Haiti’s History With Democracy : An Update on the Presidential Election

For those looking for a refresher, you can find our previous article on Haiti’s 2016 Presidential Election available here.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.41.35 AM.png

With this post, we’re picking up with the most recent events, and then going back to Haiti’s foundations to explore the tumultuous path towards Haiti’s current democracy.

Haiti Presidential Election Update:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.43.21 AM.png
Jocelerme Privert, at the National Assembly in the Haitian Parliament in Port-au-Prince.  (AFP File photo)

After Haiti’s Congress failed to reach a decision to extend his term, President Jocelerme Privert’s interim rule legally expired on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.  For the time being he remains in office, despite his opposition’s calls for him to be removed.

A brief history:

During the 17th and 18th centuries, France relied heavily on the trans-atlantic slave trade to sustain the growth and export of crops such as sugar cane, coffee, indigo, cotton, and other spices from their colony of Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti.)  With the huge profits of the cash crop enterprise, reinforced by the profits of France’s brutal slave trade, France’s economy flourished.

As the slave trade fed France’s growing economy (and vice-versa), the population of the French colony of Saint-Domingue grew to just over half a million people by the early 1790’s.  Of this half-million, only about 50,000 were free-people, and of these, 30,000 were people of African or mixed Afro-european descent.  While socially separated from the white landowners, freed people of mixed descent were allowed to own land and slaves, thereby creating an elite and separate class outside of the small group of French colonists and yet distinct from the enslaved majority.

Following the overthrow of their colonial oppressors, the newly independent Haiti sought out leadership and rule among the elite class of former free planters.  This early division created a very small group of politically powerful individuals separated from the larger population of Haitians.

Haiti’s violent beginnings would carry deep into the politics of their newly independent nation. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond writes; “Out of Haiti’s 22 presidents from 1843 to 1915, 21 were assassinated or driven out of office” (Diamond, 2005.)

To further illustrate this point, the graphic below details each of Haiti’s rulers’ tenure in office, as well as how it ended.  To date, only 11 of Haiti’s heads of state have served their full term and then handed power to a successor.  The chart below is courtesy of Webster University, but we have completed the data for years 1999-Present.



This Data is Mainly Taken from Lyonel Paquin’s Book,

Some of the presidents names are hyperlinks to other material on that person often including photos

Prepared by Bob Corbett

Names Years Skin In Office Death
Dessalines, Jean Jacques 1804-06 Black 2 assassinated
Christophe, Henri 1807-20 Black 13 suicide
Petion, Alexander 1807-18 Light 11 died in office
Boyer, Jean Pierre 1818-43 Light 25 overthrown
Riviere-Herard, Riviere 1843-44 Light 1 Overthrown
Guerrier, Philippe 1844-45 Black 1 died in office
Pierrot, Jean Louis 1845-46 Black 1 overthrown
Riche, Jean Baptiste 1847-47 Black 1 died in office
Soulouque, Faustin 1847-59 Black 12 overthrown
Geffrard, Fabre Nicholas 1959-67 Dark 8 overthrown
Salnave, Sylvain 1867-69 Dark 2 executed
Nissage-Saget 1870-74 Light 4 full term
Domingue, Michel 1874-76 Dark 2 overthrown
Boisrond Canal 1876-79 Light 3 overthrown
Salomon, Lysius Felicite 1879-88 Black 9 overthrown
Legitime, Francois 1888-89 Black 2 overthrown
Hyppolite, Florvil 1889-96 Black 7 died in office
Simon Sam, Tiresias 1896-02 Black 6 full term
Nord Alexis 1902-08 Black 6 overthrown
Simon, Antoine 1908-11 Black 3 overthrown
Leconte, Cincinnatus 1911-12 Dark 1 died in office
Auguste, Tancrede 1912-13 Light 1 died in office
Oreste, Michel 1913-14 Dark 9 months overthrown
Zamor, Oreste 1914 Dark 1 overthrown
Theodore, Davilmar 1914-15 Black 1 overthrown
Sam, Vilbrun 1915 Black 5 months assassinated
Dartiguenave, Sudre 1915-22 Light 7 full term (During 1st US Occupation)
Borno, Louis 1922-30 Light 8 full term (During 1st US Occupation)
Roy, Eugene 1930 Dark 1 full term (During 1st US Occupation)
Vincent, Stenio 1930-41 Light 11 full term (During 1st US Occupation until 1934)
Lescot, Elie 1941-46 Dark 5 overthrown
Estime, Dumarsais 1946-50 Black 4 overthrown
Magloire, Paul 1950-56 Black 6 overthrown (1957–5 transitory gov.)
Fignole, Daniel 1957 Black 1 month overthrown (1957–5 transitory gov.)
Duvalier, Francois 1957-71 Black 14 died in office
Duvalier, Jean-Claude 1971-86 Dark 15 overthrown
Namphy, Henri 1986-87 Black 1 full term
Manigat, Lesli 1988 Light 1 overthrown
Namphy, Henri 1988-89 Black 1 overthrown
Avril, Prosper 1989-90 Black 1 overthrown
Pascal-Trouillot, Etha 1990-91 Light 1 full term
Aristide, Jean-Bertrand 1991 Black 1 overthrown; in exile 3 of 5 year term.
Preval, Rene 1996 Black 1 still serving as of this writing (March 20, 1999)

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


Chart Update Through 2016 (by HaitiHub)

René Preval 1996-2001 full term
Jean-Bertrand Aristide 2001-04 overthrown
Boniface Alexandre 2004-06 interim president
René Preval 2006-11 full term
Michel Martelly 2011-16 full Term
Jocelerme Privert Feb-16 – Present interim president

Haiti’s history of violent activism, social division, and political isolation (subsequently followed by intensive foreign interference) are all contributing factors to the tenuous footing their democracy currently holds.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.38.33 AM.png
Anti-Martelly protest earlier this year.  Photo Courtesy of AFP (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)

In more recent decades,  frustration with the widespread poverty and the inefficacy of the government’s efforts to improve the living conditions amongst the country’s poorest citizens, as well as unwanted interference from foreign governments, has been cause for political upheaval.  

While we wait to see the outcome of the current presidential election, it’s certain that many in Haiti are feeling like they’ve seen this all before.



Written by Erin Nguyen on June 24, 2016


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