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% of the population lives below the poverty line
- 40% 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.
- 52.9% of the adult population is illiterate
- 62 years of age life expectancy
- 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.