Located about 800 miles south of Miami in the Caribbean Ocean, Haiti has a rich though bloody history. Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola, (Haiti is the western part and the Dominican Republic is the eastern) as a launching point to explore the Western Hemisphere. In 1697, Spain ceded a third of Hispaniola to France. Some French adventurers became planters, making the island one of the richest French colonies.
During this period, African slaves were brought to work the plantations. In 1791, one million slaves outnumbered the 40,000 French plantation owners. Led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe, the slaves revolted.
That same year a black slave and witch doctor named Boukman performed a bloody voodoo ritual. Boukman made a pact with Satan offering Haiti in exchange for freedom from cruel French plantation owners. By 1804 slaves defeated a French army and established independence, renaming the area Haiti. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere.
With 22 changes of government from 1843 until 1915, Haiti experienced numerous periods of intense political and economic disorder, prompting United States military intervention in 1915. U.S. military forces were withdrawn in 1934.
From 1986--when the 30-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended--until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In 1987, a constitution was adopted that provides for an elected bicameral parliament, an elected president who serves as head of state, and a prime minister.