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officially Republic of Haiti, Haitian Creole Repiblik Dayti, French République d’Haïti
Country in the West Indies, occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic to the east.

Area: 10,695 sq mi (27,700 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 8,528,000. Capital: Port-au-Prince. Almost the entire population is of African or African-European descent. Languages: Haitian Creole, French (both official). Religions: Christianity (mainly Roman Catholic; also Protestant); also Vodou. Currency: gourde. Most of the land is mountainous, about two-thirds above 1,600 ft (490 m) in elevation. The mountain ranges alternate with fertile but overpopulated lowlands. Haiti’s tropical climate is modified by the mountains and subject to periodic droughts and hurricanes. Its longest river is the Artibonite. The poorest country in the Americas, Haiti has a developing market economy based in large part on agriculture and light industries; coffee is the main cash crop. It is a multiparty republic with two legislative houses; the chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. For early history, see Hispaniola. Haiti gained its independence in 1804, after former slaves led by Toussaint-Louverture in the 1790s and by Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1803 rebelled against French rule. The new republic encompassed the entire island of Hispaniola, but the eastern portion of the island was restored to Spain in 1809. It was reunited under Haitian Pres. Jean-Pierre Boyer (1818–43); after his overthrow the eastern portion revolted and formed the Dominican Republic. Haiti’s government was marked by instability, with frequent coups and assassinations. It was occupied by the U.S. in 1915–34. In 1957 the dictator Franƈois (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier came to power. Despite economic decline and civil unrest, Duvalier ruled until his death in 1971. He was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier, who was forced into exile in 1986. Haiti’s first free presidential elections, held in 1990, were won by Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was deposed by a military coup in 1991, after which tens of thousands of Haitians attempted to flee to the U.S. in small boats. When the military government stepped down in 1994, Aristide returned from exile and resumed the presidency. His associate René Préval replaced him in 1995, and in 2000 Aristide reclaimed the presidency, only to be driven from office and out of the country in 2004 as economic and political instability continued to plague Haiti.

Official name Repiblik d’ Ayiti (Haitian Creole); République d’Haïti (French) (Republic of Haiti)
Form of government republic with two legislative houses (Senate [30]; Chamber of Deputies [99])
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Capital Port-au-Prince
Official languages Haitian Creole; French
Official religions 1
Monetary unit gourde (G)
Population estimate (2008) 9,751,000
Total area (sq mi) 10,695
Total area (sq km) 27,700
1Roman Catholicism has special recognition per concordat with the Vatican; Vodou (Voodoo) became officially sanctioned per governmental decree of April 2003.

officially Republic of Haiti, Haitian Creole Repiblik Dayti, French République d’Haïti

country of 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. It is roughly threefold larger than Puerto Rico. The capital is Port-au-Prince.

Haiti is bordered to the east by the Dominican Republic, which covers the rest of Hispaniola, to the west and south 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 corridor joining 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, a U.S.-controlled islet in the Jamaica Channel.

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. However, over the centuries economic, political, and social problems have transformed Haiti into the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The land
Relief, drainage, and soils
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. The nation’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, in which lies Gonâve Island. Haiti’s shores are generally rocky, rimmed with cliffs, and indented by a number of excellent natural harbours, and 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 northern range, known as the Cordillera Septentrional in the Dominican Republic, occurs in Haiti only on Tortue Island. Tortue Island has an area of 69 square miles (179 square km); in the 17th century it was a stronghold of privateers and pirates from various countries.

Haiti’s Massif du Nord (“Northern Massif”) is a series of parallel ranges 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 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 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 (“Black”) Mountains. Tributaries of the Artibonite River, the island’s longest river at 174 miles (280 km), flow eastward and southward through the plateau to a point near the Dominican border, where they join the river proper as it turns westward, skirting 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 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, and Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien were destroyed by earthquakes in 1751 and 1842, respectively.

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 75 °F (24 °C) in January and February to 83 °F (28 °C) in July and August. The village of Kenscoff, at some 4,700 feet (1,430 metres), has an average temperature of 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 altitudes.

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 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 the 2008 hurricane season a series of severe storms that included Hurricanes Hanna and Ike caused widespread damage and the loss of hundreds of 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 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 no 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.

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, which has more than six 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 has retained few buildings from the colonial period and the early 19th century owing to fires and war damage. Wooden “gingerbread-style” houses are a testimony to Victorian influences in the formerly 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; shantytowns surround the city, and the public markets are generally squalid and unhygienic. The largest shantytown in the capital is Cité Soleil, which is situated on swampland near the seafront, vulnerable to flooding, and home to hundreds of thousands of people.

Cap-Haïtien, the original capital of the colony, was founded in 1670. Its neat gridiron 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 Gonaïves, Les Cayes, and Jacmel.

The people
Ethnicity and language
Nearly all of Haiti’s population are of African origin; mulattoes account for most of the remainder, and there are a few people of European descent. Haiti has differentiated itself ethnically, linguistically, and culturally from other Caribbean and Latin American countries, notably the Spanish-speaking nations of the region.

Haitian Creole (Kweyol, or Kreyol) and French are the official languages. Creole is spoken by all Haitians and, with French, is used in drama, music, radio, television, politics, and religion. Creole is normally used in daily life, and French—mastered by 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 its syntax is similar to that of some African languages and the Creole languages of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.

Haiti has no official religion; the constitution allows for religious freedom but gives special recognition to the Roman Catholic church. More than two-thirds of the population is Roman Catholic, and about one-fourth is Protestant. Since the 1970s some radical priests have espoused liberation theology, notably in the shantytown areas of Port-au-Prince and other towns, whereas the hierarchy of bishops has remained more conservative. Most Haitian Roman Catholics are also practitioners of voodoo (voudou, or vodun), a religion whose gods (loas) are derived from West African religions. However, most of the nation’s Protestants consider Christianity to be incompatible with voodoo.

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 U.S. occupation (1915–34). The number of Protestants has grown significantly since 1980.

Demographic trends
Haiti’s population has increased fourfold since the early 20th century, although life expectancy 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. Large numbers of Haitians attempt to enter the United States each year in small and often dangerous boats. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely intercepts such “boat people” and returns them to Haiti, but many others are thought to drown 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.

The economy
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. 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 food supply has not kept pace with demand. As much as one-fifth of the food consumed in Haiti is imported or 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; in the mid-1990s Haitians overseas sent home substantially greater sums than were earned from official exports.

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 it is therefore heavily dependent on energy imports. Hydroelectricity is not sufficient to satisfy current needs, and the main sources of energy for cooking are firewood and charcoal.

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. There is little fishing off the island’s shelf, because most fishing boats are small and poorly equipped.

Agriculture is the largest sector of the Haitian economy, employing roughly two-thirds of the labour force but accounting for barely one-third of the GDP. 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 become a net importer of sugar.

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, Haiti’s entire Creole pig population was exterminated by 1982, which deprived many peasants of their only asset, although other pig breeds were subsequently imported as replacements.

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 involves the assembly of parts for reexport to the United States, including electronic components, baseballs, and clothing. Other manufactures include essential oils (notably amyris, neroli, and vetiver), cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages. Much of the nation’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 flourished because of the high demand for housing.

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. The main sources of service-related employment are tourism, national and local government, finance, and trade.

Tourism is the main component of the service sector and a principal source of foreign exchange. During the 1980s and ’90s the number of tourists dwindled owing to political instability and concerns over health problems, including AIDS; however, the nation’s cultural life, colonial architecture, pristine beaches, and gambling casinos continue to attract visitors, as do Haitian laws permitting quick divorces. 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. The major tourist hubs are Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien, the latter providing access to Haiti’s 19th-century Citadel, Ramiers fortifications, and Sans Souci Palace, which UNESCO collectively designated a World Heritage site in 1982.

Finance and trade
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 National Bank issues currency and acts as the principal commercial bank; 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 France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Haiti has a substantial and chronic annual trade deficit.

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 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 are no major railways.

The Port-au-Prince harbour was modernized in the 1970s and ’80s, and container facilities there handle most of Haiti’s foreign trade. The Cap-Haïtien harbour has also been upgraded. There are several minor ports, but passenger-boat services are limited. The international airport at Maïs Gâté, 10 miles (16 km) north of Port-au-Prince, provides direct service to North and South America, Europe, and other Caribbean nations.

Administration and social conditions
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, when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took office. The constitution, which incorporates features of the U.S. and French constitutions, provides for a president who is both head of state and the nation’s main power holder. The president is directly elected to a five-year term and may stand for one nonconsecutive reelection. 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 27-member Senate and an 83-member Chamber of Deputies. Senators are elected for six-year terms and deputies for four.

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 French 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.

Armed forces and police
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 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.

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. More than half of the adult population is illiterate, and 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. The State University of Haiti (founded 1920) enrolls more than 10,000 students, whereas Quisqueya University (1988) is much smaller; both are in Port-au-Prince. Many students attend universities in Europe and North America.

Health and welfare
Haiti’s death rate is high, mainly owing to the prevalence of infectious and parasitic diseases, diseases of the circulatory system, and conditions associated with malnutrition; moreover, Haiti has a higher incidence of 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.

Cultural life
Haitian culture reflects an admixture of French, African, Spanish, and native Indian influences, similar in many respects to the traditions of Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, and Saint Lucia. 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 most important museums and entertainment facilities.

Daily life
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 taxation 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. Most farmers live in small wooden-frame houses with thatched or corrugated-metal roofs that are generally enclosed within a compound of four mud-daubed wattle walls. There is little furniture. Cash surpluses, when they exist, are invested in land, cattle, or voodoo 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 cool 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.

The arts
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 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 voodoo 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.

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. Younger Haitian writers, such as Edwidge Danticat, have often written in English about their lives as exiles and their concomitant identity problems.

Press and broadcasting
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 (most of them in the capital), none circulates more than a few thousand copies. There are four television stations, one of them government-owned, and a number of radio stations whose broadcasts are received throughout the island.

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. Nevertheless, they celebrate a colourful pre-Lenten Carnival—although perhaps not as elaborately as in other Caribbean nations.

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.

Christian Antoine Girault
James A. Ferguson

The following discussion focuses on events from the time of European settlement. For treatment of earlier history and the country in its regional context, see West Indies, history of, and Latin America, history of.

Early period
The island that now includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic was first inhabited about 5000 bce, and farming villages were established about 300 bce. The Arawak and other indigenous peoples later developed large communities there. The Taino, an Arawak group, became dominant; also prominent were the Ciboney. In the 15th century between 100,000 and several million Taino and Ciboney lived on the island, which the Taino called Quisqueya. They based their economies on cassava (manioc) farming, fishing, and interisland trade (gold jewelry, pottery, and other goods).

Italian navigator Christopher Columbus sighted Quisqueya on Dec. 6, 1492, and named it La Isla Española (“The Spanish Island,” later Anglicized as Hispaniola). Over the next few decades, the Spanish enslaved vast numbers of Taino and Ciboney to mine for gold. European diseases and brutal working conditions devastated the indigenous population, which fell to about 30,000 by 1514; by the end of the 16th century, the group had virtually vanished. Thousands of slaves imported from other Caribbean islands met the same fate. The Spanish altered the landscape by introducing cattle, pigs, and horses, which multiplied into large herds. Spanish settlement was mostly restricted to the eastern end of the island, and many Spaniards left Hispaniola after the main gold mines were exhausted.

In the mid-16th century, French pirates entrenched themselves firmly on Tortue Island and other islands off the western end of Hispaniola. Subsequently, both French and British buccaneers held bases there. Permanent settlements began to develop, including plantations. In the 1660s the French founded Port-de-Paix in the northwest, and the French West Indies Corporation took control of the area. Landowners in western Hispaniola imported increasing numbers of African slaves, which totaled about 5,000 in the late 17th century.

French colonial rule
Plantations and slaves
The Treaty of Rijswijk (1697) formally ceded the western third of Hispaniola from Spain to France, which renamed it Saint-Domingue. The colony’s population and economic output grew rapidly during the 18th century, and it became France’s most prosperous New World possession, exporting sugar and smaller amounts of coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton. By the 1780s nearly two-thirds of France’s foreign investments were based on Saint-Domingue, and the number of stopovers by oceangoing vessels sometimes exceeded 700 per year.

The development of plantation agriculture profoundly affected the island’s ecology. African slaves toiled ceaselessly to clear forests for sugar fields, and massive erosion ensued, particularly on the steep marginal slopes that had been allocated to slaves for their subsistence crops. Soil productivity declined markedly in many areas, and formerly bountiful streams dried up; however, European investors and landowners remained unconcerned about or unaware of the long-term consequences of their actions, believing instead that an overpopulation of slaves was the key to wringing more profits from the region.

In 1789 Saint-Domingue had an estimated population of 556,000, including roughly 500,000 African slaves—a hundredfold increase over the previous century—32,000 European colonists, and 24,000 affranchis (free mulattoes or blacks). Haitian society was deeply fragmented by skin colour, class, and gender. The “white” population comprised grands blancs (elite merchants and landowners, often of royal lineage), petits blancs (overseers, craftsmen, and the like), and blancs menants (labourers and peasants). The affranchis, who were mostly mulattoes, were sometimes slave owners themselves. They aspired to the economic and social levels of the Europeans, and they feared and spurned the slave majority; however, the colonists generally discriminated against them, and the affranchis’ aspirations became a major factor in the colony’s struggle for independence. The slave population, most of whom were bosal (African-born), were an admixture of West African ethnic groups. The vast majority were field-workers; more specialized groups included household servants, boilermen (at the sugar mills), and even slave drivers. Slaves in the colony, like those throughout the Caribbean, endured lengthy, backbreaking workdays and often died from injuries, infections, and tropical diseases. Malnutrition and starvation also were common, because plantation owners failed to plan adequately for food shortages, drought, and natural disasters, and slaves were allowed scarce time to tend their own crops. Some slaves managed to escape into the mountainous interior, where they became known as Maroons and fought guerrilla battles against colonial militia. Large numbers of slaves, Maroons, and affranchis found solace in voodoo (voudou), a syncretic religion incorporating West African belief systems. Others became fervent adherents of Roman Catholicism, and many began to practice both religions.

The Haitian Revolution
The revolution was actually a series of conflicts during the period 1791–1804 that involved shifting alliances of Haitian slaves, affranchis, mulattoes, and colonists, as well as British and French army troops. Several factors precipitated the event, including the affranchis’ frustrations with a racist society, the French Revolution, nationalistic rhetoric expressed during voodoo ceremonies, the continuing brutality of slave owners, and wars between European powers. Vincent Ogé, a mulatto who had lobbied the Parisian assembly for colonial reforms, led an uprising in late 1790 but was captured, tortured, and executed. In May 1791 the French revolutionary government granted citizenship to the wealthier affranchis, but Haiti’s European population refused to comply with the law. Within two months isolated fighting broke out between Europeans and affranchis, and in August thousands of slaves rose in rebellion. The Europeans attempted to appease the mulattoes in order to quell the slave revolt, and the French assembly granted citizenship to all affranchis in April 1792. The country was torn by rival factions, some of which were supported by Spanish colonists in Santo Domingo (on the eastern side of the island, which later became the Dominican Republic) or by British troops from Jamaica. In 1793 Léger Félicité Sonthonax, who was sent from France to maintain order, offered freedom to slaves who joined his army; he soon abolished slavery altogether, and the following year the French government confirmed his decision. Spain ceded the rest of the island to France in the Treaty of Basel (1795), but war in Europe precluded the actual transfer of possession.

In the late 1790s Toussaint Louverture, a military leader and former slave, gained control of several areas and earned the initial support of French agents. He gave nominal allegiance to France while pursuing his own political and military designs, which included negotiating with the British, and in May 1801 he had himself named “governor-general for life.” Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon I), wishing to maintain control of the island, attempted to restore the old regime (and European rule) by sending his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc, with an experienced force from Saint-Domingue that included several exiled mulatto officers. Toussaint struggled for several months against Leclerc’s forces before agreeing to an armistice in May 1802; however, the French broke the agreement and imprisoned him in France. He died on April 7, 1803.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe led a black army against the French in 1802, following evidence that Napoleon intended to restore slavery in Saint-Domingue as he had done in other French possessions. They defeated the French commander and a large part of his army, and in November 1803 the viscount de Rochambeau surrendered the remnant of the expedition. The French withdrew from Haiti but maintained a presence in the eastern part of the island until 1809.

Independent Haiti
Trials of a young nation
On Jan. 1, 1804, the entire island was declared independent under the Arawak-derived name of Haiti. The young nation had a shaky start; the war had devastated many plantations and towns, and Haiti was plagued with civil unrest, economic uncertainties, and a lack of skilled planners, craftsmen, and administrators. Many European powers and their Caribbean surrogates ostracized Haiti, fearing the spread of slave revolts, whereas reaction in the United States was mixed, as slave-owning states did all they could to suppress news of the rebellion, but merchants in the free states hoped to trade with Haiti rather than with European powers. More important, nearly the entire population was utterly destitute—a legacy of slavery that has continued to have a profound impact on Haitian history.

In October 1804 Dessalines assumed the title of Emperor Jacques I, but in October 1806 he was killed while trying to suppress a mulatto revolt, and Henry Christophe took control of the kingdom from his capital in the north. Civil war then broke out between Christophe and Alexandre Sabès Pétion, who was based at Port-au-Prince in the south. As the civil war raged, the Spanish, with British help, restored their rule in Santo Domingo in 1809. Christophe, who declared himself King Henry I in 1811, managed to improve the country’s economy but at the cost of forcing former slaves to return to work on the plantations. He built a spectacular palace (Sans Souci) as well as an imposing fortress (La Citadelle Laferrière) in the hills to the south of the city of Cap-Haïtien, where, with mutinous soldiers almost at his door, he committed suicide in 1820. (Both the palace and fortress were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1982.)

Jean-Pierre Boyer, who had succeeded to the presidency of the mulatto-led south on Pétion’s death in 1818, became president of the entire country after Christophe’s death. In 1822 he invaded and conquered Santo Domingo, which had declared itself independent from Spain the previous year and was then engaged in fighting the Spaniards. Boyer did abolish slavery there, but the Haitians monopolized government power and confiscated church property, foodstuffs, and other supplies. It was not until 1844 that the Haitians were expelled by a popular uprising. The occupation created a tradition of distrust between the two nations, and subsequent generations of Dominicans regarded the period as cruel and barbarous.

France recognized Haitian independence in 1825, in return for a large indemnity (nearly 100 million francs) that was to be paid at an annual rate until 1887. Britain recognized the state in 1833, followed by the United States in 1862, after the secession of the Southern slave states.

Boyer was overthrown in 1843. Between then and 1915 a succession of 20 rulers followed, 16 of whom were overthrown by revolution or were assassinated. Faustin-Élie Soulouque (Faustin I) became president in 1847 and designated himself “emperor for life” in 1849. He turned on his mulatto sponsors and became particularly repressive; however, his regime was in some ways a return to power for the blacks. He tried unsuccessfully to annex the Dominican Republic, and in 1859 one of his generals, Fabre Geffrard, overthrew him. Geffrard encouraged educated mulattoes to join his government and established Haitian respectability abroad.

Throughout the 19th century a huge gulf developed between the small urban elite, who were mostly light-skinned and French-speaking, and the vast majority of black, Creole-speaking peasants. Social services and communications were almost nonexistent in the countryside, while Port-au-Prince was the centre of culture, business, and political intrigue.

In the 1890s the United States attempted to gain additional military and commercial privileges in Haiti. In 1905 it took control of Haiti’s customs operations, and, prior to World War I, American business interests gained a secure financial foothold and valuable concessions.

U.S. occupation
From 1915 to 1934 Haiti was occupied by U.S. Marines. The United States claimed that its action was justified under the Monroe Doctrine (the right of the United States to prevent European intervention in the Western Hemisphere) as well as on humanitarian grounds. However, many Haitians believed that the Marines had really been sent to protect U.S. investments and to establish a base to protect the approaches to the Panama Canal. Haiti signed a treaty with the United States—originally for 10 years but later extended—establishing U.S. financial and political domination. In 1918, in an election supervised by the Marines, a new constitution was introduced that permitted foreigners to own land in Haiti.

One effect of the Marine occupation was the nominal reestablishment of the mulatto elite’s control of the government. Black Haitians, in contrast, felt that they were excluded from public office and subjected to racist indignities at the hands of the Marines, including the corvée (statute of forced labour for public works); in response, peasant cacos (guerrillas) carried out a series of attacks. The Marines’ public works program included building new health clinics and sewerage systems, but most Haitians felt that the Marines’ efforts were inadequate.

In October 1930 Haitians chose a national assembly for the first time since 1918. It elected as president Sténio Joseph Vincent. In August 1934 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew the Marines; however, the United States maintained direct fiscal control until 1941 and indirect control over Haiti until 1947. In 1935 a plebiscite extended Vincent’s term to 1941 and amended the constitution so that future presidents would be elected by popular vote.

Military regimes and the Duvaliers
In October 1937 troops and police from the Dominican Republic massacred thousands of Haitian labourers living near the border. The Dominican government agreed to compensate the slain workers’ relatives the following year, but only part of the promised amount was actually paid. The enmity between the two countries had long historical roots and racist underpinnings: Dominicans, with their Spanish culture and largely European ancestry, looked disdainfully upon black Haitian labourers; however, the Dominican economy depended on cheap Haitian labour.

In 1946 Haitian workers and students held strikes and violent demonstrations in opposition to the president, Élie Lescot, who had succeeded Vincent in 1941. Three military officers seized power, and under their supervision Dumarsais Estimé was elected president. In 1950, after Estimé sought to extend his term, the military took control. In October Colonel Paul E. Magloire was elected president in a plebiscite.

Magloire was forced to resign in 1956, and considerable unrest and several provisional presidents followed until François Duvalier (called “Papa Doc”)—a physician with an interest in voodoo—was elected president in September 1957. Duvalier promised to end domination by the mulatto elite and to extend political and economic power to the black masses. Violence continued, however, and there was an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Duvalier in July 1958. In response, Duvalier organized a paramilitary group—the so-called Tontons Macoutes (“Bogeymen”)—to terrorize the population. In 1964 Duvalier, by then firmly in control, had himself elected president for life. Haiti under Duvalier was, in effect, a police state.

During Duvalier’s time in power, Haiti experienced increasing international isolation, renewed friction with the Dominican Republic, and a marked exodus of Haitian professionals. The regime was characterized by corruption and human rights abuses, but a personality cult developed around Duvalier himself, and some sectors of society strongly supported him, including a small upwardly mobile black middle class.

Near the end of his life, Duvalier faced a contracting economy, withdrawal of most U.S. aid, and a decline in tourism; in response he relaxed some of the severe repression and terror that had characterized his early regime. Before his death in 1971, he designated his son, Jean-Claude, aged 19 and nicknamed “Baby Doc” by the foreign media, to succeed him as president for life. The regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier sought international respectability. Repression diminished, and tourism, U.S. aid, and the economy revived somewhat. Opponents, however, saw little change in the regime’s basic nature.

By the mid-1980s the ranks of the Tontons Macoutes had swelled to some 15,000 men, but they failed to silence a series of countrywide demonstrations against high unemployment, poor living conditions, and the lack of political freedom. In February 1986 Duvalier fled Haiti, with U.S. assistance, for France.

Meanwhile, two public health scares adversely affected Haiti in the 1980s. First, U.S. agricultural authorities oversaw the mass eradication of Haiti’s pig population in response to an outbreak of swine fever. The extermination caused widespread hardship among the peasant population, many of whom had bred pigs as an investment. This coincided with reports that AIDS was becoming a major problem in Haiti. As a result of these health concerns and ongoing political unrest, the country’s tourism industry virtually collapsed.

Democratic aspirations
After Duvalier’s departure, a five-member civilian-military council led by Lieutenant General Henri Namphy took charge, promising free elections and democratic reforms. The first attempt at elections, in November 1987, ended when some three dozen voters were killed. In January 1988 Leslie Manigat won elections that were widely considered fraudulent, and Namphy overthrew him in June. A few months later Lieutenant General Prosper Avril took power, but his unstable regime ended in March 1990.

On Dec. 16, 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftist Roman Catholic priest, won the presidency by a landslide in what were widely reported to be the first free elections in Haiti’s history. Legislative elections in January 1991 gave Aristide supporters a plurality in Haiti’s parliament. However, Aristide’s reformist policies alienated the wealthy elite, and, after he had been in office less than eight months, Brigadier General Raoul Cédras deposed him and began to repress political opposition. The United States and other nations imposed a trade embargo, but it was partly circumvented by smuggling through the Dominican Republic. Tens of thousands of Haitians attempted to flee their country in small boats bound for the U.S. state of Florida, but the vast majority were returned to Haiti.

In September 1994 the de facto government agreed to step down and allow some 20,000 U.S. troops to occupy the country. Aristide returned the following month, whereas Cédras and other coup leaders went into exile. Aristide dismantled the Haitian military—an act that would have been impossible without the presence of the U.S. military—and, under pressure from the United States and other nations, pressed for free-market reforms. Haiti benefited economically from a large influx of international aid and loans, but many of its farmers (the largest component of its workforce) struggled to compete with cheaper imported foodstuffs. The United States and United Nations began forming a new Haitian police force, but the bulk of U.S. forces were soon withdrawn. The Haitian police were thrust into their duties with inadequate preparation and were soon criticized for high incidences of corruption and unwarranted violence.

Elections in 1995 brought about the first peaceful transfer of power between elected presidents in Haiti’s history when René Préval, an associate of Aristide, was chosen to succeed him. Préval, faced with political infighting among the groups that had supported Aristide, dissolved the parliament in 1999. The following year, in allegedly fraudulent elections, Préval’s supporters took control of the legislature, and Aristide again claimed the presidency.

Murdo J. MacLeod
James A. Ferguson

Haiti in the 21st century
Aristide faced serious economic and political problems on his return to power in 2001. International aid sanctions, imposed after the 2000 elections, helped fuel a downward economic spiral that further impoverished an already desperate population. Instances of disease (including HIV/AIDS) rose sharply, as did levels of lawlessness and violence. Open opposition to Aristide’s rule broke out in 2003. The bicentennial observance of Haiti’s independence, on Jan. 1, 2004, was muted and was marked by street demonstrations; by late February Aristide had fled the country in the face of a rebel insurgency and the loss of U.S. and French support. Aristide’s departure left a polarized country, and conflicts between his supporters and his rivals escalated, leading to hundreds of deaths and international accusations of human rights abuses. Concurrently, U.S.-led armed forces under the authority of the United Nations Security Council were sent to Port-au-Prince to stabilize the situation and to oversee the installation of an interim government. (UN peacekeeping forces remained in Haiti through October 2008.) Assistance from abroad slowed, and Haiti’s main source of income came from remittances from Haitians overseas.

The interim government planned to hold presidential elections by the end of 2005 and had registered about three-fourths of eligible voters. But crime, kidnappings, and gang activity delayed the election process. On Feb. 7, 2006, 63 percent of Haitian voters went to the polls, and Préval claimed the presidency, earning 51 percent of the vote with the overwhelming support of Haiti’s poor. A sense of optimism prevailed throughout that year, but increasing food and fuel prices during his term led to protests. Moreover, government instability—the parliament rejected Préval’s nominations for prime minister several times—impeded social progress.

Two massive hurricanes and other tropical storms ravaged the country from August to September 2008, killing about 800 Haitians and displacing hundreds of thousands. Flooding destroyed crops, and the country had to rely on international relief efforts. Months later, Haiti continued to struggle to rebuild itself.




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