Haiti's political system is notoriously volatile and prone to violence. Since gaining its independence from France in 1804, the country has experienced little democracy and has suffered at the hands of many dictators and corrupt regimes. The most enduring of these dictatorships was that of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier (1957-71) and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" (1971-86). Since the overthrow of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the country has been ruled by a succession of unstable governments and military juntas. The political landscape changed dramatically in 1991 with the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aris-tide, a radical Catholic priest, who was elected by a landslide majority in the country's first free elections. He was ousted by the military after only 8 months and spent 3 years in exile before being returned to power by a joint United Nations/United States military force in 1994. In the meantime, Haiti suffered a 3-year period of political repression, compounded by increased economic hardships as the result of an international economic embargo orchestrated by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). In December 2000 Aristide again won election by an overwhelming majority.
The dominant political force in Haiti today is Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas (FL), which means "landslide family" in Creole. The FL has an extended network of activists but is held together by the charismatic personality of Aristide, who won 91.8 percent of the vote in the November 2000 elections. Other political groupings are weak and unpopular in comparison. The main group is the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), formerly allied to Aristide but now bitterly opposed to FL. All other parties boycotted the 2000 presidential elections, claiming that intimidation and electoral malpractice were rife. By early 2001 FL was in control of 103 out of 110 seats in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
Aside from its promotion of Aristide as a "savior," FL tends to vacillate between supporting the rural economy through infrastructural investment and state subsidies , and pursuing a course of liberalization and privatization. In the wake of Aristide's return to power in 1994, for instance, the government presided over the removal of many trade barriers and the beginning of a privatization program, but Aristide later criticized these measures. Aristide's populist appeal runs counter to the demands placed on his government by international donors, who wish to see the Haitian economy further opened to foreign investment.
Revenue collection in Haiti has always been inefficient and plagued by corruption and tax evasion. Aristide's threats to tax the tiny wealthy minority were instrumental in his overthrow in 1991. Indirect taxes and excise duties were 3 times greater than income tax receipts in 1997, while punitive taxes have traditionally been levied on export commodities such as coffee.
Because the government is heavily dependent on foreign aid, its ability to forge independent economic policy is limited by donor demands for agreed economic programs as a precondition for releasing aid. The main policy of the FL government focuses on land distribution and attempts to regenerate agricultural production damaged by low productivity and environmental degradation. The government also promises higher wages in the small manufacturing sector, a proposition that has caused several companies to relocate to the Dominican Republic.