injustice.
Due to a leaked a report, the Organization of American States confirmed that Michel Martelly was in fact the secondary leader of the presidential vote. Jude Celestin was forced to withdraw from the race. Haiti was on its way back to sound and fair political governing. In a drastic landslide, 68% of the popular vote officially brought President Martelly, into office. While the people were satisfied with the outcome, Martelly had a mess on his hands that he vowed to fix.
Faced With Opposition
His first rule of business was to rebuild Haiti's government. It wasn't an easy task. After a long 18 months, Haiti still lacked an established government. Countries who were offering post-earthquake support were getting impatient. Refugees living in the Dominican Republic were deported and others were turned away at the border. Even native Haitians who had been citizens of the Dominican Republic for decades were targeted, many of whom had their citizenship status revoked.
Still Moving Forward
Some citizens wanted an increase in international assistance while others demanded the removal of forces such as The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) due to claims of sexual abuse from the troops and allegations MINUSTAH introduced the outbreak of cholera to Haiti in the first place. Which side are you on? Do you feel the rest of the world needs to do more to help or do you have faith that Haiti can come together and rebuild itself?
The Obama Administration formally announced implementing a 10-year recovery plan to restore the country back to a land of promise by rebuilding the Haitian government. President Martelly wants Haiti to rule it's own affairs without the influence of non-nationals. Honestly, if you look at history- international dealings weren't exactly the best thing for Haiti. Martelly believes in, what he calls, "New Haiti". A Haiti that is not reliant on assistance. A Haiti that is not frowned on by the rest of the world. A Haiti that is the same paradise of its ancestry. With (or without- as he's proven since his election) support, he's pushing forward.
In 2013, many countries froze all support going to Haiti. They expected more progress in the country's recovery. Were they justified or just contributing to the ever-expanding resistance? Is it fair to judge based on the ability of large nations who are not in the same economic position as a country as small and detached as Haiti?
So What Has He Done
Against the odds, even with his lack of prior political experience, President Martelly has moved mountains in benefit of the nation. He formed the Cooperation for Foreign Development Aid (CAED) in 2013 to reroute restoration funds to be spent as the country sees fit. First, his goal was to get citizens out of the tent camps and into new and restored housing. He's also pushed for investment in Haitian businesses. Rather than receiving aid, he wants an established economy. Securing a $40 million deal to rebuild Haiti's coastline along Jacmel as well as similar plans for Ile à Vache, was a great start.
Redevelopment is also on the agenda, but this time Martelly wants a secure blueprint that will ensure that safety of Haiti's citizens. Seismologists have predicted that Haiti's capital is subject to receive another earthquake equally, if not more powerful than the last. Plans are in the works to distribute Port-au-Prince's heavy population to safer areas of the country.
Martelly has also secured funds to establish industrial parks and infrastructure projects throughout the country. Again, rather than wasting money on quick fixes, Martelly is ensuring Haiti is well invested to produce multiple streams of capital. One of which is reestablishing its agricultural basis. Droughts and hurricanes have all but destroyed previous plots but, with Haiti now importing over half of its food, this issue is worth rectifying. Rural areas such as Cul de Sac have already begun to see a ten fold return on yields-per-hectare of corn in recent years.
Additional efforts such as reforestation and fuel-alternatives will also encourage the "economically sovereign" mission. They say when you're back is against the wall, the only choice you have is to come out swinging. What do you think, even without political expertise, how is President Martelly doing?