Haiti, formally the Republic of Haiti (French: République d’Hati; Haitian Creole: Repiblik Ayiti), is a Western Hemisphere sovereign state (North America). The nation is situated on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago. It controls three-eighths of the island’s western third, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti has an area of 27,750 square kilometers (10,714 square miles) and is home to an estimated 10.6 million people, making it the most populated nation in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the second most populous in the Caribbean as a whole.
Originally, the area was inhabited by the indigenous Tano people. Spain discovered the island for Europeans on 5 December 1492, during Christopher Columbus’s first transatlantic trip. When Columbus first arrived in Haiti, he believed he had discovered India or Asia. Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, went aground north of what is now Limonade on Christmas Day 1492. As a result, Columbus sent his men to salvage everything they could from the ship and established the first European colony in the Americas, which he named La Navidad in honor of the day the ship was wrecked.
Spain, which governed until the early 17th century, called the island La Espaola and claimed it. The French surrendered the western part of the island to France, which renamed it Saint-Domingue, as a result of competing claims and settlements. The growth of sugarcane plantations, which were labored on by African slaves, resulted in the colony being one of the most prosperous in the world.
Slaves and free people of color revolutionized Haiti during the French Revolution (1789–1799), ending in the abolition of slavery and the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army at the Battle of Vertières. Following that, on 1 January 1804, the sovereign nation of Haiti was established – the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, the only nation in the western hemisphere to defeat three European superpowers (Britain, France, and Spain), and the only nation in the world to be founded as a result of a successful slave revolt. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave and the first black commander in the French Army, led the revolt that started in 1791, transforming a whole society of slaves into an independent nation via his military brilliance and political savvy. After his death in a French jail, his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, proclaimed Haiti’s sovereignty and eventually became the country’s first Emperor, Jacques I. The Haitian Revolution lasted almost a decade, and all of the country’s initial leaders were former slaves, with the exception of Alexandre Pétion, the Republic’s first President. The Citadelle Laferrière is the world’s biggest fortification. Henri Christophe – a former slave who became Haiti’s first monarch, Henri I – constructed it to resist a potential foreign invasion.
Haiti is also a member of the Latin Union, the Organization of American States, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States; it is also pursuing associate membership in the African Union and was a founding member of the International Francophonie Organisation. It has the Americas’ lowest Human Development Index. Most recently, in February 2004, a coup d’état originating in the country’s north forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation and exile. A temporary government seized power, with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti providing security (MINUSTAH). The former president, Michel Martelly, was elected in the 2011 general election.
In 2014, the country hosted 1,250,000 tourists (mainly cruise ships) and the industry generated US$200 million in 2014. In December 2014, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the country, pointing out that while thousands of US citizens travel safely to Haiti each year, some foreign tourists have been victims of burglaries, especially in the Port-au-Prince area.
Several hotels opened in 2014, including an upscale Best Western Premier, a five-star Royal Oasis by Occidental Hotel and Resorts in Pétionville, a four-star Marriott hotel in the Turgeau district of Port-au-Prince, and other new hotel projects in Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien and Jacmel. Other tourist destinations are Île-à-Vache, Camp-Perrin, Pic Macaya.
The Haitian Carnival is one of the most popular in the Caribbean. In 2010, the government decided to hold the event in a city other than Port-au-Prince each year in an attempt to decentralise the country. The national carnival, which is usually held in one of the country’s largest cities (Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien or Les Cayes), follows the very popular carnival in Jacmel, which takes place a week earlier, in February or March.
Haiti is located on the western part of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Greater Antilles. Haiti is the third largest country in the Caribbean, behind Cuba and the Dominican Republic (the latter shares a 360 km border with Haiti). At its narrowest point, Haiti is about 45 nautical miles (83 km) from Cuba and consists of a horseshoe-shaped peninsula. For this reason, its coastline is disproportionately long, ranking second in the Greater Antilles at 1,771 km. Cuba has the longest.
Haiti’s terrain consists mainly of rugged mountains interspersed with small coastal plains and river valleys. The climate is tropical, with some variations depending on altitude. Haiti is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean and its highest point is Pic la Selle at 2,680 metres.
The northern region consists of the Massif du Nord and the Plaine du Nord. The Massif du Nord is an extension of the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. It begins at the eastern border of Haiti, north of the Guayamouc River, and extends northwest across the northern peninsula. The lowlands of the Northern Plains lie along the northern border of the Dominican Republic, between the Northern Massif and the North Atlantic Ocean.
The central region consists of two plateaus and two mountain ranges. The central plateau extends on both sides of the Guayamouc River, south of the northern massif. It runs from the southeast to the northwest. To the southwest of the Central Plateau are the Black Mountains, whose northwesternmost part merges with the Northern Massif. Its westernmost point is known as Cap Carcasse.
The southern region includes the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac (the southeast) and the southern mountainous peninsula (also known as the Tiburon Peninsula). The Plaine du Cul-de-Sac is a natural depression that contains the country’s salt lakes, such as Trou Caïman and Haiti’s largest lake, Étang Saumatre. The Selle range – an extension of the southern mountain range of the Dominican Republic (the Sierra de Baoruco) – stretches from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. In this mountain range is the Pic la Selle, which is Haiti’s highest point at 2,680 metres.
The most important valley in Haiti in terms of agriculture is the Artibonite plain, which is oriented south of the Black Mountains. This region is home to the longest river in the country (and in Hispaniola), the Rivière de l’Artibonite, which rises in the western region of the Dominican Republic and flows through central Haiti into the Gulf of La Gonâve. The eastern and central region of the island is a vast plateau.
Haiti also includes several offshore islands. The island of Tortuga (Île de la Tortue) lies off the coast of northern Haiti. The district of La Gonâve is located on the island of the same name in the Gulf of Gonâve. La Gonâve island is moderately populated by rural villagers. Ile à Vache, a lush island with many beautiful sights, is located off the southwestern tip of Haiti. Cayemites and the island of Anacaona are also part of Haiti. Navasse, located 40 nautical miles (46 mi; 74 km) west of Jeremie on Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, is the subject of a territorial dispute with the United States.
Haiti’s population was about 10.1 million in 2011, according to UN estimates, with half of the population under 20 years old. In 1950, the first official census showed a total population of 3.1 million. Haiti has an average of 350 people per square kilometre, with the population concentrated in urban areas, the coastal plains and the valleys.
Most modern Haitians are descendants of former African slaves, including mulattos of multiracial origin. Others are of European origin and Arab Haitians, the descendants of settlers (colonial remnants and contemporary immigration during World War I and World War II). The number of Haitians of East Asian or Indian origin is about 400+.
Millions of Haitians live abroad in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada (mainly Montreal), the Bahamas, France, the French West Indies, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil and French Guiana. There are an estimated 881,500 Haitians in the United States, 800,000 in the Dominican Republic, 300,000 in Cuba, 100,000 in Canada, 80,000 in France and up to 80,000 in the Bahamas, but there are also small Haitian communities in many other countries, including Chile, Switzerland, Japan and Australia.
In 2015, life expectancy at birth was 63 years.
According to the 2015 CIA Factbook, about 80% of Haitians identify themselves as Catholic, while Protestants make up about 16% of the population (Baptists 10%, Pentecostals 4%, Adventists 1%, others 1%). Other sources estimate that the Protestant population is larger and could account for a third of the population in 2001. Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langloisis is President of the National Conference of Bishops of the Catholic Church.
Vodou, a religion with African roots similar to those of Cuba and Brazil, originated in colonial times when slaves were forced to disguise their loa or spirits as Roman Catholic saints, part of a process called syncretism, and is still practised by some Haitians today. Given the religious syncretism between Catholicism and Vodou, it is difficult to estimate the number of Vodouists in Haiti.
Minority religions in Haiti include Islam, the Baha’i faith, Judaism and Buddhism.
Haiti’s GDP in purchasing power parity decreased by 8% in 2010 (from US$12.15 billion to US$11.18 billion) and GDP per capita remained unchanged at US$1,200 in PPP. Despite a functioning tourism industry, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest in the Americas. Poverty, corruption, poor infrastructure, lack of health care and education are the main causes. The economy has declined due to the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic. The 2010 United Nations Human Development Index ranks Haiti 145th out of 182 countries, with 57.3% of the population failing to meet at least three of the poverty characteristics of the HDI.
Following the disputed 2000 elections and allegations against President Aristide’s regime, US aid to the Haitian government was suspended between 2001 and 2004. After Aristide’s departure in 2004, aid was resumed and the Brazilian military led a peacekeeping operation for the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. After almost four years of recession, the economy grew by 1.5% in 2005. In September 2009, Haiti met the conditions of the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries programme to cancel its external debt.
More than 90% of the government’s budget comes from an agreement with Petrocaribe, a Venezuela-led oil alliance.
Foreign aid is essential for Haiti. From 1990 to 2003, Haiti received more than $4 billion in aid, including $1.5 billion from the United States.
The largest donor is the United States, followed by Canada and the European Union. In January 2010, after the earthquake, US President Barack Obama pledged 1.15 billion US dollars in aid. European Union countries have pledged more than 400 million euros (616 million US dollars).
The neighbouring Dominican Republic has also provided significant humanitarian assistance to Haiti, including funding and building a public university, providing human capital, free health services in the border region and logistical support after the 2010 earthquake.
According to the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, as of March 2012, only 1% of humanitarian funds pledged or disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors in 2010 and 2011 had been disbursed to the Haitian government.
According to the CIA World Factbook 2013, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti caused an estimated US$7.8 billion in damage and a decline in the country’s GDP.
The UN says a total of $13.34 billion has been allocated for the crisis through 2020, although two years after the 2010 earthquake, less than half of that has actually been released, UN documents show. In 2015, the US government provided $4 billion; $3 billion has already been spent, with the rest going to longer-term projects.
Former US President Bill Clinton’s foundation has contributed $250,000 to a recycling initiative for a sister programme of “Ranmase Lajan” or “Pick Up Money”, which uses reverse vending machines.