Located a mere 400 miles off the coast of Florida, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 8.5 million people eke out existence on just one-third of the island called Hispaniola. Once considered a jewel of the Caribbean, Haiti has suffered centuries of debilitating political upheaval and social chaos. Since the reinstatement of democracy in 1995, the Haitian government has been struggling to provide basic services to the Haitian people and, generally speaking, have failed due to the instability and mounting foreign debt. The lack of education and training in trades and business skills has resulted in the chronic cycle of despair. The country is desperate for skilled leaders to rise up and rectify the ramifications of extreme poverty.
Though the country's statistics have improved in recent years, the situation is still dismal:
- 80% live in poverty, 60% of the population lives on less than $2 US a day
- 90% of the population is un-employed, more than 2/3 of the labor force are unskilled and do not have formal jobs
- 4 million are malnourished
- Chronic malnutrition kills 1 in 5 children under the age of five.
- 62 years of age life expectancy
- 55% of the adult population is illiterate
- 50% of all children do not attend school, of those that do, 5% finish
- 80% Catholic, 16% Protestant, half the population practices voodoo
- One out of every ten children is a restavek. Restavek is a Creole term that means "to stay with" but this is, in reality, a child slave.
For more detailed statistical information on Haiti, visit CIA- The World Factbook.
The native Taino Amerindians - who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by COLUMBUS in 1492 - were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L'OUVERTURE. After a prolonged struggle, Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence in 1804. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006. A massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010 with an epicenter about 15 km southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. An estimated 2 million people lived within the zone of heavy to moderate structural damage. The earthquake was assessed as the worst in this region over the last 200 years and massive international assistance will be required to help the country recover.
Haiti is a free market economy that enjoys the advantages of low labor costs and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports. Poverty, corruption, and poor access to education for much of the population are among Haiti's most serious disadvantages. Haiti's economy suffered a severe setback in January 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of its capital city, Port-au-Prince, and neighboring areas. Already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, the earthquake inflicted $7.8 billion in damage and caused the country's GDP to contract 5.4% in 2010. Following the earthquake, Haiti received $4.59 billion in internatioonal pledges for reconstruction, which has proceeded slowly. Two-fifths of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation. US economic engagement under the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act, passed in December 2006, has boosted apparel exports and investment by providing duty-free access to the US. Congress voted in 2010 to extend the legislation until 2020 under the Haitian Economic Lift Program Act (HELP); the apparel sector accounts for about 90% of Haitian exports and nearly one-tenth of GDP. Remittances are the primary source of foreign exchange, equaling nearly 20% of GDP and more than twice the earnings from exports. Haiti suffers from a lack of investment, partly because of limited infrastructure and a lack of security. In 2005, Haiti paid its arrears to the World Bank, paving the way for reengagement with the Bank. Haiti received debt forgiveness for over $1 billion through the Highly-Indebted Poor Country initiative in mid-2009. The remainder of its outstanding external debt was cancelled by donor countries following the 2010 earthquake but has since risen to over $600 million. The government relies on formal international economic assistance for fiscal sustainability, with over half of its annual budget coming from outside sources. The MARTELLY administration in 2011 launched a campaign aimed at drawing foreign investment into Haiti as a means for sustainable development.
Here are some links you can visit to find out more about Haiti.
Up to date statistics of Haiti on the official CIA website.
A great resource for learning Haitian Creole
Pockets of Change is about stories, lives, people and culture of Haiti, as well as other nations around the world. Haiti ARISE is featured on this site with some great pictures.
This site offers history, statistics and lots of other links to find out more information on the country of Haiti.