The List

The Unluckiest Country

The second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere has been wracked by coups, dictators, and foreign interventions throughout nearly its entire history. But you don't have to agree with Pat Robertson to agree that even by Haitian standards, the last few decades have been particularly tragic.

The Duvalier Dictatorship

Years: 1957-1986

The catastrophe: After a period of instability in the mid-20th century following a bloody war with the Dominican Republic and the temporary U.S. military occupation of the island, Haiti had a glimmer of hope when François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a popular health minister, was elected president (in a military-rigged election). But Duvalier was not exactly the humanitarian ruler Haitians had hoped for. Duvalier quickly set about consolidating his power over the state and security services, enriching himself and his cronies through bribery and extortion, and building his own personality cult. He lined his coffers with millions in U.S. aid money during his early years in power. An estimated 30,000 Haitians were killed during Duvalier's reign of terror and many more fled into exile.

After his death in 1971, he was succeeded by his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude, known as "Baby Doc." After continuing his father's policies of repression and corruption, Baby Doc finally abdicated and fled the country under pressure from the Reagan administration in 1986. But the Duvalier dynasty left Haiti with a legacy of corruption and poverty from which it has never recovered.

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The First Aristide Crisis

Year: 1991

The catastrophe: In 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected in what was considered Haiti's first fair election. A former priest who had helped lead the opposition to the Duvalier regime, Aristide seemed a natural choice to help the country regain its footing. But the country's experiment in democracy was to be short-lived. Aristide was overthrown in a military coup just a few months later and forced into exile. Over 1,500 people were killed. Thousands of refugees fled to the United States in rickety boats, prompting President George H.W. Bush to enact a blockade against the country.

In 1994, the United Nations authorized the use of force to remove the military dictatorship, and the United States took the lead in forming a multinational military to enforce the mandate. Twenty-thousand military personnel landed unopposed, returning Aristide to power.


The Second Aristide Crisis

Year: 2004

The catastrophe: Aristide was legally barred from running for president again in 1995, but he returned to power five years later in what was widely considered a fraudulent election, losing much of his international support in the process. The first military coup attempt happened only a year later. Frustration over Aristide's election grew into increasingly violent protests from 2000 to 2003.

In February 2004, a rebel group calling itself the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti, comprised of ex-military officers including several notorious Duvalier-era figures, captured Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city, and began advancing toward the capital. Although the United States had helped Aristide return to power after his last ouster, the George W. Bush administration remained neutral this time, blaming Aristide's years of corruption for the rebellion. Aristide fled Haiti in late February, blaming U.S. pressure for forcing him from power.

Shortly after the coup, the United Nations authorized a atabilization mission in Haiti, including a military peacekeeping force led by the Brazilian military. Despite the presence of the blue helmets, however, political violence, extrajudicial killings, and arrests of opposition members continued under the interim government.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images  

The Floods

Year: 2004

The catastrophe: As if the political turmoil weren't bad enough, nature struck Haiti in 2004 to devastating effect. Just one month after the coup, flash floods hit the Haitian-Dominican  border, leaving more than 1,600 dead. Then in September, Hurricane Jeanne decimated Gonaives, leaving more than 3,000 dead. The interim government was almost entirely bankrupt and unable to effectively respond.

The flooding was further exacerbated by deforestation. Because of poor environmental management and poverty, more than 98 percent of the country's forestland land had been cleared, eliminating the topsoil that could have held the water. The 8,000 strong U.N. peacekeeping force, which had been intended to help Haiti form a government, struggled to cope with the humanitarian disaster. The U.S. military, controversially, halted the delivery of aid during the first set of floods because of a lack of resources.



Year: 2008

The catastrophe: A small measure of political stability was restored with the election of President René Préval in 2005, but the calm didn't last. By 2008, 80 percent of Haitians lived on less than $2 per day, and the country found itself in the grips of a food crisis. The international media shocked readers with reports of Haitians making cookies out of packed dirt.

In April, after the price of rice doubled over the course of six months, protesters descended on Port-au-Prince to demand that the government either take steps to lower the cost of living or step down. Protesters built barricades and tried to use garbage cans as battering rams to break their way into the national palace. Caught between the mob and the government they were charged with stabilizing, U.N. peacekeepers fired rubber bullets into the crowd. One protester told Reuters, "If the police and U.N. troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end if we are not killed by bullets we'll die of hunger." In the end, the government survived the crisis, but its credibility was sunk, and the desperation of Haiti's people continued.

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images  


Year: 2008

The catastrophe: In the fall of 2008, Haiti was hit by hurricanes, and Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike in the space of a month, leaving more than 800 dead and more than a million homeless. The long-suffering city of Gonaives again took the brunt of the devastation. It was rendered largely uninhabitable, and government ministers said much of it would simply have to be moved. Sixty percent of the starving country's harvest was destroyed, and the debris was still being cleared this year.

While other countries in the region, including the Dominican Republic and Cuba, were hit almost as badly by the storms, Haiti's death toll was nearly 10 times higher because of environmental degradation that exacerbated the flooding and the government's inability to respond. U.S. anthropologist and longtime Haiti activist Paul Farmer called the hurricane season an "unnatural disaster," saying that a "Marshall Plan" was needed to rebuild Haiti's political institutions or the country would "have a hard time surviving the hurricane season." But the damage unleashed this week by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake was probably more than even he could have imagined.


The List

Soccer Wars

Last week's attack on the Togo national soccer team's bus in Angola resulted in the deaths of the driver, a press officer, and an assistant coach, and led to Togo's withdrawal from the Africa Cup of Nations. But the tragedy is hardly the first time that ugly political tension has invaded the beautiful game.

The Football War

Year: 1969

Teams: Honduras, El Salvador

Damage done: Honduras and El Salvador battled in a three-leg World Cup qualifier playoff in June 1969 -- and went to war two weeks later in what is dubbed the Football War. Honduras already resented its neighbor by the late 1960s for the 300,000 illegal Salvadoran migrants who had passed into the country. In the spring of 1969, tensions reached new heights when Honduras began expelling many back over the border.

When the two teams met for a playoff, rampant fan violence -- in which several were killed -- caused media hysteria in both countries, leading to Honduras breaking off diplomatic relations on June 27. (Honduras won the first leg, 1-0, El Salvador triumphed in the second game, 3-0, and finally El Salvador qualified for the 1970 World Cup with a 3-2 win in neutral site Mexico.) On July 14, El Salvador initiated airstrikes on Honduran targets, and its army had invaded as far as 5 miles across the border the following day. Supply shortages halted the Salvadoran attack, and a cease-fire arranged by the Organization of American States came into effect July 20. All in all, 2,000 people were killed in the conflict, many of them Honduran civilians, and tens of thousands of Salvadorans were expelled from Honduras.

Heysel Stadium Disaster

Year: 1985

Teams: Liverpool F.C., Juventus F.C.

Damage done: Thirty-nine fans died (and 600 more were injured), mostly Italians, just before the 1985 European Cup final in Brussels -- and the game was still played only a few hours later.

According to Liverpool fans, some Juventus faithful -- having purchased tickets in the “neutral” section for Belgian fans -- starting throwing missiles projectiles at English fans an hour before game time. In retaliation, a wave of Liverpool supporters rushed the neutral section, causing fans to flee toward a retaining wall, which collapsed, crushing many. Belgian authorities were criticized for deploying an insufficient number of police and for holding the match in an older stadium. Juventus hoisted the cup later that night after winning 1-0. All English football clubs were banned from European competitions for five years, and Liverpool received an additional two-year penalty.

Ethnic Tensions Explode in the Balkans

Year: 1990

Teams: Red Star Belgrade, Dinamo Zagreb

Damage done: "To the fans of this club, who started the war with Serbia at this ground on 13 May 1990,” reads a plaque outside Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, Croatia. The trouble started after the triumph of pro-Independence Croatian politicians in April 1990 national elections exacerbated ethnic tensions in then-Yugoslavia. The following month, a delegation of violent Red Star fans known as the Delije (“tough guys,” shown left in their later incarnation as a Serbian paramilitary unit), headed by future Serbian war criminal “Arkan” (Zeljko Raznjatovic), traveled to Zagreb for a match between the top Serbian and Croatian sides.

Brutal street fights ensued, and inside the stadium, the Serbian police officers who were assigned to provide security allowed the Delije free rein to attack Dinamo supporters. A counterassault by thousands of Croatians overwhelmed the police and the Delije in the largest pitch invasion in football history. Police reinforcements were called in, but not before Dinamo midfielder Zvonimir Boban famously kicked a policeman to the ground. (Boban later spent eight years at A.C. Milan and captained Croatia to a third-place finish in the 1998 World Cup.) The game was never played, but many of the fan-gangs involved that day later went on to join their respective sides’ paramilitary forces in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Egypt and Algeria Clash

Year: 2009

Teams: Algeria, Egypt

Damage done: With a spot in the 2010 World Cup on the line, tensions between the two bitter North African rivals erupted last November. The same sides had been involved in a heated row 20 years before, after Egypt defeated Algeria to make the 1990 World Cup in Italy. In that episode, Algerian star Lakhdar Belloumi blinded the Egyptian team doctor in one eye with a bottle.

Weeks before the 2009 game even took place, both team’s websites were hacked, escalating tensions. Upon arriving in Cairo, the Algerian national team bus was stoned by Egyptian fans, and several players were injured. (Egyptian media claimed the incident was staged.) When Egypt scored a last minute goal to send the game to a playoff in Sudan, Cairo erupted in celebration. Twenty Algerian fans were injured in the chaos, but Algerian media painted a different picture of the aftermath: supporters burned alive, women stripped, fans killed in the streets -- resulting in the looting of Egyptian businesses in Algeria. Following Algeria’s win in the playoff later that month, a new round of violence erupted. Alaa Mubarak, one of Presidnet Hosni Mubarak’s two sons, claimed that assaults on Egyptian supporters in Sudan were premeditated. Both autocratic governments, however, were happy to use the episode to deflect criticism of their own regimes, at least for a short time. The brouhaha died down when the two governments quieted their state-run media coverage.

El Clásico Rivalry

Year: 1902-present

Teams: F.C. Barcelona, Real Madrid

Damage done: One of the world's most famous and longest-lasting political football rivalries, the Barcelona-Madrid battle has been hot since their first bout in 1902. During the Spanish Civil War, the Fascists bombed Barcelona’s club house. Throughout the Franco era, Madrid was seen as the club of the regime, while Barcelona represented Catalonian regionalism. In 1939, the Catalonian language was banned, forcing Barcelona to remove the Catalan flag from its logo. Meanwhile, Franco bestowed favors on Madrid, often pressuring players on the verge of signing with Barcelona to join Madrid instead.

Nevertheless, the Barcelona grounds were one of the only places where Catalan could be spoken throughout Franco’s Era, leading to the club’s motto, “More than a Club.” Tensions are a lot lower in the post-Franco era but players from both clubs can’t take fans for granted. Perhaps most famously, three years after Luis Figo’s 2000 transfer from Barcelona to Madrid, a fan threw a pig’s head at him while he was lining up for a corner kick at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona.