Haiti was originally called Hispaniola (Haiti is the western part and the Dominican Republic is the eastern). In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France.
As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Haiti one of the richest colonies of the 18th century French empire.
During this period, African slaves were brought to work the sugarcane and coffee plantations. In 1791, the slave population—led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe—revolted and gained control of the northern part.
In 1804, local forces defeated an army deployed by Napoleon Bonaparte, established independence from France, and renamed the area Haiti. Haiti is the world’s oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic after the United States in the Western Hemisphere. Haitians actively assisted the American Revolution and independence movements of Latin American countries.
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 U.S. military forces were withdrawn in 1934 at the request of the elected Government of Haiti.
From 1986—when the 30-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended—until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election. Aristide took office in February 1991, but was overthrown by dissatisfied elements of the army and forced to leave the country in September of the same year. It is estimated that between 300 and 500 Haitians were killed in the days following the September coup, and 3,000 in the following three years. The coup created a large-scale exodus from the country; in fact, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians from 1991 to 1992.
Haiti is now a democracy and conducted a recent presidential election in the fall of 2006 (see demographics). Due to the countries political instability and the corruption under the 30 years of the Duvalier family - Haiti has endured serious challenges. The economy is in ruins and they also face a large HIV problem in the country. Haiti is one of the countries hit hardest by Aids outside of sub-Saharan Africa. HIV and Aids have spread through the Haitian population, both bisexual and heterosexual.
Now one in 20 Haitians has the disease, and it is the main cause of death among women of reproductive age.
Extreme poverty, especially in the Haitian countryside, has compounded the problem. There is only one doctor per 10,000 Haitians and many have to walk for hours to reach a health clinic.
This is just a glimpse of the history of Haiti and it’s current challenges.
There are many sites which can provide you with additional history and information on Haiti.