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Two centuries of strife and support bind Haiti and U.S.

Relations between the United States and Haiti have been closely intertwined since they were separately born in bloody revolutions against European colonizers centuries ago. Often, it has been a thorny relationship, complicated by military invasions, race and economic friction.

The United States and Haiti are the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere, the United States rebelling against Britain at the end of 18th century and Haiti overthrowing the French at the beginning of the 19th. But while the American Revolution was led by the wealthy and educated, Haiti's initial uprising was led by Francois-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, a freed slave leading an army of slaves. On Jan. 1, 1804, Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed the colony an independent country named Haiti.

It was race that kept the United States and Haiti apart in the early years despite their common battle against colonial masters. Southerners feared the former slave republic at a time when slavery was going strong in the United States.

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. Marines to Haiti after the president there was killed by an angry crowd. Troops stayed until 1934 helping to train the new military.

From the late 1950s, the military, led by two generations of the Duvaliers, ran Haiti as a personal fiefdom. Refugees fled the brutal regime and economic desperation often only to die on the way to the United States.

Partly because Haiti remained an overwhelmingly black nation, its plight has always been near to the hearts of key African-American groups, such as the Congressional Black Caucus. Many blacks said the United States was loath to admit Haitian refugees because of race, while embracing those who fled from Cuba under a communist regime.

The Duvaliers were overthrown in the late 1980s and a popular vote was held, leading to the 1990 election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was overthrown by the military and fled. By 1994, and as U.S. diplomatic efforts foundered and political violence increased, tens of thousands of refugees tried to reach Florida by boat. That September, the United States led a multinational military force to return Aristide to office.

In late 2003, violent protests against Aristide began. In early 2004, a violent rebellion spread across northern Haiti. On Feb. 29, Aristide resigned and fled to Africa. Soon afterward, a U.S.-led peacekeeping force arrived. Aristide claimed the United States had forced him to resign, but U.S. officials deny the charge. In June 2004, a U.N. force led by Brazil took over the peacekeeping duties.

But Haiti's woes didn't end. It remains the least-developed country in the Americas despite U.S. and world aid and a United Nations presence to help train troops. Among those missing in Tuesday's earthquake are some American military personnel.

Among other aid, the United States is considering sending troops. Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command, said Wednesday that the U.S. was looking at the possibility of sending troops to aid U.N. relief efforts and provide soe security. He said the United States was also considering sending a Marine amphibious ship with an expeditionary unit of 2,000 Marines that could land troops in coming days.

Information from World Book encyclopedia was used in this report.

Two centuries of strife and support bind Haiti and U.S. 01/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 10:36am]
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