Background: The native Arawak Amerindians - who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was
discovered by Columbus in 1492 - were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the
early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola, and in 1697, Spain ceded to the
French the western third of the island - Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related
industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, but only through the heavy importation of
African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half
million slaves revolted under Toussaint L'OUVERTURE and after a prolonged struggle, became the first
black republic to declare its independence in 1804. Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most
of its history. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Background