Port-au-Prince • Carrefour • Delmas • Gros-Morne • Cite Soleil • Croix-des-Bouquets • Petite Riviere de l'Artibonite • Cap-haitien • Jean-Rabel • Tabarre • Petionville • Arcahaie • Saint-Michel-de-l'Atalaye • Gonaives • Ganthier •
|THE HAITI COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Haiti within the continent of Central America and the Caribbean
Map of Haiti
Flag Description of Haiti:The flag of Haiti was officially adopted on February 25, 1987.
As a former French colony, the blue and red colors are modeled after the French Tricolore. The national coat of arms (shown) depicts a trophy of weapons ready to defend freedom, and a royal palm for independence.
Official name Repiblik d’ Ayiti (Haitian Creole); République d’Haïti (French) (Republic of Haiti)
Form of government republic with two legislative houses (Senate ; Chamber of Deputies )
Head of state President: Michel Martelly
Head of government Prime Minister: Evans Paul
Monetary unit gourde (G)
Population (2014 est.) 10,461,000
Ethnic groups: African descent 95%, African and European descent 5%
. Religions (2003 data): Roman Catholic 55%, Protestant 28%, voudou (voodoo) practices pervasive.
Languages: French (official), Creole (official) Haitian.
Official languages Haitian Creole; French
Official religions See footnote.
Monetary unit gourde (G)
Population (2014 est.) 10,461,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 10,695
Total area (sq km) 27,700
- Urban: (2011) 53.4%
- Rural: (2011) 46.6%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 61.2 years
- Female: (2012) 63.9 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2007) 60.1%
- Female: (2007) 64%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 760
1Roman Catholicism has special recognition per concordat with the Vatican; Vodou (Voodoo) became officially sanctioned per governmental decree of April 2003.
Haiti, country in the Caribbean Sea that includes the western third of the island of Hispaniola and such smaller islands as Gonâve, Tortue (Tortuga), Grande Caye, and Vache. The capital is Port-au-Prince.
Haiti, whose population is almost entirely descended from African slaves, won independence from France in 1804, making it the second country in the Americas, after the United States, to free itself from colonial rule. Over the centuries, however, economic, political, and social difficulties, as well as a number of natural disasters, have beset Haiti with chronic poverty and other serious problems.
Geography of Haiti
Haiti is bordered to the east by the Dominican Republic, which covers the rest of Hispaniola, to the south and west by the Caribbean, and to the north by the Atlantic Ocean. Cuba lies some 50 miles (80 km) west of Haiti’s northern peninsula, across the Windward Passage, a strait connecting the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Jamaica is some 120 miles (190 km) west of the southern peninsula, across the Jamaica Channel, and Great Inagua Island (of The Bahamas) lies roughly 70 miles (110 km) to the north. Haiti claims sovereignty over Navassa (Navase) Island, an uninhabited U.S.-administered islet about 35 miles (55 km) to the west in the Jamaica Channel.
Relief and drainage
The generally rugged topography of central and western Hispaniola is reflected in Haiti’s name, which derives from the indigenous Arawak place-name Ayti (“Mountainous Land”); about two-thirds of the total land area is above 1,600 feet (490 metres) in elevation. Haiti’s irregular coastline forms a long, slender peninsula in the south and a shorter one in the north, separated by the triangular-shaped Gulf of Gonâve. Within the gulf lies Gonâve Island, which has an area of approximately 290 square miles (750 square km). Haiti’s shores are generally rocky, rimmed with cliffs, and indented by a number of excellent natural harbours. The surrounding seas are renowned for their coral reefs. Plains, which are quite limited in extent, are the most productive agricultural lands and the most densely populated areas. Rivers are numerous but short, and most are not navigable.
The backbone of the island of Hispaniola consists of four major mountain ranges that extend from west to east. The most northerly range, known as the Cordillera Septentrional in the Dominican Republic, occurs in Haiti only on Tortue Island, off the northern coast. Tortue Island has an area of about 70 square miles (180 square km). In the 17th century it was a stronghold of privateers and pirates from various countries.
The second major range, Haiti’s Massif du Nord (“Northern Massif”), is a series of parallel chains known in the Dominican Republic as the Cordillera Central. It has an average elevation of some 4,000 feet (1,200 metres). The Citadel (Citadelle Laferrière), a fortress built by Haitian ruler Henry Christophe in the early 19th century, stands atop one of the peaks overlooking the city of Cap-Haïtien and the narrow coastal plain.
An interior basin, known as the Central Plateau in Haiti and the San Juan Valley in the Dominican Republic, occupies about 150 square miles (390 square km) in the centre of the country. The plateau has an average elevation of about 1,000 feet (300 metres), and access to it is difficult through winding roads. It is bounded by two minor mountain ranges on the west and south—respectively, the Cahos Mountains and the Noires Mountains. The Artibonite River—the island’s longest, approximately 175 miles (280 km) long—rises in the western Dominican Republic in the Cordillera Central and follows a southwestward course along the border with Haiti. Its tributaries flow eastward and southward through Haiti’s Central Plateau to a point near the Dominican border, where they join the river proper as it turns westward. The Artibonite then skirts the Noires Mountains as it flows to the Gulf of Gonâve. In eastern Haiti the river was impounded as Lake Péligre in the mid-20th century; a hydroelectric complex began operating at Péligre in 1971, but its power output has been unreliable during the dry season. Just upstream from the Artibonite’s delta in the Gulf of Gonâve, some of its waters are used to irrigate the triangular Artibonite Plain.
The third major range, known as the Matheux Mountains (Chaîne des Matheux) in west-central Haiti and the Trou d’Eau Mountains (Chaîne du Trou d’Eau) farther east, corresponds to the Sierra de Neiba in the Dominican Republic. The range forms the northern boundary to the narrow Cul-de-Sac Plain, which is immediately adjacent to Port-au-Prince and includes the brackish Lake Saumâtre on the Dominican border.
South of the Cul-de-Sac Plain is the fourth major range, called the Massif de la Selle in Haiti and the Sierra de Baoruco in the Dominican Republic. It rises to 8,773 feet (2,674 metres) at Mount Selle, the highest point in the country. The range’s western extension on the southern peninsula is called the Massif de la Hotte (Massif du Sud), which rises to 7,700 feet (2,345 metres) at Macaya Peak. The Cayes Plain lies on the coast to the southeast of the peak.
Haiti’s mountains are mainly limestone, although some volcanic formations can be found, particularly in the Massif du Nord. Karstic features, such as limestone caves, grottoes, and subterranean rivers, are present in many parts of the country. A long fault line crosses the southern peninsula and passes just south of Port-au-Prince. Haiti is subject to periodic seismic activity; earthquakes destroyed Cap-Haïtien in 1842 and Port-au-Prince in 1751 and 1770. In January 2010 another catastrophic earthquake and its aftershocks resulted in severe damage to Port-au-Prince. Buildings collapsed throughout the capital and surrounding region, including many homes as well as large public structures such as the National Palace, the city’s cathedral, and hospitals. Estimates of the number of people killed ranged upward of 200,000, and several hundred thousand others were injured. More than a million people were made homeless. To the west of the capital, near the quake’s epicentre, the city of Léogâne was almost completely ruined.
The soils in the mountains are thin and lose fertility quickly when cultivated. The lower hills are covered with red clays and loams. The alluvial soils of the plains and valleys are fertile but overcultivated, owing to high population densities in those areas. Deforestation has caused much soil erosion, and as much as one-third of Haiti’s land may have eroded beyond recovery.
Haiti has a warm, humid tropical climate characterized by diurnal temperature variations that are greater than the annual variations; temperatures are modified by elevation. Average temperatures range from the high 70s F (about 25 °C) in January and February to the mid-80s F (about 30 °C) in July and August. The village of Kenscoff, at some 4,700 feet (1,430 metres), has an average temperature of about 60 °F (16 °C), whereas Port-au-Prince, at sea level, has an average of 79 °F (26 °C). In winter, frost can occur at high elevations.
Haiti is located on the leeward side of the island, which means that the influence of humid trade winds is not as great as in the Dominican Republic. The more humid districts are found on the northern and eastern slopes of the mountains. Some portions of the island receive less than 28 inches (700 mm) of rainfall per year. The northwestern peninsula and Gonâve Island are particularly dry. Some regions have two rainy seasons, lasting from April to June and from August to October, whereas other regions experience rainfall from May to November. Annual variations of precipitation can cause droughts, widespread crop failures, and famine.
The southern peninsula, which is more vulnerable to hurricanes (tropical cyclones) than other parts of Haiti, suffered heavy damage from Hurricanes Allen (1980), Gilbert (1988), and Georges (1998). All parts of the country, however, can be hit by tropical storms and hurricanes. During August and September 2008 a series of severe storms that included Hurricanes Hanna and Ike caused widespread damage and the loss of some 800 lives.
Plant and animal life
From the 17th to the 19th century, much of the natural vegetation was destroyed through clearing for agriculture, grazing, and logging. Deforestation accelerated during the 20th century as population increased, and the forests that once covered the country have been reduced to a tiny proportion of the total land area. Patches of virgin forest remain in the Massif de la Selle, which includes tall pines, and in the Massif de la Hotte, where an evergreen forest with giant tree ferns and orchids stands on the slopes of Macaya Peak. Bayahondes (a type of mesquite), cacti, and acacias form thorny woods on the dry plains. The mangrove swamps on the coast have also declined rapidly, as their trees have been overexploited for firewood and for the production of charcoal.
With the retreat of natural vegetation, wildlife has lost its habitat and shelter. Wild boars, guinea fowls, and wild ducks are no longer present, but caimans still inhabit rivers of the southern peninsula, and some flamingos are found on Gonâve Island, where they are often hunted. Little has been done to conserve Haiti’s flora and fauna, and few national or regional parks have been established. The lack of conservation measures has been particularly damaging for coral formations and the animal life associated with them.
Demography of Haiti
- Ethnic groups and languages
Nearly all of Haiti’s population are of African origin (termed blacks). A small minority of people of mixed European and African descent (called mulattoes) constitute a wealthier elite and account for most of the remainder. There is also a small number of people of European descent. Haiti has differentiated itself ethnically, linguistically, and culturally from other Caribbean and Latin American countries, notably the Spanish-speaking and the English-speaking countries of the region.
Haitian Creole (Kweyol, or Kreyol) and French are the official languages. Creole is normally used in daily life, and French—the second language of perhaps one-tenth of the people—is used in more formal circumstances. However, written Creole is not widely accepted, because the school system retains French as the main language of instruction. Most of the vocabulary of Haitian Creole is derived from French, but in its syntax it is similar to the Creole languages of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.
Haiti has no official religion, and the constitution allows for religious freedom. More than half of the population practices Roman Catholicism, the dominant sect of Christianity, and a growing one-fourth is Protestant or independent Christian. Liberation theology continues to have some influence in religious life, notably in the shantytown areas of Port-au-Prince and other towns. Most Haitian Roman Catholics are also practitioners of Vodou (Voodoo, or Vodun), a religion whose gods (lwa) are derived from West African religions. However, most of the country’s Protestants consider Christianity to be incompatible with Vodou. In addition to the older Protestant denominations established in the early 19th century (Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians), Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mormons came to Haiti during and after the period (1915–34) when the United States occupied the country.
- Settlement patterns
Haiti is densely populated, particularly on the plains, although cultivated plots and settlements are also found on the hills and steep mountains. More than two-thirds of the people live in rural areas, primarily as subsistence farmers or agricultural labourers. Rural population densities are high, which places a strain on the environment and on the well-being of the people. The population is still increasing in the countryside, despite growing migration to the cities. Most farms are very small and are worked by their owners. Rural bourgs (market towns) typically include a Roman Catholic church, police barracks, a magisterial court, and a general store, all surrounding a central square.
Real urban life is limited to the capital and to five or six large towns. Port-au-Prince—whose metropolitan area grew to include more than 10 times the population of the second city, Cap-Haïtien—was founded in 1749; it became the colonial capital in 1770 because its central location was believed to be more suitable for future development, defense, and commerce than the position of Cap-Français (later Cap-Haïtien) on the north coast. The city retained few buildings from the colonial period and the early 19th century, because of fires and war damage. Wooden “gingerbread-style” houses, most now fallen into disrepair, remain a testimony to Victorian influences in the once-fashionable districts of Bois-Verna and Turgeau. Pétionville, a middle-class suburb in the hills to the west, is now part of the metropolitan area, as are the cities of Carrefour and Delmas. The vast majority of Port-au-Prince residents live on meagre incomes, and shantytowns surround the city. The largest shantytown in the capital is Cité Soleil; situated on swampland near the seafront and vulnerable to flooding, Cité Soleil is home to hundreds of thousands of people.
Cap-Haïtien, the original capital of the colony, was founded in 1670. Its neat gridiron street plan encompasses small blocks of old-fashioned houses with courtyards. The city also has large numbers of impoverished or homeless people, but its pace of life is much slower than that of Port-au-Prince. The other major towns are Carrefour and Delmas (within the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area), Gonaïves, Les Cayes, and Jacmel.
- Demographic trends
Haiti’s population grew dramatically after 1900. Life expectancy, however, has been among the lowest in the world. The rates of birth and infant mortality are high, and roughly two-fifths of the population is under 15 years of age.
Every year tens of thousands of Haitians attempt to improve their lots by migrating to other countries, notably Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, many of them illegally and under semiclandestine conditions. Dominican government programs allow temporary migrants for agricultural work, primarily bracero (cane-cutting) labour and menial jobs. Many Haitians have also migrated to the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Since the 1970s, large numbers of Haitians have attempted to enter the United States each year in small and often dangerous boats; the phenomenon decreased with the end of the military regime in 1994 but continued sporadically, particularly during times of political crisis. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely has intercepted such “boat people” and returned them to Haiti; many others were thought to have drowned en route to Florida, which is more than 560 miles (900 km) northwest of Haiti. Exile communities have also been established in The Bahamas, Guadeloupe, and Saint-Martin.
Economy of Haiti
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere by many measures. Some four-fifths of its population lives in absolute poverty, and as much as three-fifths of the population is unemployed or underemployed. Haiti’s limited resource base has been depleted, first through intensive colonial exploitation and later through unplanned development and corruption. A few multinational corporations are active in the country.
Agriculture dominates the economy, but the domestic food supply has not kept pace with demand. As much as one-fifth of the food consumed in Haiti is imported or, sometimes, smuggled from the Dominican Republic or the United States; the imports have lowered overall food prices in Haiti, thereby further impoverishing the nation’s struggling farmers and compelling more people to migrate to urban areas.
Conventional steady wage-earning positions are much less common than casual jobs or self-employment, and the great majority of Haitians are at work almost every day in the so-called “informal” sector, which includes street vending, doing odd jobs, working abroad (and mailing remittances to family members in Haiti), and engaging in illegal activities such as smuggling. The country is a major transshipment point for illegal drugs between South America and the United States. Haitians labouring in other countries remitted considerable amounts of money during the late 19th and the 20th centuries; remittances grew at an accelerating pace in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, when Haitians overseas contributed substantially greater sums to the economy than the amounts that came from foreign aid or foreign direct investment.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture is the largest sector of the Haitian economy, employing roughly two-thirds of the labour force but accounting for only about one-fourth of the gross domestic product (GDP). Haiti’s soils and fishing zones are threatened. Although only one-fifth of the land is considered suitable for agriculture, more than two-fifths is under cultivation. Major problems include soil erosion (particularly on mountain slopes, which are seldom terraced), recurrent drought, and an absence of irrigation.
Many farmers concentrate on subsistence crops, including cassava (manioc), plantains and bananas, corn (maize), yams and sweet potatoes, and rice. Some foodstuffs are sold in rural markets and along roads. A mild arabica coffee is Haiti’s main cash crop. Haitian farmers sell it through a system of intermediaries, speculators, and merchant houses. Sugarcane is the second major cash crop, but since the late 1970s Haiti has been a net importer of sugar.
Deforestation in Haiti is a serious problem that began with a high need for fuel for processing sugarcane during the French colonial period and continues to the present day with an intensified demand for charcoal for fuel in Port-au-Prince and other urban areas. Political instability and poor funding have been serious obstacles to efforts to reduce dependency on forests for fuel. A number of large-scale reforestation projects have been planned, but they have been postponed because of social and political unrest and the urgent need to fund other infrastructure projects. Today only a small fraction of Haiti’s land is forested.
Goats and cattle are the most common livestock, with smaller numbers of pigs and horses. There is some poultry production. Following a massive outbreak of African swine fever in Haiti in the late 1970s, the country’s entire Creole pig population was exterminated by 1982. This deprived many peasants of their only asset, although other pig breeds were subsequently imported as replacements.
Traditionally, Haitians have not exploited their fishing resources; because of the postindependence practice of living in the interior—away from the threat of a French invasion—Haitians have depended on agriculture rather than fishing for subsistence. There are some fisheries, however, in small ponds and various canals throughout Haiti. Although most fishing boats are small and poorly equipped, the potential for a commercial fishing industry does exist: the north-flowing currents off the coasts of Haiti carry major migrations of such deep-sea fish as bonitos, marlins, sardines, and tuna.
- Resources and power
Gold and copper are found in small quantities in the north of the country. There are bauxite (aluminum ore) deposits on the southern peninsula, but large-scale mining there was discontinued in 1983. Haiti apparently has no hydrocarbon resources on land or in the Gulf of Gonâve and is therefore heavily dependent on energy imports (petroleum and petroleum products). Hydroelectricity provides roughly half of the power generated in the country, the remainder coming from thermal (mainly coal-fired) plants, especially in Port-au-Prince. However, the power supply is not sufficient to satisfy current needs, and the main sources of energy for cooking are firewood and charcoal.
The small domestic market, the lack of natural resources, and internal instability have constrained the growth of manufacturing. In the late 20th century many barriers to international trade were abolished, and local industries were forced to compete directly with imports from the Dominican Republic and the United States. Most manufacturing is of processed foods, beverages, textiles, and footwear. Other manufactures include chemical and rubber products, tobacco products, essential oils (notably amyris, neroli, and vetiver), and alcoholic beverages. Much of the country’s sugarcane is processed in rural distilleries that produce a cheap rum called clairin, although Haiti also produces Barbancourt rum, one of the world’s finest brands. Nontraditional exports such as ornamental flowers and mange-tout (snow peas) have increased. The construction industry has traditionally been strong because of a high demand for housing (notably in urban areas) and as a result of destruction caused by natural disasters.
Haiti’s financial situation is precarious. The exchange rate of the national currency, the gourde, was tied to the U.S. dollar (at five gourdes per dollar) from 1919 to 1991, after which the government let the exchange rate float. U.S. currency circulates freely in the country. The central bank is the Bank of the Republic of Haiti, and there are several commercial banks, including the government-owned National Bank of Credit. There are also a number of private and foreign banks. The government’s foreign debt is large, and government finances depend heavily on aid from international agencies and from such countries as the United States, France, Canada, and Germany. Haiti does not have a stock market.
Export agriculture has traditionally been favoured by farmers and the state alike because it provides cash and a source of foreign exchange. However, coffee exports dwindled rapidly in the late 20th century. Exports of assembled goods have varied from year to year according to competition but have included clothing, handicrafts (wood carvings, paintings, and woven sisal products), electronic goods, and baseballs. The principal imports are food, petroleum and its derivatives, machinery and vehicles, and textiles. More than two-thirds of the external trade is with the United States; other major trading partners include the Dominican Republic, Canada, and Japan. Haiti has a substantial and chronic annual trade deficit.
The main sources of service-related employment are tourism, national and local government, finance, and trade. Services contribute up to one-third of the GDP, nearly as much as the agricultural sector, although services provide only one-tenth the number of jobs as agriculture.
Tourism, once a principal source of foreign exchange, declined during the 1980s and ’90s because of political instability, but from the late 1990s onward the government made the restoration of that sector a high priority, and visitors returned, attracted to the country’s cultural life, colonial architecture, pristine beaches, and gambling casinos. Problems associated with tourism in Haiti have included prostitution, cultural imports (at the expense of local arts and customs), and the need to import costly foods and luxury items. Cap-Haïtien and, until its destruction in the 2010 earthquake, Port-au-Prince have been the traditional tourist hubs. Cap-Haïtien provides access to Haiti’s 19th-century Citadel, Ramiers fortifications, and Sans Souci Palace—the three locations collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
- Labour and taxation
Most of the labour force is rural and works on family farms. Generally, men raise the crops, and women perform domestic labour and handle the agriculture produce. Rural Haitians grow their own food; they also hunt and are involved in selling food and other products at market. Therefore, per capita income figures, which measure remunerated employment, are largely irrelevant in relation to much of the Haitian population.
Since most of the agricultural land in Haiti has traditionally been owned by peasants, the main sources of income for the urban elite have been government employment and a regressive taxation system in which the burden falls heavily on the poorer classes. This situation contrasts with much of Latin America, where elites commonly earn income from plantation ownership. The Haitian system has led to an extraordinarily high level of semiofficial corruption in which the elites, in control of both money and power, are able to turn government to their advantage and to co-opt funds meant for the country’s citizenry at large.
Tax revenue from the peasants consists primarily of taxes on rural markets. The other primary form of taxation is a customs duty on imports and exports. The collection of personal income tax is inefficient, and tax evasion is endemic. Political instability and institutional weakness have contributed to Haiti’s inability to streamline its tax laws. One innovation was the government’s establishment in 2007 of the Investment Facilitation Center, designed to promote business and investment opportunities in the private sector by recommending changes to regulations and streamlining licensure and other procedures necessary to starting a business.
The roads from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien, Les Cayes, and Jacmel have been paved but are not regularly repaired, and city streets are notorious for their many deep potholes. Most inland transportation is hampered by rough roads that may become impassable in inclement weather. Trucks and buses offer irregular and costly service from Port-au-Prince to the provincial towns. There is no railway service. The primary means by which the rural population travels are on foot, by bicycle, by public bus (known as a “tap-tap” in Haiti), or by donkey. The latter mode is also commonly used to transport goods. The two main seaports are at Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince; container facilities at the latter harbour handle most of Haiti’s foreign trade. There are several minor ports, but passenger boat services are limited. Haiti has two international airports, the principal one at Port-au-Prince and another at Cap-Haïtien.
Government and Society of Haiti
- Constitutional framework
Haiti instituted universal suffrage in 1950, but most of its elections have been marred by ballot tampering. Its constitution was approved by referendum in 1987 but not actually put into effect until 1995, during Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s presidency. Further amendments were approved by the parliament in 2011 and took effect the following year. The constitution, which incorporates features of the U.S. and French constitutions, provides for a president who is both head of state and the country’s main power holder. The president is directly elected to a five-year term and may stand for reelection to a second, nonconsecutive term. The head of government is the prime minister, appointed by the president from among the parliamentary members of the majority political party. The bicameral parliament consists of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Senators are elected for six-year terms and deputies for four.
- Local government
The administration of local governance is carried out in three main divisions. The largest of these are départements, which are divided into arrondissements and, further, into communes. The effectiveness of an arrondissement’s administration varies considerably with its location; the closer it is to the département capital and the more urban it is, the more likely it is to function effectively as an administrative entity. If the administrative centre of the arrondissement is located in the same town as the capital of the département, then the administrative head of the arrondissement, the préfect, is likely to wield considerable influence and power. If the arrondissement is located in a rather inaccessible rural area, the village and hamlet elders are likely to have more power than any appointed government official. A commune and its officials, especially the commandant (a local authority similar to a town mayor), are usually the only government personnel with whom most Haitians have any contact.
The judiciary consists of four levels: the Court of Cassation (the highest court), courts of appeal, civil courts, and magistrate’s courts. Judges of the Court of Cassation are appointed by the president to 10-year terms. The Haitian legal system is nominally based on the Napoleonic Code, modified by legislation enacted during François Duvalier’s presidency (1957–71). The system is deeply flawed, and the government influences all levels of the court system, although the constitution calls for an independent judiciary. Prisoners can be held for months or years without a trial—sometimes despite court orders for their release—and many accused criminals have bought their freedom with bribes. A 2012 amendment to the constitution called for the establishment of a constitutional court to settle disputes between the executive branch and the parliament.
- Political process
Politically and socially, Haiti seems to be always in a state of transition. Although democracy is desired by many, for a long time the political climate has been shaped by a key result of Haiti’s bloody independence war: the largely mulatto elite who retreated to congested urban areas, took over the reins of government, and eventually left the rural areas to be divided among a scattered black farming population in the interior. The peasantry came to regard the government as having little relevance to their lives, an attitude that has persisted to the present day. As a result, most people believe that the formal political organization of Haiti exists primarily on paper. Rural Haitians today feel the irrelevance of a government that has been unable to bring them security, health care, clean water, and a workable transportation system. Much of the population boycotts official elections, which are considered to be corrupt.
Political parties were banned in the early years of François Duvalier’s presidency, but in the early 1960s the first of a number of official Duvalierist parties was established. Several opposition groups took shape in the following decades but were subject to frequent repression. After the end of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime in 1986, a large number of political parties formed. One of the major parties in the 1990s was the Lavalas Political Organization (French: Organisation Politique Lavalas [OPL]), founded in 1991 and led by Pres. Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Growing anti-Aristide sentiment led to a split in the OPL in 1996. Its successor parties—the populist leftist Lavalas Family (Creole: La Fanmi Lavalas [FL]), started by Aristide, and the anti-Aristide Organization of the Struggling People (Organisation du Peuple en Lutte)—became two of the leading political forces in the country. Other significant groups were the Front for Hope (Creole: Fwon Lespwa; French: Front de l’Espoir) and its successor, a party called INITE (Unity)—led by former Aristide ally René Préval from, respectively, 2005 and 2009—and the centre-left Democratic Alliance Party (Alyans). In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the legislature, if not the presidency, tended to be dominated by politicians and parties with some connection to Aristide.
The military was Haiti’s only long-standing national institution from the time of independence in 1804 until the mid-1990s, when it was disbanded. Military leaders frequently used their institution’s power and prestige to influence political events or to take over the government by force. Haiti’s various military, paramilitary, and police units were also notorious for corruption and human rights abuses. The two Duvalier regimes (1957–86) terrorized and eliminated opponents with an armed group called the Volunteers for National Security, commonly known as the Tontons Macoutes (a Haitian Creole phrase meaning “bogeymen”); the group was formally disbanded in 1986, but its members continued to terrorize the populace. Haitian police and military units also acted with impunity. During a U.S.-led occupation of the country in the mid-1990s, the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the military but failed to disarm its members, and the United States and United Nations began to create a new Haitian police force. However, the first recruits were trained for only a few months before assuming their duties, and by the turn of the 21st century many had been implicated in violent crime or corruption associated with drug trafficking. U.S. armed forces routinely conduct antidrug patrols in and around Haiti’s maritime limits and airspace.
- Health and welfare
Haiti’s death rate is high, mainly because of the prevalence of infectious and parasitic diseases, diseases of the circulatory system, and conditions associated with malnutrition; moreover, Haiti has a higher incidence of HIV infection and AIDS and a higher infant mortality rate than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. Roughly three-fourths of Haitian households lack running water, and unsafe water—along with inadequate housing and unsanitary living conditions—contributes to the high incidence of infectious diseases. There is a chronic shortage of health care personnel, and hospitals lack resources, a situation that became readily apparent after the January 2010 earthquake.
More than half of the population lives in rural areas. The majority of all rural housing consists of two-room dwellings that have mud walls and floors and roofs that are thatched with local grasses or palm leaves; they may also be constructed with plastic and other materials and roofed with corrugated metal. The windows are paneless and covered with wooden shutters. There is little furniture. In most such dwellings the kitchen is located outside the living quarters, and there is no electricity or piped water; sanitation facilities often consist of a simple latrine dug at a distance from the house. Houses in a typical rural community are built in compounds, whose heads of household are men related through a single male lineage. The houses are built almost exclusively by the male heads of households and their male friends and relatives.
In the cities, housing for the majority of people has been similar to that found in the rural areas. Densely populated slums generally consist of ramshackle houses, and the structural integrity of even professionally constructed buildings has suffered from generally lax enforcement of zoning and safety rules. Such endemic infrastructure problems contributed to the devastating effects of the January 2010 earthquake on Port-au-Prince, Léogâne, and neighbouring cities.
Education is officially compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 12, but, because of a lack of facilities and staff, only a small proportion of Haitian children attend school, mostly in private or church-administered institutions. About three-fifths of the adult population is literate; the rate of illiteracy is higher in the countryside than in the cities.
The curriculum is based on the French model, and French is the main language of instruction. This system has created a small elite, who have made distinguished cultural contributions. There are dozens of vocational training centres and domestic science schools across the country. The State University of Haiti (founded 1920) has faculties in various health science, economic, and social science disciplines. Quisqueya University (1988) offers similar concentrations but is much smaller. Both universities are in Port-au-Prince. Many students attend universities in Europe and North America.
Culture Life of Haiti
Haitian culture developed out of centuries of slavery and colonialism followed by the victory of newly self-freed slaves over the armies of Napoleon and the establishment of an independent country. Removed from their African roots and having little contact with French culture, Haitians created a distinctive new culture with innovative art, music, dance, and literature. Other influences, in addition to the initial ones from Africa and France, include those from Spanish- and English-speaking areas of the Caribbean and North America. These have been combined and molded by shared experience and hardships of generations of Haitians into contemporary Haitian culture.
Haitian towns are hives of informal-sector activity, with small workshops, street markets, and food stalls providing thousands of day-to-day jobs. There is no social security or personal income tax in this precarious world, and many children are paid near-starvation wages to perform menial tasks. But many Haitians prefer to take their chance in Port-au-Prince’s slums rather than eke out a meagre living from remote hillside farms. In the rural areas the hours are even longer and the money scarcer, because eroded and infertile plots produce barely enough food for subsistence. Cash surpluses, when they exist, are invested in land, cattle, or Vodou ceremonies or are used to pay the school fees for children. Few farmers have their own means of transportation. Such hardship is far removed from the lifestyle of Haiti’s few wealthy elite, who commute from their mountainside villas to air-conditioned offices in costly four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Staple foods include beans, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas and plantains, corn (maize), cassava, and taro (a tropical tuber locally known as malangá). However, many of Haiti’s urban poor have difficulty obtaining basic foodstuffs and adequate amounts of potable water. Whenever resources permit, Haitians prepare food with locally grown spices, including thyme, anise, oregano, black pepper, and cloves. Almost every street corner has a stall selling fritay (fried pieces of pork, fish, or plantain) or shaved ice flavoured with sweet cordials.
Haiti [Credit: Connie Coleman—Stone/Getty Images]Haitian visual arts have garnered increasing attention since the 1940s, when a group of self-taught experimental artists developed in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien and opened a workshop, the Centre d’Art (1944), in the capital. The movement’s more highly acclaimed artists have included Wilson Bigaud, the blacksmith and sculptor Georges Liautaud, and the Vodou priests Hector Hyppolite, Andre Pierre, and Robert Saint-Brice. Major galleries in the United States and Europe have exhibited many of their works, which have also influenced the designs of wood carvings and tapestries that are manufactured in Haiti but sold throughout the Caribbean.
In the wake of the earthquake of January 2010, the Smithsonian Institution launched a conservation effort that would provide both the sophisticated equipment necessary to restore many of the badly damaged works and conservation training for Haitians. Working together with three U.S. federal agencies and a private organization, in May the Smithsonian assessed the damages to a number of Haiti’s ruined cultural sites, including the Episcopal Holy Trinity Cathedral (home to a number of murals), the Musée d’Art Nader (which held more than 12,000 paintings and sculptures by 20th-century Haitian artists), and the Centre d’Art.
Musicians in Haiti and the Dominican Republic created the merengue musical style, which combines relatively slow African drum rhythms with early 19th-century European dance music; the merengue’s popularity has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. More contemporary musical styles have included the rhythmic “voodoo beat” and the politically minded lyrics of the band Boukman Eksperyans.
Haitian literature is written almost exclusively in French; however, some novels, poems, and plays have been written in Creole. Haiti has produced some internationally renowned writers, including Jean Price-Mars, who evaluated the African heritage in Haitian culture; Jacques Roumain, a poet, essayist, and novelist; Jacques-Stephen Alexis, who examined Haitian society through novels and other works; and René Depestre, noted for his elegant poetic creations in French. Later Haitian writers, such as Edwidge Danticat, have often written in English about their lives as exiles and their concomitant identity problems.
Haiti [Credit: Walter Aguiar/EB Inc.]Port-au-Prince, the centre of Haiti’s cultural and intellectual life, is the site of the National Library (founded 1940), the National Council for Scientific Research (1963), and the major museums and entertainment facilities. The culture of Haiti may be best expressed, however, in the institutionalized festivals. Carnival is celebrated in February prior to Ash Wednesday, as elsewhere in the world, but in a uniquely Haitian manner. Rara, a festival that takes place before Easter, apparently originated in Haiti during the slavery period as a Vodou interpretation of, and slave identification with, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rara consists largely of parades with people playing traditional, often homemade, indigenous instruments such as cylindrical bamboo trumpets, though modern instruments such as trumpets and trombones are also used. The songs typically celebrate the African roots of Haitians and are often highly political, usually protesting poverty and oppression. The music at these festivals is a combination of Vodou-based rhythms and rock and roll. The dancing is typically Vodou—that is, wild and somewhat hypnotic.
Haiti’s National History Park, established in 1982 at the time that the UNESCO World Heritage site was designated, is a complex that encompasses the first monuments to be built by newly independent Haiti: Sans Souci Palace (largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1842) and the mountaintop fortress known as the Citadel (Citadelle Laferrière), both constructed under the direction of Henry Christophe in the early 19th century. Two national parks were created in 1983. Macaya Peak National Park, located in the Massif de la Hotte, protects a virgin cloud forest and endangered plants and animals. La Visite National Park, some 12 miles (20 km) southeast of Port-au-Prince, is a forested nature reserve in the Massif de la Selle. The parks exist for the most part only as legal entities, however, as there has been little official control over any of them during the decades of social and political turmoil since their founding, and they have been left open to plant invasion and the establishment of subsistence agriculture within their bounds.
Sports and recreation
Haitians do not generally have access to the types of organized recreational activities prevalent in other countries, and sporting facilities are limited. Sports and gambling tend to go hand in hand in Haiti. Card games and dominoes are popular pastimes, but the most passion-inspiring gaming is provided by cockfighting, which takes place every Sunday in almost every village and neighbourhood across the country. Considerable sums of money pass hands at these gatherings, and a successful trainer can become a powerful figure in the community. Another popular form of gambling is borlette, a street-corner lottery found throughout the country.
Football (soccer) draws sizable crowds to matches in Port-au-Prince as well as to potholed city streets and rural roads. In 1974 Haiti became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the World Cup finals, and some Haitian footballers, such as Joe Gaetjens, have played for teams in the United States and Europe. Haiti’s elite class has produced a handful of international-level tennis players, and cycling is popular among those who can afford bicycles. Swimming is more accessible to ordinary Haitians.
Media and publishing
Publishing is limited in Haiti, in part because there are few publishers but also as a result of past political oppression. Few books are published, and, although several daily newspapers operate in Haiti, none circulates more than a few thousand copies. There are several television stations, one of them government-owned, and a number of radio stations whose broadcasts are received throughout the island.
History of Haiti
Early History to Independence
The island of Hispaniola was inhabited by the Arawaks prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Disease, ill treatment, and execution by the Spaniards decimated the Arawaks, who gave Haiti ("land of mountains") its name. While establishing plantations in E Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic), however, the Spanish largely ignored the western part of the island, which by the 17th cent. became a base for French and English buccaneers. Gradually French colonists, importing African slaves, developed sugar plantations on the northern coast. Unable to support its claim to the region, Spain ceded Haiti (then called Saint-Dominque) to France in 1697.
Haiti became France's most prosperous colony in the Americas and one of the world's chief coffee and sugar producers. The pattern of settlement took the French south in the 18th cent. and society became stratified into Frenchmen, Creoles, freed blacks, and black slaves. Between the blacks and the French and Creoles were the mulattoes, whose social status was indeterminate. When French-descended Creole planters sought to prevent mulatto representation in the French National Assembly and in local assemblies in Saint-Dominque, the mulattoes revolted under the leadership of Vincent Ogé. This rebellion destroyed the rigid structure of Haitian society. The blacks formed guerrilla bands led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former slave who had been made an officer of the French forces on Hispaniola.
When the English invaded Haiti in 1793 during the Napoleonic Wars, Toussaint maintained an uneasy alliance with the mulatto André Rigaud and cooperated with the remnant of French governmental authority. In 1795, Spain ceded its part of the island to France, and in 1801 Toussaint conquered it, abolished slavery, and proclaimed himself governor-general of an autonomous government over all Hispaniola. Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, Gen. Charles Leclerc, with a huge punitive force to restore order in 1802, but he was unable to conquer the interior.
A peace was negotiated, and Toussaint, taken by trickery, died in a French prison; but the revolt continued and forced the French troops, already ravaged by yellow fever, to withdraw. The rebels received unexpected aid from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, who feared that Napoleon would use Saint-Dominque as a base to invade Louisiana. In 1804, Haiti became the second nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States, to win complete independence.
- The Struggles of Nationhood
After independence the remaining French and Creoles were expelled, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, an ex-slave, proclaimed himself emperor. His assassination (1806) led to the division of Haiti into a black-controlled north under Emperor Henri Christophe and a mulatto-ruled south under President Alexandre Pétion. After their deaths Haiti was unified by Jean Pierre Boyer, who also brought (1822–44) Santo Domingo under Haitian control. Seeking to indemnify French planters, Boyer brought financial ruin to Haiti; he was exiled in 1843. Haiti's last emperor (1847–59) was Faustin Soulouque. Since the end of his reign, the country has been a republic. Political and social conflict persisted, intensified by the mulatto-black hostility, and Haiti's economy, which had never recovered from the violent struggle for independence, declined further.
After the dictator Guillaume Sam was killed in a popular uprising in 1915, the United States, troubled over its property and investments in the country and fearing Germany might seize Haiti, took the opportunity to invade Port-au-Prince. The Haitian congress was forced to accept an agreement permitting U.S. control over customs receipts; two years later the resident American naval commander dissolved the congress and dictated a new constitution. Although financial and general material progress advanced under American military occupation, Haiti protested against U.S. violation of its sovereignty, and a U.S. Senate investigation in 1921 found that the avowed purpose of preparing Haiti for responsible self-government had been ignored. In 1930 a U.S. presidential commission recommended that Haiti be allowed to elect a legislature that would, in turn, name a president. Sténio Vincent, a vocal opponent of U.S. military occupation, was chosen by the legislators. The marines were finally withdrawn in 1934, although U.S. fiscal control was maintained until 1947.
Political instability persisted in Haiti after World War II, and the country's future was clouded by rising turbulence in the Dominican Republic and by the emergence of a Communist Cuba. François ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, who was elected president in 1957, suppressed opposition through the creation of his paramilitary secret police, the tonton macoutes. In 1964 he proclaimed himself president for life. Upon his death in 1971 he was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc"), who also became president for life. After 15 additional years of corruption, repression, and inequality under the younger Duvalier, popular discontent became great enough to induce him to flee the country in 1986.
Starting in 1986 there were several brief attempts at civilian democracy, each terminated by a military coup. In Sept., 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced to flee the country only nine months after becoming the first freely elected president in Haiti's history. The United States and the Organization of American States responded with a trade embargo, and in 1993 a UN-sponsored oil embargo was imposed. An accord in 1993 providing for Aristide's return was repudiated by the army, which used terrorist violence to maintain power.
In 1994 the United Nations approved a nearly total trade embargo, and later authorized the use of force to restore democratic rule. On Sept. 18, 1994, as U.S. forces were poised to invade the island, an accord was negotiated. Haiti's military leaders relinquished power under an amnesty, and U.S. forces landed to oversee the transition. Aristide returned on Oct. 15 as president; U.S. troops were largely replaced by UN peacekeepers in Mar., 1995. In the December presidential election that year, René Préval was elected to succeed Aristide. In Apr., 1996, the last U.S. troops left, except for a few hundred in the capital who remained until Jan., 2000; meanwhile, after a wave of political killings, the United States suspended aid to Haiti.
In Jan., 1999, following a series of disagreements with Haitian legislators, Préval declared that their terms had expired, and he began ruling by decree. Parliamentary elections were finally held in May–June, 2000. They gave Aristide's Lavalas Family party an overwhelming majority in both houses, but the method of counting the votes, in which only those won by the four leading candidates were tallied and candidates thus did not need to win an actual absolute majority, was widely criticized.
In Nov., 2000, Aristide was again elected president, winning nearly 92% of the votes cast, but turnout for the election was light. The following year Amnesty International said that human rights and the rule of law had diminished in Haiti, citing harassment of opposition politicians and attacks on journalists. There was an apparent coup attempt against Aristide in Dec., 2001, although it was unclear who was behind it. The political stalemate with the opposition led to the freezing of foreign aid and ongoing economic hardship in Haiti.
Violence between supporters and opponents of the president increased in 2003, and several of Aristide's cabinet ministers resigned bu the end of the year. Parliamentary elections failed to be held, resulting in the dissolution of parliament in Jan., 2004, leaving Aristide to rule by decree and sparking recurring anti-Aristide opposition demonstrations in the streets. In February an armed uprising began in Gonaïves, and by the end of the month armed rebels consisting of disaffected gangs formerly allied with the government, former soldiers, paramilitaries, and police, and others, were on the verge of entering the capital.
Under pressure from the United States and France, Aristide resigned and went into exile, subsequently accusing U.S. and French officials variously of duping, coercing, or kidnapping him. U.S., French, Canadian, and Chilean forces arrived to maintain order, and an interim government headed by Gérard Latortue, a former foreign minister, was established. The Caribbean Community, however, refused to recognize Prime Minister Latortue, and called for a UN investigation into Aristide's resignation. Subsequently, CARICOM decided not to readmit Haiti until after the reestablishment of a democratically elected government. In April Latortue announced that general elections for a new government would be held in 2005, but they were subsequently postponed several times during 2005 due to inadequate preparation. A UN peacekeeping force led by Brazil began replacing U.S., Canadian, and French forces in June, 2004.
Flooding from heavy rains in May killed some 1,700 in the south near the Dominican Republic, and in September Tropical Storm Jeanne caused additional deadly flooding, especially in the area around Gonaïves, where some 2,500 died. The September flooding also caused significant agricultural damage. Unrest and lawlessness on the part of Aristide supporters and opponents continued to be a problem in the country, despite the presence of foreign peacekeepers. In Nov., 2005, the much delayed 2005 national elections were postponed into 2006.
When the presidential election was held in Feb., 2006, René Préval handily led all other candidates (there were more than 30) but appeared to be falling short of the majority required to avoid a runoff. The former president and his supporters charged that there was electoral fraud, an accusation seemingly supported by an unusually high number of blank ballots and by the discovery of charred blank and Préval ballots in a dump near the capital. Amid demonstrations and mounting tension, election officials agreed to assign the blank ballots proportionally to the candidates, giving Préval nearly 51% of the vote. Parliamentary elections were held at the same time, but the investigation of electoral complaints delayed the second round into April, and Préval was not sworn in until May. The following month Haiti was readmitted to CARICOM.
Armed gangs remain a significant problem in Haiti, and in Oct., 2006, the United States partially lifted an arms embargo against Haiti so that the government could buy weapons and other equipment for the Haitian police. In Feb., 2007, the mandate of the UN peacekeepers was again extended; the Security Council called on UN forces to move more strongly against Haiti's criminal gangs. Although UN forces had successes against a number of urban gangs, some relocated to rural areas where they were less likely to be confronted by peacekeepers. Rising food prices led to antigovernment and anti-UN protests and riots in a number of Haitian cities in Apr., 2008; in Port-au-Prince rioters attempted to storm the presidenital palace. The riots led the Senate to dismiss the prime minister; two nominees for the post were subsequently rejected by Haiti's legislature before Michèle Pierre-Louis was elected in July. A series of hurricanes during Aug.–Sept., 2008, caused widespread devastation, especially in the area around Gonaïves; some 800 people died, and damage was estimated at $1 billion.
In Apr. and June, 2009, elections to fill 12 vacant Senate seats that had originally be scheduled for 2007 were finally held; Préval's Lespwa party run a plurality, giving the party a plurality in the Senate. Lavalas Family candidates were barred from running on technical grounds, and the vote was marred by poor turnout and allegations of fraud. By mid-2009 an increase in size in, and improvements in the training of, the Haitian police force had significantly reduced crime. In Oct., 2009, the Senate voted to remove Prime Minister Pierre-Louis; Jean-Max Bellerive, an economist and former planning and external cooperation minister, succeeded her.
An earthquake in Jan., 2010, the strongest to hit Haiti in more than 200 years, caused extensive destruction in the capital and other parts of S Haiti. Estimates of the dead ranged from as low as 46,000 to more than 310,000; some 300,000 were injured, and an estimated 1.5 million people lost their homes. The destruction of much of the limited infrastructure in the area made the massive relief efforts mounted by foreign nations and international aid groups difficult. The United States and the United Nations, both with forces in the thousands, led the effort, and attempted to facilitate aid distribution and help maintain order. The United Nations subsequently estimated that $11.5 billion in aid would be needed over the next decade for reconstruction efforts. International donors pledged more than $5 billion in reconstruction aid in Mar., 2010, to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, but the promised aid was slow in coming. As late as Oct., 2011, the United Nations estimated that only half of the rubble from the earthquake had been removed. More than 145,000 remained homeless four years after the earthquake.
A cholera epidemic that began in N Haiti in Oct., 2010, had affected some 600,000 Haitians and killed more than 7,500 people by late 2012 and spread to the neighboring Dominican Republic; the source was traced to some of the UN peacekeepers. The epidemic also contributed to the disorganization of the first round of the earthquake-delayed presidential election in November. Preliminary results from that vote, released in December, showed that former first lady Mirlande Manigat and ruling party candidate Jude Celestin had placed first and second, the latter narrowly beating popular singer Michel Martelly. Most candidates accused the government of fraud, and there were violent street protests. A final determination of the top vote-getters was delayed into early 2011, and the election's second round, scheduled for Jan., 2011, was postponed.
A review of the election by the OAS and CARICOM was delivered to Préval in Jan., 2011; it recommended that, based on its verification of the poll, the runoff should be between Manigat and Martelly. The electoral council ultimately decided that they would be the candidates in March, and Martelly won the runoff with two thirds of the vote. In the legislative elections, the preliminary results in 18 races were reversed by the election commission when the final results were published, with the changes overwhelmingly favoring Préval's party. Meanwhile, in February, Préval's expiring term was officially extended until May; former president Aristide returned to Haiti from exile in March. In office Martelly struggled to get a prime minister approved by lawmakers. Ultimately his third choice for the office, Garry Conille, was approved in October, but he resigned in Feb., 2012, citing a lack of support. In May, Laurent Lamothe, the foreign minister, was confirmed as Conille's successor.
Haiti Area: 27,700 sq km (10,695 sq mi) Population (2005 est.): 8,528,000 Capital: Port-au-Prince Chief of state and government: President Boniface Alexandre (provisional), assisted by Prime ...>>>Read On<<<
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