Haiti is one of the birthplaces of democracy in the modern world. To put it another way, as one of the oldest democracies in the Western world, the Republic of Haiti put an end to the unholy trinity of chattel slavery, colonization, and white supremacy in the French colony of Saint-Domingue through the watershed world and successful event known as the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). Haiti has also contributed enormously to the projects of universal emancipation, human rights, and human subjectivity in modern times. Yet since its birth on January 1, 1804, the people of Haiti have struggled to live peacefully and democratically and to maintain national sovereignty and political freedom. Overall, the country has experienced several orchestrated crises and tragic political events, including the history of totalitarianism, despots, authoritarianism, dictatorship, and various coups and coup attempts.
Correspondingly, many Haitian Heads of state have died through well-planned assassinations. At least, four Haitian presidents have been assassinated while in power; below, I offer a brief account of these tragic events in the history of Haiti.
1. Jean-Jacques Dessalines is known as the Founder of the Republic of Haiti and the Liberator of the Haitian people. He served as Governor of Haiti for nine months and subsequently became the country’s first Emperor, adopting the monarchial title Jacques 1er. He was Emperor for two years and nine months (1804-1806). His administration had faced strong opposition or resistance in the Southern part of the country, and many of his top generals had turned against him. On his way to the capital, he was ambushed by a group of officers and violently gunned down at Pont-Rouge on 17 October 1806.
2. Sylvain Salnave served as President of Haiti for only two years and six months (June 1867-December 1869). When the opposition troops were causing chaos and violence in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Salnave attempted to escape the country and eventually fled to the east side of the island: Dominican Republic. He was seized and brought back to the capital, where he was executed on 15 January 1870.
3. Michel Cincinnatus Leconte experienced a short-term presidency that lasted for only one year (August 1911-August 1912). As the grandson of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, he was named President of Haiti on August 14, 1911, after a violent insurrection. The opposition against him grew rapidly in the country; while he was sleeping in the National Palace (the presidential home), the building “mysteriously” exploded on August 8, 1912.The President, his grandson, and 300 Haitian soldiers perished in this catastrophic event. Many believe it was the act of the opposition, and thus concluded that his death was an assassination.
4. Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, who succeeded President Davilmar Theodore who spent only three months in power, served as President of Haiti for only four months. In fact, before the U.S. military invasion of Haiti on July 28, 1915, the country had experienced six short-lived presidencies or Heads of State, whose overall term lasted only three years (August 1912-July 1915): Cincinnatus Leconte (1 year: August 1911-August 1912); Joseph Antoine Tancrède Auguste (9 months: August 1912-May 1913); Michel Oreste (8 months: May 1913-January 1914); Oreste Zamor (8 months: February 1914-October 1914); Joseph Davilmar Théodore (3 months: November 1914-February 1915); Vilbrun Guillaume Sam (4 months: Mars 1915-July 1915). Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, an influential political leader and medical doctor who opposed Sam’s complicated dealings with the United States. He was a well-respected leader of the anti-U.S. movement in the country and mobilized his allies in the countryside and Port-au-Prince to overthrow President Sam. To counter the opposition, President Sam executed 167 political prisoners, and the tension against his presidency escalated in the capital. As a result, while he fled to the French embassy for refuge, the angry crowd dragged him into the street and tore his body in pieces.
***It is good to note the United States exploited these series of unfortunate political crises to invade and occupy Haiti for 19 years (1915-1934).
5. Jovenel Moïse served as President of Haiti from February 2017 until his assassination in July 2021. On Wednesday, July 7, 2021, at 1:00 a.m., President Moïse was fatally wounded and assassinated in his private residence by a group of 26 heavily-armed individuals. The first lady, Martine Moïse, was shot in the attack and is now receiving medical care at a hospital in Miami, Florida. It is reported that the Haitian Police (Police Nationale d’Haiti: PNH) forces arrested 15 suspects, killed 4 assassins, and are now pursuing the remaining 8 criminals associating with the murder of President Moïse.
Haiti might be a small country, but the Haitian people are a great people who have changed the world through the power of the popular will and collective determination. The people of Haiti never lose faith in the power of freedom and the general will of the people, and the triumph of democracy and human rights in their own society and in the world. They are a resistant and optimistic people who are always trying to reinvent themselves, to craft a new destiny for themselves and their country, and to explore future possibilities for the next generation.
Celucian J. Joseph is a professor of English at Indian River College. He is also a scholar and researcher in Haitian, Black, Caribbean, and Africana Studies.