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Haiti, independent republic of the West Indies, occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola. Haiti is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by the Dominican Republic, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Windward Passage, which separates it from Cuba. Its area is 10,714 sq mi. Port-au-Prince is Haiti's capital and largest city.
Land and Resources
Haiti consists of two peninsulas, which are separated by the Golfe de la Gonâve.
Much of Haiti's land is mountainous. In all, five mountain ranges cross the country.
The Chaîne du Haut Piton, which runs along the northern peninsula, reaches a height of 1183 m (3881 ft). The Massif de la Selle, which begins just southeast of Port-au-Prince, reaches a height of 2674 m (8773 ft) at Pic la Selle, the highest point in Haiti. The Massif de la Hotte reaches a height of 2347 m (7700 ft) at the extreme western end of the southern peninsula.
The other chains, which include the Massif des Montagnes Noires and Chaîne des Cahos, and the solitary peak of Montagne Terrible, range between 1128 and 1580 m (3701 and 5184 ft) high. The Golfe de la Gonâve contains the largest of Haiti's offshore islands, the island of Gonâve. The other islands include Île de la Tortue (Tortuga) and Cayemite. Haiti's shoreline is irregular and there are many natural harbors. The numerous rivers-most of which are short, swift, and unnavigable-have their sources in the mountains. Only the Artibonite River, the country's largest, is navigable for any length. Haiti's inland areas include three productive agricultural regions, the Plaine du Nord, and two valleys, the Artibonite River Valley and the Cul-de-Sac. Saumâtre Lake, a saltwater lake in the Cul-de-Sac, is the nation's largest lake, while Péligre Lake, formed by a dam on the upper Artibonite River, is the largest freshwater lake.
Haiti has a tropical climate. The distribution of mountains and lowlands affects temperature and rainfall, causing significant climate variations from place to place. Rainfall varies from a high of 3600 mm (144 in) on the western tip of the southern peninsula, to 600 mm (24 in) on the southwest coast of the northern peninsula. Most of the rain in the southwest falls in early and late summmer. Port-au-Prince, located at sea level, has a yearly average temperature of 27° C (80° F). In Kenscoff, located just south of Port-au-Prince at an elevation of 1432 m (4700 ft), temperatures average 16° C (60° F). The mountains surrounding the cul-de-sac trap air in the valley, making the air hot, dry, and stagnant. Vulnerable to hurricanes, Haiti has been struck by destructive storms in 1963, 1980, 1988, and 1994.
Plants and Animals
Clearing forests for farms and wood for charcoal has stripped Haiti of most of its valuable native trees. Only some pine forests at high elevations and mangroves in inaccessible swamps remain. Semidesert scrub covers the ground in drier zones. Environmental deterioration has had a severe impact on Haiti's plants, animals, soil, and water resources. Tropical reefs surrounding the country are threatened by the large quantities of silt washed down from the eroding mountainsides. Coffee and cacao trees spread across the mountains in scattered clumps, while sugarcane, sisal, cotton, and rice cover most of the good farmland. Most of Haiti's native animals were hunted to extinction long ago. Caiman and flamingo are the most common wildlife seen today. Haiti's large population and the degree of deforestation already present seem to preclude the reestablishment of wildlife, although the climate would be hospitable to any tropical plants or animals.
Only 20 percent of Haiti is considered arable, due to years of poor farming techniques. Bauxite was Haiti's most valuable mineral but extraction has ceased to be profitable in recent years. Small quantities of copper, salt, and gold exist but are not considered commercially viable.
About 95 percent of Haitians are of African origin. The remaining 5 percent are mulatto and other races. The mulatto population makes up about half of the country's elite. French and Creole, which uses both French colonial and West African phrases and words, are the official languages, the latter attaining that status in 1987. The poorer class (about 90 percent of the population) speak Creole, while the elite speak modern French. About 80 percent of Haiti's people are nominal Roman Catholics, many of them combining an African animism called voodoo into their religious beliefs and ceremonies. Other religious groups include Baptists (about 10 percent), Pentecostals (4 percent), and Adventists (about 1 percent). The Protestant faiths do not allow voodoo practices.
The population of Haiti (1995 estimate) is about 7,180,000, giving the country an overall population density of about 670 per sq mi.
In arable areas, however, there are about 3035 per sq mi.
About 79 percent of the population is classified as rural.
Political Divisions and Principal Cities
Haiti is divided into nine departments, each of which is subdivided into the more politically important arrondissements and communes. Port-au-Prince (population, 1994 estimate, 743,000) is the only modern city and the country's capital and principal port. Other cities and towns include Cap-Haïtien (68,000), an export center and seaport; Les Cayes (36,000), an important coffee export center and seaport; and Gonaïves (34,000) a seaport in western Haiti.
By law, education is free and compulsory in Haiti for children between the ages of 7 and 13. In practice, access to education is sharply limited by school location, language comprehension (classes are taught in French), the cost of school clothes and supplies, and the availability of teachers.
Only about 40 percent of the 1.3 million eligible children actually attend school. About 53 percent of the population is literate. The University of Haiti (1944), located in Port-au-Prince, has colleges of medicine, law, business, agronomy, social sciences, architecture, and engineering. In the early 1990s, about 1500 students were enrolled there. Many university-level students attend foreign universities.
Way of Life
For most Haitians, daily life is a struggle for survival. An estimated 75 percent of the population lives in poverty. These people, many of whom farm small plots of poor mountain land, are often malnourished. Infant mortality is about 109 per 1000 births, life expectancy is only 45 years, and the incidence of diseases ranging from intestinal parasites to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is extremely high. Only about 41 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, and only 25 percent has access to sanitary sewer systems. A limited elite of about 10 percent, mostly professionals, enjoys a sophisticated, affluent lifestyle. This elite class has traditionally resisted all attempts to restructure the Haitian social system.
Haitian culture fuses African, French, and West Indian elements. Formerly a social divider, the Creole language is now being used in attempts to define a national culture. The language is used in literature, drama, music, dance, and some governmental functions. Haitian works of art are enjoying increasing worldwide recognition. The country has several outstanding libraries. The collection of the Brothers of Saint Louis de Gonzague (1912), the National Archives (1860), and the Bibliothèque Nationale (1940), all located in Port-au-Prince, contain rare works that date from the colonial period. Also devoted to Haitian history is the National Museum (1983), located in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti's most serious social problems stem from the disproportionate distribution of wealth. However, although Haiti is 95 percent black, there are also racial divisions between the small mulatto elite and the larger black population. Since colonial times the mulattoes have functioned as the ruling class.
Having more in common with the wealthy classes of other countries, the mulattoes identify very little with poor Haitians. Underdeveloped social, economic, and political institutions-chiefly education-mean that there are few mechanisms within the country to promote upward social mobility. Another problem preventing social cohesion is the physical isolation of rural communities. About 79 percent of Haitians have little contact with Port-au-Prince or other centers of cultural change.
Haiti's economy has been shrinking since the early 1980s while the population has continued to grow. In the mid-1990s, Haiti's per-capita gross domestic product was $370. This placed Haiti among the world's poorest nations. Agriculture employs about two-thirds of the labor force; manufacturing, services, and tourism are the next largest employers.
About 25 to 50 percent of the workforce is underemployed or unemployed.
The international sanctions employed against Haiti's military leaders from 1991 to 1994 further
weakened the already crippled economy. Government revenue in the mid-1990s was about $300 million and spending was about $416 million. Haiti's international debt is approaching $1 billion.
Most of Haiti's farmers work subsistence plots of land that produce small amounts of cash crops. Soil erosion and overworked land are major agricultural problems, while hurricanes and drought have also taken their toll.
Coffee, sugarcane, sisal, and fruit are the major commercial crops, while beans, rice, corn, and sorghum are the main food crops. Coffee is the major agricultural export. Sugarcane, cotton, sisal, coconuts, and vetiver (a grass that yields oils used in the manufacture of perfume) are raised on plantations revitalized by loans from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Chickens are the most common livestock, but some cattle and goats are also raised.
The country's pig population was decimated when African swine fever swept through Haiti
in the early 1980s.
Forestry, Fishing, and Mining
Severe deforestation has limited the value of forest products to Haiti's economy. Some pine logs are harvested from mountaintops, and mahogany, oak, cedar, and mangrove supply a small amount of forest products. A lack of modern equipment hinders the fishing industry.
Catches of reef fish and crustaceans are only sufficient to supply local markets.
Mining has never been an important industry because the deposits that exist are not commercially viable. Building materials, such as limestone and clay, and salt and copper are among the few products mined in Haiti.
Most of Haiti's manufacturing base is foreign owned and includes electronics assembly, baseball stitching, and the sewing of beaded clothing and accessories. Domestic manufacturing is limited to sugar refining, flour and cement mills, textiles, and food processing. The petite industrie, or handicraft industry, is an important source of income for many Haitians. Houses in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince double as shops where artisans carve wood, weave cloth, or make a variety of other handicrafts to sell to tourists. Further industrialization in Haiti has been obstructed by an uncertain electrical supply, waste disposal problems, limited transportation, a lack of capital and skilled labor, and government policies.
Haiti's energy consumption per capita is only one-third that of the world's poorest nations. Other than private generators, the Péligre hydroelectric plant on the Artibonite River is the only local source of commercial energy. In the early 1990s Haiti had a total generating capacity of 217,000 kilowatts and a total production of about 480 million kilowatt-hours, produced mostly by burning imported fossil fuels. Poor Haitians use charcoal to supply energy for home use.
Currency, Banking, and Trade
Haiti's unit of currency is the gourde, consisting of 100 centimes. The gourde's value in relation to the United States dollar has been fixed at 5 to 1 since 1934. On the black market the gourde often is worth less than half its official value. U.S. currency is recognized as legal tender.
The national Bank of Haiti is government-owned and performs commercial and central bank functions. U.S., French, and Canadian banks operate on a small scale. In the mid-1990s Haiti's major exports were light manufactured goods and coffee, and its chief imports were machinery and manufactured goods, food and beverages, and chemicals.
The United States was Haiti's primary trading partner, buying 84 percent of its exports and supplying 64 percent of its imports. In the early 1990s, exports were valued at $135 million and imports at $423 million.
Haiti is a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free-trade organization comprising 12 Caribbean nations and the members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
Haiti's road network was built by U.S. Marines during the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Of the 4000 km (2484 mi) of roads, only 950 km (488 mi) are paved. Even main roads are in poor condition, and most bridges have become unusable. The country has one international airport in Port-au-Prince and nearly a dozen smaller airstrips throughout the nation. Domestic air service is provided by a government-owned airline. The only railroad tracks are privately owned.
Most of Haiti's communications network is clustered in Port-au-Prince. International communications tend to be better than domestic. In the early 1990s there were
31,000 television sets, 50,000 telephones, and about 310,000 radios in use.
There were four daily newspapers in 1990, with an average circulation of about 45,000,
or about 7 papers per 1000 inhabitants. Most of the newspapers and broadcast stations are in Port-au-Prince, and these cater to the capital's richer inhabitants. Rural Haitians depend on personal contacts to disseminate information.
The labor force consists of 2.3 million mostly unskilled workers. Women outnumber men as factory workers. A few labor unions exist, but poverty and years of dictatorship have prevented labor groups from organizing, although they are legal. Industrial wages of $2 per day are the lowest in the Caribbean.
Since the overthrow of the dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986, Haiti has had five governments, most installed by coup d'état. Haitian constitutions have been modified to suit individual rulers throughout the nation's history. Local government has traditionally been left to appointed supporters of the regime in power and has often been characterized by violence. The 1987 constitution, currently in effect, was modeled on those of the United States and France, and is the basis of the government headed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was restored to power in 1994.
Under the 1987 constitution, executive power is vested in a president directly elected to a five-year term. The president is assisted by a 19-member cabinet that is subject to legislative approval. The prime minister is selected from the ruling party by the president and serves as head of government.
Haiti's legislature is bicameral. The larger Chamber of Deputies consists of 83 members elected to four-year terms, and the Senate has 27 members elected to six-year terms.
The highest judicial body in Haiti is the Supreme Court. There are also courts of appeal, civil courts, and local courts at the commune level.
Health and Welfare
Haiti's medical system is struggling to cope with the nation's serious health hazards. There is only one physician for every 6000 inhabitants and medical facilities are poor. Malaria, dengue, intestinal parasites, yaws, AIDS, and other infectious diseases are common. Foreign governments and several international organizations, including the UN and the OAS, provide food and medicine to Haiti, but the scope of the country's problems overwhelm these efforts. Haiti's social services are similarly limited.
Under the François Duvalier regime, two-thirds of the national budget was spent on the armed forces. In 1995 the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide took steps to eliminate the military's participation in political affairs. Aristide reduced the military from 7000 to 1500 members, removed 43 senior officers, recruited an entirely new police force and separated it from the military, and outlawed the Tontons Macoutes, a terrorist paramilitary organization.
The Arawak, the original inhabitants of the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, called the island Ayti, meaning "land of mountains." When he arrived in 1492, Christopher Columbus named the island La Isla Española (Spanish for "The Spanish Island") in honor of his Spanish sponsors.
The name later evolved into the modern name Hispaniola. After an early settlement near Cap-Haïtien was destroyed by Native Americans, the Spanish settled the eastern half of the island and left the west unsettled. French pirates operating from the island of Tortue hunted wild boar and other animals in Haiti to sell as food to passing ships. By 1697, when Spain formally ceded the western one-third of Hispaniola -the portion that later became Haiti-to France, the French had established a flourishing slave-plantation system throughout the colony. At the end of the next century, Saint Domingue (the French colonial term for Haiti) was the world's richest colony. The population at that time totaled more than 450,000 slaves, more than 25,000 free mulattoes, and about 30,000 French planters.
About 800 Haitian volunteers fought in the American Revolution (1775-1783) under the French General Marquis de Lafayette, and thereby gained some military experience. The French Revolution, which began in 1789, inspired the 1791 slave rebellion in Haiti. This rebellion was led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, Alexandre Sabès Pétion, and Jean Pierre Boyer. By 1794 forces under Toussaint L'Ouverture (today known as "the Precursor") had freed the colony's slave population and rid it of its French and British presence. By 1801 Toussaint ruled the entire colony. Although Toussaint was captured by French forces in 1802 and died a prisoner in France, the rebellion he had fostered did not die. In 1804 Dessalines declared Haiti to be the world's first black republic. Unfortunately, most of the country's plantation infrastructure had been destroyed and all the experienced administrators had been eliminated. In 1806 Dessalines was assassinated, and for some years thereafter the northern part of Haiti was held by Christophe. In the southern part of the island a republic was established by Pétion. Upon the death of Christophe in 1820, Boyer, the successor to Pétion, consolidated his power throughout the island.
In 1844 the eastern two-thirds of the island declared its independence as the Republic of Santo Domingo, now the Dominican Republic. The subsequent history of Haiti was characterized by a series of bitter struggles for political ascendancy between the blacks and the mulattoes. In 1849 a black, Faustin Élie Soulouque, proclaimed himself emperor as Faustin I, and for ten years ruled in a despotic manner. In early 1859, the mulatto Nicholas Fabre Geffrard restored republican government; he remained in office until 1867.
Occupation by the United States
In the early 20th century, the United States was worried about French and German influences in Haiti and the security of the newly opened Panama Canal. In 1915, during World War I, the United States invaded Haiti to restore order in the country. U.S. Marines secured the countryside and proceeded to build the institutions needed to govern a modern nation. The United States collected tariffs, paid foreign debts, restructured the government and military, built roads and bridges, and trained local people for leadership roles. Although some Haitians resisted the U.S. occupation, most notably in 1920, the occupation was generally peaceful. The U.S. military occupation of Haiti was terminated on August 15, 1934. U.S. reforms did not last, however, and Haiti fell prey to dictators and disorganization. In the 1930s Haiti suffered through the worldwide depression.
Continued U.S. Influence,
In 1939 President Stenio J. Vincent, first elected in 1930, took steps to remain in office beyond the expiration of his second term and to augment his semidictatorial powers. However, when he was confronted with strong local opposition and U.S. disapproval, Vincent announced that he would not seek reelection. The Haitian legislature then elected Élie Lescot, a former minister to the United States, as president.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Lescot, with unanimous approval of the legislature, joined the Allied forces in World War II by declaring war on Japan on December 8 and on Germany and Italy on December 12. Early in 1942 Haiti permitted U.S. antisubmarine aircraft to make use of the Port-au-Prince landing field. Haiti signed the charter of the United Nations on June 26, 1945, becoming one of the original members.
Growing political disturbances in Haiti led, on January 11, 1946, to the military overthrow of Lescot, who fled to Miami, Florida. On August 16 Dumarsais Estimé was elected president.
Haiti signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (also known as the Rio Treaty) in September 1947 and the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) in April 1948. During 1949 Haitian revolutionaries, with encouragement from the Dominican government, precipitated a domestic crisis and provoked Estimé to declare a state of siege on November 15. In May 1950 the Haitian president was forced to resign, and a military junta ruled the country until elections were held on October 8. Paul E. Magloire, a soldier and member of the junta, won the presidency by a large majority.
The Magloire government encouraged foreign investment to strengthen the national economy and settled differences with the Dominican Republic. In 1956, however, controversy developed over the extent of Magloire's term of office, and in December of that year he relinquished all power. Political uncertainty followed until September 1957, when François Duvalier (known as "Papa Doc"), who had been a member of the Estimé government, was elected president.
The Duvalier Regime
Fear of political rivals led Duvalier to declare several of them outlaws. At his bidding, the legislature imposed a state of siege on May 2, 1958, and on July 31 authorized him to rule by decree. In this period Duvalier organized the Tontons Macoutes, an armed force under his personal control, to intimidate opposition. He dissolved the bicameral legislature on April 8, 1961, to form a new unicameral legislature.
All the candidates for the new body elected on April 30 were Duvalier followers. On September 15 the legislature granted him extensive economic powers. U.S. aid was suspended in 1961 to demonstrate disapproval of Duvalier's policies.
On April 19, 1963, a military plot against Duvalier was uncovered and crushed. Haitian police invaded the Dominican embassy to seize government foes but withdrew when Dominican President Juan Bosch threatened to use armed force against them. The refusal of the Haitian government to permit the embassy refugees to leave the country safely led to a buildup of Dominican troops on the Haitian border. The troops withdrew on May 13, but Haitian exiles in the Dominican Republic made several unsuccessful invasions of Haiti in August in the hope of triggering a popular uprising. A severe hurricane on October 4, followed by a landslide on November 10, caused about 5500 deaths and much property damage.
A life term as president for Duvalier and a new red-and-black flag (to symbolize the link between Haiti and Africa) were authorized by a new constitution proclaimed in 1964. Rebel groups within the country remained active, despite the oppressive tyranny of Duvalier and the Tontons Macoutes. By 1967 the president had executed some 2000 political enemies and driven others into exile.
In January 1971 the legislature amended the constitution to permit Duvalier to name his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, as his successor. The 19-year-old Duvalier became president after the death of his father on April 21, 1971; the position was reaffirmed for life by a constitutional revision in 1985.
In the early and mid-1970s Jean Claude Duvalier consolidated his power. Advisers loyal to his father's regime still held important positions, and his mother exercised considerable influence. An exodus of refugees to the Bahamas and to the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s, a result of political oppression and deepening poverty, drew international attention to the Duvalier regime. As a result of rising opposition Duvalier fled Haiti in early 1986 and settled temporarily in France; a junta succeeded him.
Democratic Elections and Military Takeover
Leslie Manigat was elected president in January 1988 but was ousted by the military in June.
Lieutenant General Prosper Avril emerged from a subsequent power struggle as Haiti's president. Renewed political unrest, sparked by deteriorating economic conditions, led Avril to resign the presidency and flee in March 1990. Internationally supervised elections in December resulted in a landslide presidential victory for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest and an outspoken advocate for the poor. After the army crushed a mutiny led by former officials of the Duvalier regime, Aristide was inaugurated in February 1991. He was ousted by a military coup the following September and went into exile in the United States.
The OAS imposed sanctions on the new military regime, but negotiations for Aristide's return to office moved slowly. Of the thousands of Haitians who attempted to flee to the United States, more than half were sent back to Haiti by the U.S. Coast Guard. The UN imposed sanctions in June 1993, then suspended them in August after the Haitian military and Aristide agreed on a plan for his reinstatement as head of a democratic government by October 30. The military government, led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras, refused to step down and the UN reimposed sanctions in mid-October. In December, Aristide's prime minister and chief negotiator in Haiti, Robert Malval, resigned. Gasoline and oil shortages caused by UN sanctions left relief organizations unable to deliver food and medical supplies, although fuel was being successfully smuggled into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. In May 1994 the UN imposed broader sanctions, including a ban on international air travel, against Haiti's military rulers. The new sanctions, aimed at forcing them to step down and allow Aristide to return to power, permitted only food and medicine to be shipped into Haiti. In response to economic conditions worsened by sanctions and continued repression by the military, the number of Haitians fleeing the country and seeking political asylum in the United States greatly increased. An additional 20,000 refugees attempted to reach the United States in 1994. The UN passed a resolution that authorized member states to use all necessary means to facilitate the return of Aristide.
On September 16, 1994, the United States dispatched former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell for talks with Haiti's military leadership. Facing the threat of a U.S. invasion, the Cédras regime agreed to turn over power to President Aristide. Under the agreement General Cédras, General Philippe Biamby, and Chief of Police Lieutenant Colonel Michel François would retire and their positions would be filled with rightfully appointed individuals.
In return the U.S. negotiators guaranteed that the embargo on Haiti would be lifted.
On September 19, a force of 20,000 U.S. troops arrived in Haiti to oversee the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The troops helped ensure a secure environment throughout the country by seizing weapons and arresting former members of the police paramilitary. Generals Cédras and Biamby were offered exile in Panama and they departed the country in October; François left for the Dominican Republic.
On September 29 the UN embargo was lifted and on October 15, President Aristide returned to Haiti. In November he named his former commerce minister, Smarck Michel, as the new prime minister. In November Aristide announced he had given up the priesthood. President Aristide's return raised the hopes of many Haitians for peace, reconciliation, and economic revival.
Haiti's economy, never very strong to begin with, was weakened to the point of collapse by the military takeover and subsequent international embargo. Much of Haiti's infrastructure-including port facilities, bridges, and roadways-also deteriorated. Large amounts of international aid have been earmarked for the improvement and stabilization of Haiti. Part of the stabilization process includes the disbanding, retraining, and redeployment of the nation's police and military. In early 1995 U.S. forces left Haiti and the UN Mission in Haiti took over.
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