The first successful Latin American revolt took place in Haiti, a French island colony in the Caribbean. The French, true to their mercantilist policies, exported coffee, sugar, cocoa, and indigo from Haiti to Europe. French colonists owned large plantations and hundreds of thousands of slaves, who grew and harvested these crops under horrible conditions. By 1800, 90 percent of the population was slaves, some of whom had been freed but the vast majority of whom worked on the plantations.
In 1801, as Napoleon was gaining momentum in Europe, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former slave, led a violent, lengthy, but ultimately successful slave revolt. Enraged, Napoleon sent 20,000 troops to put down the revolt, but the Haitians were capable fighters. They also had another weapon on their side-yellow fever-that claimed many French lives. The French did succeed, however, in capturing L'Ouverture and imprisoning him in France, but by then they couldn't turn back the revolutionary tide. Toussaint's lieutenant Jacques Dessalines, also a former slave, proclaimed Haiti a free republic in 1804 and named himself governor-general for life. Thus, Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America.