Chaos in Haiti has reached new heights in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he would step down amid growing violence and a humanitarian crisis. Armed gangs, whose power has surged in the vacuum left by the still-unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, have overrun much of the Caribbean country, leaving it on the brink of collapse.

But social and political turmoil are no anomaly in Haiti, which has fought through waves of upheaval since its founding.

The first nation forged by a rebellion of enslaved people, Haiti in the 19th century struggled for decades under debt to France, coerced into paying reparations to former enslavers. The indemnity was an economic drain on the country, which remains impoverished even today. The United States invaded Haiti in the early 20th century, imposing a system of forced labor.

In the past 40 years, an era that began with a popular uprising that ended decades of dictatorship, the country has been beset by compounding crises – coups, violence, economic hardship and natural disasters, atop a history of botched or repressive interventions, imperialism and international exploitation.

Here’s a chronology of key events in Haiti’s modern political history, leading up to the ongoing crisis.


Haiti’s ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier is escorted out of his hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 18, 2011. AP file photo

1986: ‘Baby Doc’ flees to France

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was the only son of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the physician who was elected president of Haiti in 1957. Initially supported by the United States, Papa Doc held on to office for years, stealing millions of dollars in public money and international aid, while ruling through sham elections and fear.

When Jean-Claude, 19, came to power upon his father’s death in 1971, many hoped he would use a lighter hand. He chose the opposite course. He leaned heavily on his father’s shadowy Tonton Macoute – a paramilitary force named for the Haitian child-stealing boogeyman “Uncle Knapsack” – to terrorize the people into silence. Rampant corruption, violence and killings continued.

In the 1980s, as the increasingly dysfunctional country sank into economic turmoil, Baby Doc faced growing opposition at home and abroad. He fled the country in 1986 on a U.S. Air Force plane – his Louis Vuitton luggage allegedly stuffed with $120 million in cash – to exile on the French Riviera.

1986 to 1990: Rapid succession

Baby Doc’s legacy persisted. Henri Namphy, a wealthy lieutenant general who had been close to Papa Doc, led a council installed after Baby Doc’s departure.

Namphy promised to bring democracy to Haiti, but his tenure was marred by more killings, including a massacre that disrupted voting. Still, Namphy kept his promise to hand over power to an elected president.

Leslie Manigat, a professor, won the 1988 election with just over 50% of the vote. But his administration didn’t last long: Namphy took power months later after a coup forced Manigat out.


Another coup followed that year, when another lieutenant general, Prosper Avril, declared himself president. Avril had been an associate of Baby Doc’s, and in 1990, as the specter of civil unrest loomed, he also fled on a U.S. Air Force plane.

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, left, jokes with newly sworn-in Haitian President Rene Preval during inauguration ceremonies at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Feb. 7, 1996. Preval was the only democratically elected president to win and complete two terms. AP file photo

1990: Aristide appears to usher in a new era

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a polyglot priest from the slums, was elected in 1990 with about two-thirds of the vote. Jubilant Haitians were hopeful that the charismatic leader could provide calm and prosperity for the country, although Haiti’s military and elites were skeptical of him.

His term lasted less than a year: He was pushed out by a coup. Nearly three years of military rule followed, until the United States helped return him to power in 1994.

Elections were held in 1995, and the following year, René Préval assumed the presidency in what was seen as the first peaceful transfer of power in Haiti’s history. But the quiet didn’t last long. A series of coup attempts set off another power struggle. Aristide was reelected in 2000.

Aristide’s return came with echoes of his predecessors, as he came to rely on gangs known as the chimères to snuff out dissent.

2004: U.N. mission seeks to stabilize Haiti

In 2004, Aristide faced an uprising seeking to oust him yet again, led by Guy Philippe, a prominent rebel leader. (He would go on to serve a prison sentence in the United States on a money-laundering conviction, before returning to Haiti late last year as something of a political wild card.)


Haiti appealed for international help to quell the unrest, and the United States, Canada, France and Chile sent in troops as the United States helped Aristide evacuate. A United Nations mission, known by the French acronym MINUSTAH, entered the country, where it remained until 2017.

The U.N. mission meant to stabilize Haiti failed to do so, and faced accusations of sexual misconduct committed by U.N. peacekeepers.

2010: Earthquake devastates Haiti

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people. The temblor devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, reducing much of it to ruins and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

International relief efforts sought to help Haiti recover, but were criticized as slow and ineffective. Two years later, half a million people were still living in tents. U.N. troops from Nepal brought cholera to the country, setting off an outbreak that killed about 10,000 people. The United Nations in 2016 accepted responsibility for its role in the outbreak, but many Haitians say it has failed to adequately compensate those affected.


President Jovenel Moïse speaks during a press conference at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Oct. 15, 2019. AP file photo

2021: President assassinated after power struggle

Jovenel Moïse was elected to a five-year term in 2016 but did not take office until the following year because of disputes over the election. That delay entitled him to stay in office beyond the scheduled end of his term, he argued, though opponents said it had ended in February 2021. He said efforts to replace him amounted to a coup attempt. The disarray led to a constitutional crisis: Moïse maintained that he was still president while opponents said Supreme Court Judge Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis was interim president.

In July 2021, armed men stormed Moïse’s Port-au-Prince home and he was fatally shot. The circumstances surrounding the killing remain unclear, with Colombian nationals, U.S. citizens and Moïse’s wife accused of involvement.


Kenya Haiti Armed Force

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry gives a public lecture at the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, on March. 1, 2024. AP photo

2024: Henry resigns amid gang turmoil

Two days before Moïse was assassinated, he had appointed Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, as the next prime minister. But he had not been sworn in when Moïse was killed.

The assassination set off a power struggle between Henry and Claude Joseph, who had been serving as acting prime minister. Joseph continued to assert that he was acting prime minister.

But as international support, including that of the United States, coalesced around Henry, Joseph stepped down. The State Department said at the time that it was doing all it could “to support the formation of a unity government that is inclusive and that puts Haiti down a more united path.”

Gang violence worsened after Moïse’s assassination. In an effort to quell the chaos, Henry appealed to the international community to help restore order in Haiti. Other governments, including that of the United States, have been reluctant to intervene, however, after decades of failed foreign involvement. Kenya has said it would lead a U.N.-backed multinational police force deployed to Haiti, but has faced logistical and domestic legal obstacles in standing one up.

While Henry was in Kenya trying to further that plan, Haiti fell further into chaos. Gangs this month led a mass prison break and shut down the international airport. Amid clamor for his resignation, Henry went to Puerto Rico.

On Monday, Henry announced in a video address that he would resign once a transitional presidential council was put in place and an interim leader selected. With the country in shambles, it was not immediately clear who that person might be. If a coalition of gangs continues to strengthen its hold on Haiti, it could be the emergent leader of that bloc, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, who determines the country’s direction.

Widlore Mérancourt, Ruby Mellen, Adam Taylor, Anthony Faiola and Stephanie Hanes contributed to this report.

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