Haiti, officially the Republic of Haiti (French: République d’Haïti; Haitian Creole: Repiblik Ayiti), is a sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere (North America). The country is located on the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. It occupies the western three-eighths of the island, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti is the most populous country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with an area of 27,750 square kilometres (10,714 square miles) and a population of approximately 10.6 million people, and the second most populous country in the Caribbean as a whole.
Originally, the region was inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people. Spain discovered the island for the Europeans on 5 December 1492, during Christopher Columbus’ first voyage across the Atlantic. When Columbus first landed in Haiti, he thought he had found India or Asia. On Christmas Day 1492, Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground north of what is now Lemonade. Columbus ordered his men to salvage what they could from the ship and founded the first European colony in the Americas, which he named La Navidad, after the day the ship was wrecked.
The island was called La Española and claimed by Spain, which ruled it until the early 17th century. Competing claims and colonisation by the French led to the cession of the western part of the island to France, which gave it the name Santo Domingo. The development of sugar cane plantations, worked by slaves brought from Africa, made the colony one of the most lucrative in the world.
In the midst of the French Revolution (1789-1799), slaves and free people of colour revolted in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), which led to the abolition of slavery and the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army at the Battle of Vertières. As a result, 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 major European powers (Britain, France and Spain), and the only nation in the world founded as a result of a successful slave rebellion. The rebellion, which began in 1791, was led by a former slave and the first black general in the French army, Toussaint Louverture, whose military genius and political acumen transformed an entire slave society into an independent country. When he died in a French prison, he was succeeded by his lieutenant Jean-Jacques Dessalines. He declared the sovereignty of Haiti and later became the first Emperor of Haiti, Jacques I. The Haitian Revolution lasted almost ten years and, except for Alexandre Pétion, the first President of the Republic, all the first heads of government were former slaves. Citadelle Laferrière is the largest fortress in the Americas. Henri Christophe – a former slave and the first king of Haiti, Henri I – built it to resist a possible foreign attack.
In addition to CARICOM, Haiti is a member of the Latin American Union, the Organisation of American States and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States; it also seeks associate membership of the African Union and was a founding member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie. It has the lowest Human Development Index in the Americas. More recently, in February 2004, a coup from the north of the country forced the resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. An interim government took control of the country, with security provided by the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Michel Martelly, the previous president, was elected in the 2011 general elections.
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.