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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 3, 2003, 08:24
Haiti is a country situated on the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, east of Cuba. A former French colony, it was one of the first countries of the Americas, after the United States, to declare its independence. It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
The Hispaniola's indigenous Arawak (or Taíno) population suffered near-extinction in the decades after Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492. The island was eventually repopulated by the late 17th century with African slaves to work the sugar plantations.
In 1697 Spain ceded the western third of the Hispaniola - which was then called Saint-Domingue - to France. It became one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire. On August 22, 1791, the slave population revolted, which led to a war of attrition against the French. They defeated an army sent by Napoléon Bonaparte and declared independence on January 1, 1804.
Haiti then established the world's first Black republic, making a commitment to end all slavery everywhere along with helping Venezuela, Peru and Colombia to achieve independence under such revolutionary leaders as Bolívar and Miranda. Toussaint L'Ouverture abolished slavery in the neighboring Dominican republic. Threatened by this attack on slavery and colonialism, the United States and Western Europe instated sanctions against Haiti. In addition to this economic blow, in 1852 France demanded "reparations" to former slaveholders, amounting to 90 million gold francs (equivalent to $21.7 billion today). Haiti continued to make payments to France until the 1950s.
Haiti has since become the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has been plagued by political violence and corrupt dictators for most of its history. In 1957, François Duvalier, "Papa Doc", ruled the nation, becoming dictator in 1964. He was known for his army of sunglasses-clad volunteers, the Tonton Macoute. He was followed by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, "Baby Doc", at the age of 19, in 1971. "Baby Doc" was deposed in 1986.
Over three decades of dictatorship followed by military rule ended in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. Most of his term was usurped by a military coup d'etat, but he was able to return to office in 1994 and oversee the installation of a close associate to the presidency in 1996.
In 2000, Aristide was elected president in a process some claim was rigged, though there has been some confusion between the scandal within the senate election (where the senators in question resigned) and the election of Aristide. Resentment over this and widespread corruption boiled over on February 5, 2004, 200 years after the Haitian Revolution, when an armed rebel group calling itself the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front took control of the Gonaïves police station. This rebellion then spread throughout the central Artibonite province by February 17 and was joined by opponents of the government who had been in exile in the Dominican Republic.
On February 29, 2004, President Aristide left Haiti. He alleges he was kidnapped from Haiti by a group of Haitians and unidentified Americans; the US alleges that he requested rescue. The State department of the United States subsequently provided a chartered plane to the Central African Republic, where Aristide left with his own bodyguards and entourage. Pursuant to Haiti's constitution, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, took over as interim president.
Haiti is a presidential republic with an elected president and National Assembly. However, some claim it to be an authoritarian government in practice. On 29 February 2004, a rebellion culminated in the defacto resignation of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and it is unknown if the current political structure will remain.
The constitution was introduced in 1987 and is modeled on those of the United States and France. Having been either completely or partially suspended for some years, it was fully reinstated in 1994.
Haiti is divided into nine departments:
Haiti's terrain consists mainly of rugged mountains with small coastal plains and river valleys. The east and central part is a large elevated plateau.
The biggest city is the capital Port-au-Prince with 2 million inhabitants, followed by Cap-Haïtien with 600,000.
About 80% of the population lives in abject poverty, making it the second poorest country in the world. Nearly 70% of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming and employs about two-thirds of the economically active work force. The country has experienced little job creation since President René Préval took office in February 1996, although the informal economy is growing. Failure to reach agreements with international sponsors have denied Haiti badly needed budget and development assistance.
Although Haiti averages about 270 people per square kilometer, its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of African descent. The rest of the population is mostly of mixed Caucasian-African ancestry. A few are of European or Levantine heritage. About two thirds of the population live in rural areas.
French is one of two official languages, but it is spoken by only about 10% of the people. All Haitians speak Krèyol, the country's other official language. English is increasingly spoken among the young and in the business sector.
Roman Catholicism is the state religion, which the majority professes. Some have converted to Protestantism. Many Haitians also practice voodoo traditions, seeing no conflict with their Christian faith.
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