Haiti (pronounced /ˈheɪtɪ/; French Haïti, pronounced: [a.iti]; Haitian Creole: Ayiti, Haitian Creole pronunciation: [ajiti]), officially the Republic of Haiti (République d’Haïti ; Repiblik Ayiti) is a Caribbean country. Along with the Dominican Republic, it occupies the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago. Ayiti (land of high mountains) was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the mountainous western side of the island. The country’s highest point is Pic la Selle, at 2,680 metres (8,793 ft). The total area of Haiti is 27,750 square kilometres (10,714 sq mi) and its capital is Port-au-Prince. Haitian Creole and French are the official languages.
Haiti’s regional, historical and ethnolinguistic position is unique for several reasons. It was the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world when it gained independence as part of a successful slave rebellion in 1804. Despite having common cultural links with its Hispano-Caribbean neighbors, Haiti is the only predominantly Francophone independent nation in the Americas. It is one of only two independent nations in the Americas (along with Canada) that designate French as an official language; the other French-speaking areas are all overseas départements, or collectivités, of France.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has experienced political violence throughout its history. Most recently, in February 2004, an armed rebellion forced the resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and a provisional government took control with security provided by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Rene Preval, the current president, was elected in the Haitian general election, 2006.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and devastated the capital city Port-au-Prince. Reportedly more than 150,000 people were killed and buried later in mass graves, although the exact number was difficult to determine and the reported number fluctuates, and a large number are homeless. The Presidential palace, Parliament and many other important structures were destroyed, along with countless homes and businesses.
Main article: History of Haiti
Precolonial and Spanish colonial periods
The island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti occupies the western third, is one of many Caribbean islands inhabited at the time of European arrival by the Taíno Indians, speakers of an Arawakan language. The Taíno name for the entire island was Kiskeya. In the Taíno societies of the Caribbean Islands, the largest unit of political organization was led by a cacique; hence the term ‘caciquedom’ (French caciquat, Spanish cacicazgo) for these Taíno polities, which are often called “chiefdoms”. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the island of Hispaniola was divided among five or six long-established caciquedoms.
The five caciquedoms of Hispaniola at the time of the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The modern country of Haiti spans most of the territory of the caciquedoms of Xaragua (“Jaragua” in modern Spanish) and Marien.
The caciquedoms were tributary kingdoms, with payment consisting of harvests. Taíno cultural artifacts include cave paintings in several locations in the country, which have become national symbols of Haiti and tourist attractions. Modern-day Léogane, a town in the southwest, is at the site of Xaragua’s former capital.
Christopher Columbus landed at Môle Saint-Nicolas on 5 December 1492, and claimed the island for Spain. Nineteen days later, his ship the Santa María ran aground near the present site of Cap-Haïtien; Columbus was forced to leave behind 39 men, founding the settlement of La Navidad. Following the destruction of La Navidad by the local indigenous people, Columbus moved to the eastern side of the island and established La Isabela. One of the earliest leaders to fight off Spanish conquest was Queen Anacaona, a princess of Xaragua who married Caonabo, the cacique of Maguana. The couple resisted Spanish rule in vain; she was captured by the Spanish and executed in front of her people. To this day, Anacaona is revered in Haiti as one of the country’s founders.* Map of Haiti
1510 pictograph telling a story of missionaries arriving in Hispaniola
The Spaniards exploited the island for its gold, mined chiefly by local Amerindians directed by the Spanish occupiers. Those refusing to work in the mines were killed or sold into slavery. Europeans brought with them chronic infectious diseases that were new to the Caribbean, to which the indigenous population lacked immunity. These new diseases were the chief cause of the dying off of the Taíno, but ill treatment, malnutrition, and a drastic drop in the birthrate as a result of societal disruption also contributed. The first recorded smallpox outbreak in the Americas occurred on Hispaniola in 1507.
The Laws of Burgos, 1512–1513, were the first nationally codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanish settlers in America, particularly with regards to native Indians. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, endorsed their conversion to Catholicism, and legalized the colonial practice of creating encomiendas, where Indians were grouped together to work under colonial masters. The Spanish crown found it difficult to enforce these laws in a distant colony.
The Spanish governors began importing enslaved Africans for labor. In 1517, Charles V authorized the draft of slaves. The Taínos became virtually, but not completely, extinct on the island of Hispaniola. Some who evaded capture fled to the mountains and established independent settlements. Survivors mixed with escaped African slaves (runaways called maroons) and produced a multiracial generation called zambos. French settlers later called people of mixed African and Amerindian ancestry marabou. The mestizo were children born to relationships between native women and European – usually Spanish – men. During French rule, children of mixed race, usually born of unions between African women and European men, were called mulâtres. Creoles  are a mixture of European, Amerindian, and African ancestry regardless of skin color.
François l’Olonnais was nicknamed “Flail of the Spaniards” and had a reputation for brutality – offering no quarter to Spanish prisoners
As a gateway to the Caribbean, Hispaniola became a haven for pirates. The western part of the island was settled by French buccaneers. Among them was Bertrand d’Ogeron, who succeeded in growing tobacco. His success prompted many of the numerous buccaneers and freebooters to turn into settlers. This population did not submit to Spanish royal authority until the year 1660 and caused a number of conflicts. By 1640, the buccaneers of Tortuga were calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. French pirate Jean Lafitte, who operated in New Orleans and Galveston, was born in Port-au-Prince around 1782.
Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who might have been born in St Marc, Saint-Domingue in 1745 and established a fur trading post at present-day Chicago, Illinois. John James Audubon, the renowned ornithologist and painter, was born in 1785 in Les Cayes, Saint-Domingue and painted, cataloged and described the birds of North America.
In 1779, more than 500 volunteers from Saint-Domingue, under the command of Comte d’Estaing, fought alongside American colonial troops against the British in the Siege of Savannah, one of the most significant foreign contributions to the American Revolutionary War.
17th century settlement
Bertrand d’Orgeron attracted many colonists from Martinique and Guadeloupe, such as the Roy family (Jean Roy, 1625–1707); Hebert (Jean Hebert, 1624, with his family) and Barre (Guillaume Barre, 1642, with his family). They and others were driven from their lands when more land was needed for the extension of the sugar plantations. From 1670 to 1690, a drop in the tobacco markets significantly reduced the number of settlers on the island.
The first windmill for processing sugar was created in 1685.
Treaty of Ryswick and slave colony
France and Spain settled hostilities on the island by the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697, which divided Hispaniola between them. France received the western third and subsequently named it Saint-Domingue (not the current Santo-Domingo, which is in the Dominican Republic and was part of the eastern side given to the Spanish through the treaty). Many French colonists soon arrived and established plantations in Saint-Domingue due to high profit potential. From 1713 to 1787, approximately 30,000 French colonists emigrated to the western part of the island, while by 1763 the French population of Canada numbered only 65,000.
By about 1790, Saint-Domingue had greatly overshadowed its eastern counterpart in terms of wealth and population. It quickly became the richest French colony in the New World due to the immense profits from the sugar, coffee and indigo industries. This outcome was made possible by the labor and knowledge of thousands of enslaved Africans who brought to the island skills and technology for indigo production. The French-enacted Code Noir (“Black Code”), prepared by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and ratified by Louis XIV, established rigid rules on slave treatment and permissible freedom. Saint-Domingue has been described as one of the most brutally efficient slave colonies; one-third of newly imported Africans died within a few years.
Main article: Haitian Revolution
Jean Jacques Dessalines, leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti
Inspired by the French Revolution and principles of the rights of men, free people of colour and slaves in Saint-Domingue and the French and West Indies pressed for freedom and more civil rights. Most important was the revolution of the slaves in Saint-Domingue, starting in the heavily African-majority northern plains in 1791. In 1792, the French government sent three commissioners with troops to reestablish control. They began to build an alliance with the free people of colour who wanted more civil rights. In 1793, France and Great Britain went to war, and British troops invaded Saint-Domingue. The execution of Louis XVI heightened tensions in the colony. To build an alliance with the gens de couleur and slaves, the French commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel abolished slavery in the colony. Six months later, the National Convention led by the Jacobins endorsed abolition and extended it to all the French colonies.
Toussaint l’Ouverture, a former slave and leader in the slave revolt—a man who rose in importance as a military commander because of his many skills—achieved peace in Saint-Domingue after years of war against both external invaders and internal dissension. Having established a disciplined, flexible army, l’Ouverture drove out not only the Spaniards but also the British invaders who threatened the colony. He restored stability and prosperity by daring measures which included inviting the return of planters and insisting that freed men work on plantations to renew revenues for the island. He also renewed trading ties with Great Britain and the United States. In the uncertain years of revolution, the United States played both sides, with traders supplying both the French and the rebels.
When the French government changed, new members of the national legislature – lobbied by planters – began to rethink their decisions on colonial slavery. After Toussaint l’Ouverture created a separatist constitution, Napoléon Bonaparte sent an expedition of 20,000 men under the command of his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc, to retake the island. Leclerc’s mission was to oust l’Ouverture and restore slavery. The French achieved some victories, but within a few months, yellow fever had killed most of the French soldiers. Leclerc invited Toussaint l’Ouverture to a parley, kidnapped him and sent him to France, where he was imprisoned at Fort de Joux. He died there in 1803 of exposure and tuberculosis  or malnutrition and pneumonia. In its attempt to retake the colony, France had lost more than 50,000 soldiers, including 18 generals.
Battle between Polish troops in French service and the Haitian rebels. Some Polish soldiers ultimately fought with the Haitian rebels for reasons that are historically disputable.
Slaves, free gens du couleur and allies continued their fight for independence after the French transported l’Ouverture to France. The native leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines – long an ally and general of Toussaint l’Ouverture – defeated French troops led by Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, at the Battle of Vertières. At the end of the double battle for emancipation and independence, former slaves proclaimed the independence of Saint-Domingue on 1 January 1804, declaring the new nation be named Haïti, to honor one of the indigenous Taíno names for the island. Haiti is the only nation born of a slave revolt. Historians have estimated the slave rebellion resulted in the death of 100,000 blacks and 24,000 of the 40,000 white colonists.
The revolution in Saint-Domingue unleashed a massive multiracial exodus: French Créole colonists fled with those slaves they still held, as did numerous free people of color, some of whom were also slaveholders and transported slaves with them. In 1809, nearly 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue arrived from Cuba, where they had first fled, to settle en masse in New Orleans. They doubled that city’s population and helped preserve its French language and culture for several generations. In addition, the newly arrived slaves added to the city’s African and multiracial culture.
Dessalines was proclaimed Emperor for life by his troops. He exiled or killed the remaining whites and ruled as a despot. In the continuing competition for power, he was assassinated on 17 October 1806. The country was divided then between a kingdom in the north directed by Henri I; and a republic in the south directed by Alexandre Pétion, an homme de couleur. Henri I is best known for constructing the Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere, to defend the island against the French.
In 1815, Simon Bolivar, the South American political leader who was instrumental in Latin America’s struggle for independence from Spain, received military and financial assistance from Haiti. Bolivar had fled to Haiti after an attempt had been made on his life in Jamaica, where he had unsuccessfully sought support for his efforts. In 1817, on condition that Bolivar free any enslaved people he encountered in his fight for South American independence, Haitian president Alexandre Pétion provided Bolivar with soldiers, weapons and financial assistance which were critical in enabling him to liberate Venezuela.
Jean-Pierre Boyer, one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution, and President of Haiti from 1818 to 1843
Beginning in 1821, President Jean Pierre Boyer, also an homme de couleur and successor to Pétion, managed to reunify the two parts of St. Domingue and extend control over the western part of the island. In addition, after Santo Domingo declared its independence from Spain, Boyer sent forces in to take control. Boyer then ruled the entire island. Dominican historians have portrayed the period of the Haitian occupation (1822–42) as cruel and barbarous. During this time, however, Boyer also freed Santo Domingo’s slaves. During his presidency, Boyer tried to halt the downward trend of the economy by passing the Code Rural. Its provisions sought to tie the peasant labourers to plantation land by denying them the right to leave the land, enter the towns, or start farms or shops of their own.
During Boyer’s administration, his government negotiated with Loring D. Dewey, an agent of the American Colonization Society (ACS), to encourage free blacks from the United States (US) to emigrate to Haiti. They hoped to gain people with skills to contribute to the independent nation. In the early 19th century, the ACS – an uneasy blend of abolitionists and slaveholders – proposed resettlement of American free blacks to other countries, primarily to a colony in Liberia, as a solution to problems of racism in the US. Starting in September 1824, more than 6,000 American free blacks migrated to Haiti, with transportation paid by the ACS. Due to the poverty and other difficult conditions there, many returned to the US within a short time.
In July 1825, King Charles X of France sent a fleet of 14 vessels and thousands of troops to reconquer the island. Under pressure, President Boyer agreed to a treaty by which France formally recognized the independence of the nation in exchange for a payment of 150 million francs (reduced to 90 million in 1838) – an indemnity for profits lost from the slave trade. French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher wrote, “Imposing an indemnity on the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that which they had already paid with their blood.”
After losing the support of Haiti’s elite, Boyer was ousted in 1843. A long succession of coups followed his departure to exile. In its 200-year history, Haiti has suffered 32 coups; the instability of government and society has hampered its progress. National authority was disputed by factions of the army, the elite class, and the growing commercial class, increasingly made up of numerous immigrant businessmen: Germans, Americans, French and English. In 1912, Syrians residing in Haiti participated in a plot in which the Presidential Palace was destroyed. On more than one occasion, French, US, German and British forces allegedly claimed large sums of money from the vaults of the National Bank of Haiti. Expatriates bankrolled and armed opposing groups.
In addition, national governments intervened in Haitian affairs. In 1892, the German government supported suppression of the reform movement of Anténor Firmin. In January 1914, British, German and US forces entered Haiti, ostensibly to protect their citizens from civil unrest.
The US passed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
The United States occupied the island in 1915 and units were stationed in the country until 1934. In the following elections in 1915, Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave became president. He was succeeded by Louis Borno in the 1922 elections. Aware that many Haitians did not speak French, Borno was the first president to authorize the use of Creole in the education system. “Cacos” was a small rebellion in the country.
Haiti was in much better shape after the occupation than before. Infrastructure improvements were particularly impressive: 1700 km of roads were made usable; 189 bridges were built; many irrigation canals were rehabilitated hospitals, schools, and public buildings were constructed, and drinking water was brought to the main cities. Sisal was introduced to Haiti, and sugar and cotton became significant exports.
The US occupation forces established a boundary between Haiti and the Dominican Republic by taking disputed land from the latter. When the US left in 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo – in an event known as the Parsley Massacre – ordered his Army to kill Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border. In a “three-day genocidal spree”, he murdered between 10,000 and 20,000 Haitians. He then developed a uniquely Dominican policy of racial discrimination, Antihaitianismo (“anti-Haitianism”), targeting the mostly black inhabitants of his neighboring country.
President François “Papa Doc” Duvalier advanced interests of Haitian blacks. Nearly 30,000 Haitians were killed for political reasons under “Papa Doc” ‘s regime.
Sténio Vincent was succeeded as President in 1941 by Élie Lescot. In 1949, Lescot tried to change the constitution to allow for his own reelection, but in 1950 this triggered another coup. General Paul Magloire led the country until December 1956, when he was forced to resign by a general strike. After a period of disorder, an election held in September 1957 saw Dr. François Duvalier elected President.
Former minister of health and labor Dr. François Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc” and hugely popular among the blacks, was the President of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971. Strong believer in the rights of the Haitian black majority, he advanced black interests in the public sector. His presidency gave a birth to a volunteer organization known as Tonton Macoutes, in which many farmers joined. The members were responsible for violent acts throughout the country.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Haiti’s diaspora made vital contributions to the establishment of francophone Africa’s newly independent countries as university professors, medical doctors, administrators and development specialists emigrated to these countries. The Africa Regional Office of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), based in Ghana, was headed during most of the 1960s by Garvey Laurent, a prominent Haitian agronomist born in Jeremie, Haiti, in 1923. During the 1970s, Laurent negotiated the establishment of most of the FAO’s Country Representative Offices throughout Africa.
“Papa Doc” was succeeded by his son (born July 3, 1951) Jean-Claude Duvalier – known also as “Bébé Doc” – who led the country from 1971 until his ouster in 1986. In 1986, protests against “Baby Doc” led him to seek exile in France. Army leader General Henri Namphy headed a new National Governing Council.
In March 1987, a new Constitution was overwhelmingly approved by Haiti’s population. General elections in November were aborted hours after dozens of inhabitants were shot in the capital by soldiers and the Tonton Macoute, and scores more were massacred around the country.
In December 1990, the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President in the Haitian general election, winning by more than two thirds of the vote. His 5-year mandate began on 7 February 1991.
Aristide’s use of paramilitaries caused dissatisfaction, and in August 1991, his government faced a non-confidence vote within the Haitian Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Eighty-three members voted against him, while only eleven members voted in support of his government. In September 1991, Aristide gave a speech in which he encouraged his supporters to kill his critics and endorsed Père Lebrun (necklacing), which he called good-smelling. Three days later, Aristide was overthrown by soldiers and flown into exile. The conservative magazine The American Spectator ran an article that stated that, while living in the United States, he embezzled Haiti’s telecom revenues to a numbered offshore account, and used the money to finance his return. In accordance with Article 149 of Haiti’s Constitution of 1987, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nerette was named Provisional President and elections were called for December 1991 – elections which were blocked by the international community – and the resulting chaos extended into 1994.
In 1994, an American team, under the direction of the Clinton Administration, successfully negotiated the departure of Haiti’s military leaders and the peaceful entry of US forces under Operation Uphold Democracy, thereby paving the way for the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. In October 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti to complete his term in office. Aristide disbanded the Haitian army, and established a civilian police force.
Aristide vacated the presidency in February 1996, the scheduled end of his 5-year term based on the date of his inauguration.
In 1996, René Préval was elected as president for a five-year term, winning 88% of the popular vote. Préval had previously served as Aristide’s Prime Minister from February to October 1991.
See also: 2004 Haitian rebellion, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and 2010 Haiti earthquake
The 2000 elections gave the presidency back to Aristide. The election had been boycotted by the opposition.
In subsequent years, there was widespread violence and human rights abuses. Aristide supporters attacked the opposition. The nation’s radio stations were firebombed and journalists murdered.
In 2004, a revolt began in northern Haiti. The rebellion eventually reached the capital and led to Aristide leaving the country, whereupon the United Nations stationed peacekeepers in Haiti. Boniface Alexandre assumed interim authority, and in February 2006, following elections marked by uncertainties and popular demonstrations, René Préval was elected president.
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (also known as MINUSTAH) has been in the country since the 2004 Haiti Rebellion.
Michèle Pierre-Louis was Prime Minister of Haiti from September 2008 to November 2009. She was Haiti’s second female Prime Minister, after Claudette Werleigh, who served from 1995 to 1996.
After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, there remained a significant challenge for relief agencies in rebuilding Haiti’s infrastructure while taking care of the short term emergency needs of the many injured and displaced Haitians.
Main article: Politics of Haiti
See also: Elections in Haiti, National Assembly of Haiti, President of Haiti, and Military of Haiti
The government of Haiti is a semi-presidential republic, a pluriform[clarification needed] multiparty system wherein the President of Haiti is head of state elected directly by popular elections. The Prime Minister acts as head of government and is appointed by the President, chosen from the majority party in the National Assembly. Executive power is exercised by the President and Prime Minister who together constitute the government.
Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the National Assembly of Haiti. The government is organized unitarily, thus the central government delegates powers to the departments without a constitutional need for consent. The current structure of Haiti’s political system was set forth in the Constitution of Haiti on 29 March 1987. The current president is René Préval.
Haitian politics have been contentious. Most Haitians are aware of Haiti’s history as the only country in the Western Hemisphere to undergo a successful slave revolution. On the other hand, the long history of oppression by dictators – including François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier – has markedly affected the nation. France and the United States have repeatedly intervened in Haitian politics since the country’s founding, sometimes at the request of one party or another. In January 2010, up to 10,000 U.S. troops are to be sent to earthquake-hit Haiti.
Cité Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum in the capital of Port-au-Prince, has been called “the most dangerous place on Earth” by the United Nations. The slum is a stronghold of supporters of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who, according to the BBC, “accused the US of forcing him out – an accusation the US rejected as ‘absurd’”.
According to Corruption Perceptions Index, Haiti has a particularly high level of corruption.
Departments, arrondissements, and communes
Further information: Departments of Haiti, Arrondissements of Haiti, and Communes of Haiti
Haiti is divided into ten departments. The departments are listed below, with the departmental capital cities in parentheses.
Departments of Haiti
1. Artibonite (Gonaïves)
2. Centre (Hinche)
3. Grand’Anse (Jérémie)
4. Nippes (Miragoâne)
5. Nord (Cap-Haïtien)
6. Nord-Est (Fort-Liberté)
7. Nord-Ouest (Port-de-Paix)
8. Ouest (Port-au-Prince)
9. Sud-Est (Jacmel)
10. Sud (Les Cayes)
The departments are further divided into 41 arrondissements, and 133 communes which serve as second- and third-level administrative divisions.
Map of Haiti
Main article: Geography of Haiti
Haiti is situated on the western part of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Greater Antilles. Haiti is the third largest country in the Caribbean behind Cuba and the Dominican Republic (the latter shares a 360 kilometer (224 mi) border with Haiti). Haiti at its closest point is only about 45 nautical miles (80 km; 50 mi) away from Cuba and has the second longest coastline (1,771 km/1,100 mi) in the Greater Antilles, Cuba having the longest. Haiti’s terrain consists mainly of rugged mountains interspersed with small coastal plains and river valleys.
The northern region consists of the Massif du Nord (Northern Massif) and the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain). The Massif du Nord is an extension of the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. It begins at Haiti’s eastern border, north of the Guayamouc River, and extends to the northwest through the northern peninsula. The lowlands of the Plaine du Nord lie along the northern border with the Dominican Republic, between the Massif du Nord and the North Atlantic Ocean. The central region consists of two plains and two sets of mountain ranges. The Plateau Central (Central Plateau) extends along both sides of the Guayamouc River, south of the Massif du Nord. It runs from the southeast to the northwest. To the southwest of the Plateau Central are the Montagnes Noires, whose most northwestern part merges with the Massif du Nord. Its westernmost point is known as Cap Carcasse.
The southern region consists of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac (the southeast) and the mountainous southern peninsula (also known as the Tiburon Peninsula). The Plaine du Cul-de-Sac is a natural depression which harbors the country’s saline lakes, such as Trou Caïman and Haiti’s largest lake, Lac Azuei. The Chaîne de la Selle mountain range – an extension of the southern mountain chain of the Dominican Republic (the Sierra de Baoruco) – extends from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. This mountain range harbors Pic la Selle, the highest point in Haiti at 2,680 metres (8,793 ft) * Map of Haiti.
The country’s most important valley in terms of crops is the Plaine de l’Artibonite, which is oriented south of the Montagnes Noires. This region supports the country’s (also Hispaniola’s) longest river, the Riviere l’Artibonite which begins in the western region of the Dominican Republic and continues most of its length through central Haiti and onward where it empties into the Golfe de la Gonâve. The eastern and central region of the island is a large elevated plateau. Haiti also includes various offshore islands. The historically famous island of Tortuga (Île de la Tortue) is located off the coast of northern Haiti. The arrondissement of La Gonâve is located on the island of the same name, in the Golfe de la Gonâve. Gonâve Island is moderately populated by rural villagers. Île à Vache (Cow Island), a lush island with many beautiful sights, is located off the tip of southwestern Haiti. Also part of Haiti are the Cayemites and Île d’ Anacaona.
Satellite image depicting the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right), 2002
Main articles: Environment of Haiti and Deforestation in Haiti
In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as fuel for cookstoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification.
In addition to soil erosion, deforestation has caused periodic flooding, as seen on 17 September 2004. Earlier that year in May, floods had killed over 3,000 people on Haiti’s southern border with the Dominican Republic.
Hurricanes and tropical storms
In 2004, tropical storm Jeanne skimmed the north coast of Haiti, leaving 3,006 people dead in flooding and mudslides, mostly in the city of Gonaïves.
Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early September 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil conditions throughout Haiti, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding. Casualties proved difficult to count because the storm diminished human capacity and physical resources for such record keeping. Bodies continued to surface as the flood waters receded. A 10 September 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid. The grim state of affairs produced by these storms was all the more life threatening due to already high food and fuel prices that had caused a food crisis and political unrest in April 2008.
Main article: 2010 Haiti earthquake
The National Palace, after the 12 January 2010 earthquake
On January 12, 2010, at 21:53 UTC, (4:53 pm local time) Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, the country’s most severe earthquake in over 200 years. The epicenter of the quake was just outside the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. It has been estimated that the death toll could reach 200,000. Widespread damage resulted from the quake. The capital city was devastated.
The Presidential Palace was badly damaged, with the second floor entirely collapsing onto the first floor; the Haitan Parliament building, UN mission headquarters and the National Cathedral were also destroyed. International aid flowed in but was hampered by damaged infrastructure: the main port was damaged beyond immediate use, the one local airport was of limited capacity and border crossings with the Dominincan Republic were distant and crowded. As many as one million Haitians were left homeless.
Haiti will need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, according to a journalist, as “[e]ven in good times, Haiti is an economic wreck, balancing precariously on the razor’s edge of calamity.” Several international appeals were launched within days of the earthquake, including the Disasters Emergency Committee in the United Kingdom, and Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief based in the USA, which was a global effort to raise relief funds by way of a charity telethon held on January 22, 2010. International officials are looking at the short and long term priorities while continuing the daily task of managing the emergency situation.
Half of the children in Haiti are unvaccinated and just 40% of the population has access to basic health care. Even before the 2010 earthquake, nearly half the causes of deaths have been attributed to HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, meningitis and diarrheal diseases, including cholera and typhoid, according to the World Health Organization. Ninety percent of Haiti’s children suffer from waterborne diseases and intestinal parasites. Approximately 5% of Haiti’s adult population is infected with HIV. Cases of tuberculosis (TB) in Haiti are more than ten times as high as those in other Latin American countries. Some 30,000 people in Haiti suffer each year from malaria.
Main article: Economy of Haiti
Bas-Ravine, in the northern part of Cap-Haitien
By most economic measures, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. It had a nominal GDP of 7.018 billion USD in 2009, with a GDP per capita of 790 USD, about $2 per person per day.
It is an impoverished country, one of the world’s poorest and least developed. Comparative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other low-income developing countries (particularly in the hemisphere) since the 1980s. Haiti now ranks 149th of 182 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index (2006). About 80% of the population were estimated to be living in poverty in 2003. Most Haitians live on $2 or less per day. Haiti has 50% illiteracy, and over 80% of college graduates from Haiti have emigrated, mostly to the United States. Cité Soleil is considered one of the worst slums in the Americas, most of its 500,000 residents live in extreme poverty. Poverty has forced at least 225,000 children in Haiti’s cities into slavery, working as unpaid household servants.
About 66% of all Haitians work in the agricultural sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming, but this activity makes up only 30% of the GDP. The country has experienced little formal job-creation over the past decade, although the informal economy is growing. Mangoes and coffee are two of Haiti’s most important exports. Haiti’s richest 1% own nearly half the country’s wealth. Haiti has consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Since the day of “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s government has been notorious for its corruption. It is estimated that President “Baby Doc” Duvalier, his wife Michelle, and three other people took $504 million from the Haitian public treasury between 1971 and 1986. Similarly millions was stolen by Aristide. During the Aristide era, drug trafficking emerged as a major industry. Beaudoin Ketant, a notorious international drug trafficker and close partner of Aristide, confessed that Aristide “turned the country into a narco-country. It’s a one-man show. You either pay (Aristide) or you die”. The BBC describes pyramid schemes, in which Haitians lost hundreds of millions in 2002, as the “only real economic initiative” of the Aristide years.
Foreign aid makes up approximately 30–40% of the national government’s budget. The largest donor is the US, followed by Canada and the European Union. From 1990 to 2003, Haiti received more than $4 billion in aid. The United States alone had provided Haiti with 1.5 billion in aid. Venezuela and Cuba also make various contributions to Haiti’s economy, especially after alliances were renewed in 2006 and 2007. In January 2010, China promised $4.2 million for the quake-hit island, and US President Barack Obama pledged $100 million in assistance. European Union nations promised more than 400 million euros ($616 million) in emergency aid and reconstruction funds.
US aid to the Haitian government was completely cut off from 2001 to 2004, after the 2000 election was disputed and President Aristide was accused of various misdeeds. After Aristide’s departure in 2004, aid was restored, and the Brazilian army led the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti peacekeeping operation. Following almost 4 years of recession ending in 2004, the economy grew by 1.5% in 2005.
In 2005 Haiti’s total external debt reached an estimated US$1.3 billion, which corresponds to a debt per capita of US$169. In September 2009, Haiti met the conditions set out by the IMF and World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries program to qualify for cancellation of its external debt.
Road and water
Main article: Transport in Haiti
Main article: List of airports in Haiti
Main article: Rail transport in Haiti
Main article: Education in Haiti
Of Haiti’s 8.7 million inhabitants, the literacy rate of 65.9% is the lowest[dubious – discuss] in the region.[which?] Haiti counts 15,200 primary schools, of which 90% are non-public and managed by the communities, religious organizations or NGOs. The enrollment rate for primary school is 67%, and fewer than 30% reach 6th grade. Secondary schools enroll 20% of eligible-age children. Charity organizations like Food for the Poor and Haitian Health Foundation are currently working on building schools for children as well as providing them necessary school supplies.
The educational system of Haiti is based on the French system. Higher education – under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. is provided by universities and other public and private institutions.
A list of universities in Haiti includes:
* University of Caraibe (Université Caraïbe) (CUC)
* University of Haiti (Université d’État d’Haïti) (UEH)
* University Notre Dame of Haiti (Université Notre Dame d’Haïti) (UNDH)
* Université Chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti (UCNH)
* Université Lumière / MEBSH
* Université Quisqueya (UNIQ)
* Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti (ESIH)
* Université Roi Henri Christophe
* Université Publique de l’Artibonite aux Gonaïves (UPAG)
* Université Publique du Nord au Cap-Haïtien (UPNCH)
* Université Publique du Sud au Cayes (UPSAC)
* Universite de Fondwa (UNIF)
* Ecole Le Bon Samaritain
* Université Adventiste d’Haïti
Main article: Demographics of Haiti
Population of Haiti (in thousands) from 1961 to 2003
Although Haiti averages approximately 360 people per square kilometer (940 per sq mi.), its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. Haiti’s population was about 9.8 million according to UN 2008 estimates, with half of the population being under 20 years. The first formal census, taken in 1950, showed that the population was 3.1 million. Haiti has the highest fertility rate in the Western Hemisphere.
90–95% of Haitians (depending on the source) are of predominately African descent; the remaining 5–10% of the population are mostly of mixed-race background. A small percentage of the non-black population consists primarily of Caucasian/white Haitians; mostly of Arab, Western European (French, German, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish), and Jewish origin. Haitians of Asian descent (mostly of Chinese origin) number approximately 400.
Haitians of mixed race live mostly in the wealthier suburbs of the capital, such as Pétionville or Kenscoff. Many were born in the southwestern regions of Haiti, such as: Jacmel, Les Cayes, Cavaillon. During the colonial years there was a higher proportion of Europeans in this area than in the north, which was more isolated, had fewer cities and was devoted to large plantations with extensive populations of enslaved Africans. Some of the white planter fathers ensured the education of their sons (and sometimes daughters), even sending some to school in France. Some of the mixed-race population was therefore able to build more social capital than those in the north of mostly African descent. In addition, the free people of color (les gens du couleur libre) (or mulatto) population had more civil rights than did Africans who were free. By the time of the revolution, there were numerous educated mixed-race men who became part of the leadership of the country. As in most Latin American countries, there is no one-drop rule regarding African ancestry in Haiti.
Millions of Haitians live abroad, chiefly in North America: the Dominican Republic, United States, Cuba, Canada (primarily Montreal) and Bahamas. They live in other nations like France, French Antilles, the Turks and Caicos, Venezuela and French Guiana.
In the United States alone there are an estimated 600,000 Haitians, plus 100,000 in Canada and an estimated 800,000 in the Dominican Republic. The Haitian community in France numbers about 80,000, and up to 80,000 Haitians now live in the Bahamas. A UN envoy in October 2007 found racism against blacks in general, and Haitians in particular, to be rampant in every segment of Dominican society. The Obama administration has made Haiti a priority in the hemisphere, reviewing immigration policy.
In January 2010, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada will consider fast-tracking immigration to help Haitian earthquake refugees. US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Haitians “not legally in the United States” as of January 12, 2010, would be granted a form of asylum called temporary protected status (TPS). Thousands of Haiti earthquake survivors, including Haitian children left orphaned in the aftermath of earthquake, could be relocated to the US. Senegal is offering parcels of land – even an entire region if they come en masse – to people affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
In North America
Further information: Haitian American and Haitian Canadian
There is a significant Haitian population in South Florida, specifically the Miami enclave of Little Haiti. New Orleans, Louisiana has many historic ties to Haiti that date back to the Haitian Revolution. New York City, especially in Flatbush, East Flatbush and Springfield Gardens, also has a thriving émigré community with the second largest population of Haitians of any state in the nation. There are also large and active Haitian communities in Boston, Spring Valley (New York), New Jersey, Washington D.C., Providence, Rhode Island, Georgia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. There are also large Haitian communities in Montreal, Quebec, Paris, France, Havana, Cuba and Kingston, Jamaica.
Anténor Firmin was a 19th century Haitian anthropologist, perhaps the first black anthropologist and an early writer of négritude, who influenced 20th century American anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits.
Michaëlle Jean, the current Governor General of Canada, was a refugee from Haiti coming to Canada in 1968 at age 11.
One of Haiti’s two official languages is French, which is the principal written, spoken in schools, and administratively authorized language. It is spoken by most educated Haitians and is used in the business sector. The second is the recently standardized Haitian Creole, which is spoken by virtually the entire population of Haiti. Haitian creole is one of the French-based creole languages, which also contains significant African influence, as well as influence from Spanish and Taíno. Haitian creole is closely related to Louisiana Creole. Spanish is also spoken by a good portion of the population, though it is not an official language.
Main article: Religion in Haiti
See also: Roman Catholicism in Haiti
Haiti is a largely Christian country, with Roman Catholicism professed by 80% of Haitians. Protestants make up about 16% of the population. Haitian Vodou, a New World Afro-diasporic faith unique to the country, is practiced by up to two-thirds of the population. Religious practice often spans Haiti and its diaspora as those who have migrated interact through religion with family in Haiti.
Main article: Culture of Haiti
“Tap tap” bus in Port-Salut
Haiti has a long and storied history and therefore retains a very rich culture. Haitian culture is a mixture of primarily French, African elements, and native Taíno, with some lesser influence from the colonial Spanish. The country’s customs essentially are a blend of cultural beliefs that derived from the various ethnic groups that inhabited the island of Hispaniola. In nearly all aspects of modern Haitian society however, the European and African elements dominate. Haiti is world famous for its distinctive art, notably painting and sculpture.
Main article: Music of Haiti
The music of Haiti is influenced mostly by European colonial ties and African migration (through slavery). In the case of European colonization, musical influence has derived primarily from the French, however Haitian music has been influenced to a significant extent by its Spanish-speaking neighbors, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, whose Spanish-infused music has contributed much to the country’s musical genres as well. Styles of music unique to the nation of Haiti include music derived from Vodou ceremonial traditions, Rara parading music, troubador ballads, and the wildly popular Compas.
Compas (in French) or Kompa (in Creole) is a complex, ever-changing music that arose from African rhythms and European ballroom dancing, mixed with Haiti’s bourgeois culture. It is a refined music, played with an underpinning of tipico, and méringue (related to Dominican merengue) as a basic rhythm. Haiti had no recorded music until 1937 when Jazz Guignard was recorded non-commercially. One of the most popular Haitian artists is Wyclef Jean. His music is somewhat hip-hop mixed with world music.
Haiti’s most famous monuments are the Palace of Sans Souci and the Citadel, inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1982. Situated in the Northern Massif de la Hotte, in one of Haiti’s National Parks, the structures date from the early 19th century. The buildings were among the first to be built after Haiti’s independence from France.
Jacmel, the colonial city that was tentatively accepted as a World Heritage site, is reported to be extensively damaged by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Main article: Haitian cuisine
The cuisine of Haiti originates from several culinary styles from the various historical ethnic groups that populated the western portion of the island of Hispaniola, namely the French, African, and the Taíno Amerindians.
Haitian cuisine is similar to the rest of the Latin-Caribbean (the French and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Antilles) however it differs in several ways from its regional counterparts. Its primary influence derive from French cuisine, and African cuisine, with notable derivatives from native Taíno and Spanish culinary technique. Though similar to other cooking styles in the region, it carries a uniqueness native only to the country and an appeal to many visitors to the island. Haitians often use peppers and other strong flavorings. Dishes tend to be seasoned liberally and consequently Haitian cuisine tends to be moderately spicy, not mild and not too hot. In the country, however, many businesses of foreign origin have been established introducing several foreign cuisines into the mainstream culture. Years of adaptation have led to these cuisines (ie: Levantine from Arab migration to Haiti) to merge into Haitian cuisine.
Rice and beans in several differing ways are eaten throughout the country regardless of location, becoming a sort of national dish. They form the staple diet, which consists of a lot of starch and is high in carbohydrates. In the more rural areas, other foods are eaten to a larger degree. One such dish is mais moulu, which is comparable to cornmeal that can be eaten with sauce pois, a bean sauce made from one of many types of beans such as kidney, pinto, or garbanzo beans, or pigeon peas (known in other countries as gandules). Mais moulu can be eaten with fish (often red snapper), or alone depending on personal preference.
Some of the many plants used in Haitian dishes include tomato, oregano, cabbage, avocado, bell peppers. A popular food is banane pésée, flattened plantain slices fried in soybean oil (known as tostones in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico). It is eaten both as a snack and as part of a meal is, often eaten with tassot or griot, which are deep-fried goat and pork respectively.