Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Troubled History of Monarchist Haiti

Since winning independence from the French the country of Haiti has scarcely known any lengthy periods of stability and prosperity. It has had its own kings and emperors but none were ever able to solidify their rule or establish a lasting dynasty. It all began with the revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines. He played a major part in the winning of independence and then became the first national leader of an independent Haiti as Governor-General. The following year, in 1804, he proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I and was crowned in October. However, only a couple of years later, in 1806, he was assassinated by disgruntled officials anxious to take power. At the time they criticized him as a tyrant but in the many years since, by virtue of being the first independent Haitian ruler, his reputation has improved as a national symbol.

Next came Henri Christophe, another revolutionary general who had known of the plot against Dessalines but did nothing to warn him. Once the Emperor was dead Christophe became a symbolic president but later proclaimed himself King Henri I of Haiti. He created a Haitian peerage but never had widespread popular support as the country was gripped by civil war throughout his reign. He ruled from 1811 to 1820 when he was faced with the threat of a coup against him and killed himself. A succession of presidents followed, all preaching the doctrine of democracy but failing to live up to the revolutionary rhetoric.

First there was Petion who dissolved the legislature and made himself president-for-life, his hand-picked successor was Boyer who was overthrown and died in Jamaica. Then came Riviere-Herard who took power in a military coup, was president for about a year and then driven from office and replaced by another general, Philippe Guerrier, who died after less than a year in office, Pierrot was next, another general, and lasted about a year before he was overthrown in a coup and replaced by another general, Riche, who died by poisoning. Then came the last monarchial ruler of Haiti, a general named Faustin-Elie Soulouque who became President in 1847. In 1849 he proclaimed himself Emperor Faustin I and seemed determined to have a better go at it than his predecessors. However, in 1859 another military coup forced him to abdicate and Haiti has had nothing but presidents ever since. Ironically, it was a presidential family rather than any of the Haitian monarchs that managed to have transfer of power based on heredity with the notorious Duvalier father and son presidents.

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