Today's Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. But back in the 18th century it was Saint-Domingue, the most lucrative of all the New World's colonies. After New France fell to the British there was a proposal to trade it back in exchange for Saint-Domingue, but the latter was considered too valuable for the French to give up! Its wealth came from sugar plantations, which depended on a brutal regime of slave labour: the rise of sugar production was closely connected to the rise of slavery. (I figure that there's a curse on sugar, which is why it causes tooth decay!)
The French Revolution broke out in 1789, and its principles soon spread to Saint-Domingue, where mulatto Toussaint L'Ouverture waged a long, brilliant guerrilla campaign against the slaveholders. (Napoleon's attempt to retake control came to grief, influencing his decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the U.S.A.) L'Ouverture himself was captured and died a prisoner in France, but the Republic of Haiti achieved independence in 1804.
Haiti was a problem-ridden nation from the start. Its first president, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, tried to rule as a black Napoleon and was soon assassinated. Its origins in slave rebellion made it a pariah to the remaining slave-owning empires. (The American South feared the precedent set for their own slaves, so the American government didn't recognize the Haitian regime until the 1860s, when abolitionist Frederick Douglass served as one of the first U.S. ambassadors there.) American forces occupied the nation between 1915 and 1934, installing a regime with white supremacist overtones. Between 1956 and 1986 President "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son ruled through Tonton Macoute terror. Reformist president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown, probably with American connivance. Yet Haitian society has developed a unique culture, with the world's most widely-spoken creole language and the syncretic voodoo religion.
For background reading, we can try Laurent Dubois' HAITI: THE AFTERSHOCKS OF HISTORY.
Our location is the Dora Keogh Irish pub.