For the early years see description see under The Dominican Republic. In 1697 the island was separated in two and the French established the colony St-Domingue with 40,000 colonists and more than half a million slaves. Rebellion followed the French revolution in 1789 and in 1804 after defeating the French, Dessalines declared the country independent with the name Haiti and became the new world´s first black president. However, his tyrannical approach got him killed in 1806 after which the country was split between the black North and mulatto South. Boyer reunited the country in 1820 and later also invaded Santo Domingo unifying Hispanola for more than 20 years.
From 1843 to 1915 the wealthy mulattoes and the black fought for power and of 22 presidents only one managed to stay in office for the whole period – the rest were exiled or assassinated. Around WWI US interests in Haiti increased because of the proximity to the Panama Canal and being concerned of German occupation and when President Sam was assassinated in 1915 the US marines were sent in - they stayed for 20 years changing the constitution as well as stabilising the country and developing its infrastructure. Pulling out they were followed by numerous presidents staying in office on average less than a year until 1956 where Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was elected.
Initially supported by the black middle class and rural poor he quickly turned in to one on the world's worst dictator's extorting the population and ruthlessly eliminating all opposition and even loyal supporters when they had been close to him too long. Making himself president for life he stayed in office until his death in 1971 where he was replaced by his son “Baby Doc” who – despite long civil unrest – managed to stay in power until 1986 when he fled to France.
In 1990 young priest Aristide was elected promising radical reforms to aid the poor, but after only 7 months he was forced out of office by rich mulattoes and army generals. Several junta leaders ran the country until external pressure secured his return on the condition that he modified his reform plans. He was re-elected in 2001 but violence and armed revolt forced him out of office in 2004. Violence continued under his successor Latortue, so the UN sent in a peacekeeping force whose firm approach towards gangs drastically reduced violence and kidnappings. January 12 2010 Haiti was shattered by a major earthquake killing 250-300.000 people and leaving more than a million homeless – also entailing a lethal cholera epidemic. Late 2012 Haiti was hit by devastating hurricane Sandy flooding large areas of the country.