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Haiti History 101, Haiti by the Decades, The 1980s

This decade started off with a million dollar wedding in Haiti, Haiti’s president Jean-Claude Duvalier tied the knot with Michèle Bennett, a former stock broking firm secretary and a public relations representative, and a mother of two sons from a previous marriage. That year, Haiti was struck by Hurricane Allen, which left a great deal of damages and caused deaths.

Here is the couple, two days before their nuptials, after giving a press conference to the Haitian media in Port-au-Prince.
On February 7, 1986 Jean-Claude Duvalier and his wife and 20 members of their families and entourage left Haiti for France on a jet. Thousands of exiles returned from around the world, including Felix Morriseau Leroy, a poet, former heads of state Paul Eugene Magloire, Martha Jean-Claude, who had been living in Cuba—among others.

Haitian soldiers (known as Tonton Macoutes) patrol the streets of Haiti.

A street vendor sells fresko—shaved ice with flavored syrup—on the streets of Haiti.

A tap-tap, Haiti’s trademark street buses, is being driven on a street.


Beaches like this attracted a lot of foreign tourists to Haiti, toppled with Haiti’s casinos, nightclubs, and the fact that Haiti, at the time, offered quickie divorces for married couples throwing in the towel.


Missionaries from the United States, Canada, France and Britain established several schools in Haiti. This photograph was taken in February 1986 of students in one such school ran by Protestant organizations. In the 1980s, Kreyol was forbidden as a language in schools that were taught entirely in French. Students were often times castigated if caught speaking Kreyol on school grounds.

Two famous religious figures visited Haiti in the 1980s. Mother Teresa made the rounds of Haiti with Haiti’s First Lady Michèle Bennett Duvalier.


Pope John Paul II made a trip to Haiti in 1983. A Polish national, the pope was welcomed by Polish Haitians brought over mostly from the city of Cazal at the airport.

In 1982, the Haitian native black pig was slaughtered because the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations feared a pig fever epidemic. The native pig was replaced by a new breed, seen above in this photo, being measured by a FAO agent.

The number of Haitian music bands exploded. Culturally significant albums were released by bands like Tabou Combo, Caribbean Sextet, Magnum Band, Tropicana, Septen. Some bands, in addition to playing in Haiti, also toured the United States, Canada and elsewhere, catering to exiles and international fans there. Above is the cover for an album by the band Ska-Shah.

The 1980s also saw the death of several Haitian musicians who had been key in the development of Haitian music identity. Among them Emmanuel Rossini Jean-Baptiste, known to fans as Ti Manno, Webert Sicot and Nemours Jean-Baptiste, two men who were in particular credited with nationalizing Haiti’s konpa music. This decade produced several women singers, the most prominent being Emeline Michel, Carole Demesmin, Cornelia “Ti Corn” Schutt, Danielle Thermidor, and Yole Derose.

The 1980s also saw the first labeled appearance of AIDS. And that decade gave way to massive exodus from Haiti to Miami, New York, and other metropolitan cities of the United States and the rest of the world. Many Haitians risked their lives—via boat—to go to the Bahamas, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Grand Turks and Caicos, and especially Florida to find a better life. Some were repatriated back to Haiti, while others were detained at the Krome Detention Center in Miami. Many immigrants were eventually released but getting proper documents to work proved to be another hurdle for some.


Haitian kanaval 1985 style!

Photos: Corbis, AFP, Langevin, and Leah Gordon

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4 Comments to “Haiti History 101, Haiti by the Decades, The 1980s”

  1. Franklin_Sanon says:

    I wish I was alive during that time in Haiti. Everyone just seems so happy.

    • virginia says:

      that was the time of Duvalier and his downfall? why would you wish to be alive for what was going to happen?

  2. […] always be real. So I had to do a lot of research to know what was going on in Haiti at the time (the 1980s). One of the things that I came across was that in the 1980s, Haitian farmers had to deal with the […]

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