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Written by Staff Writer

Country Overview:
The native Taino Amerindians – who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when COLUMBUS arrived in 1492 – were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola, and 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 against the most powerful countries in the world, Haiti became the first black republic to declare its independence in 1804. France, Spain and the US imposed embargoes, trade boycotts and other neocolonial policies on the small island and helped to make it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. A US backed armed rebellion led to the kidnapping of the democratically elected (garnering over 90% of the vote) President Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE in February 2004 by US forces, 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.

Caribbean, western one-third of the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, west of the Dominican Republic

Geographic coordinates:
19 00 N, 72 25 W

Total: 27,750 sq km, land: 27,560 sq km, water: 190 sq km

Area – Comparative:
Slightly smaller than Maryland

Land boundaries:
Total: 360 km, border countries: Dominican Republic 360 km

1,771 km

Tropical; semiarid where mountains in east cut off trade winds

Mostly rough and mountainous

Elevation extremes:
Lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m

Highest Point:
Highest point: Chaine de la Selle 2,680 m

Natural Resources:
Bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, hydropower




Ethnic groups:
Black 95%, mulatto and white 5%

Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%), none 1%, other 3% note: roughly half of the population practices voodoo

French (official), Creole (official)

Country Name:

Government Type:

Capital Name:

1 January 1804 (from France)

National Holiday:
Independence Day, 1 January (1804)

approved March 1987; suspended June 1988 with most articles reinstated March 1989; constitutional government ousted in a military coup in September 1991, although in October 1991, military government claimed to be observing the constitution; returned to constitutional rule in October 1994; constitution, while technically in force between 2004-2006, was not enforced; returned to constitutional rule in May 2006

Legal System:
Based on Roman civil law system; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Executive Branch:
Chief of state: President Rene PREVAL (since 14 May 2006)

Head of Government:
Prime Minister Michele PIERRE-LOUIS (since 5 September 2008)

Cabinet chosen by the prime minister in consultation with the president

President elected by popular vote for a five-year term (may not serve consecutive terms); election last held 7 February 2006 (next to be held in 2011); prime minister appointed by the president, ratified by the National Assembly election results: Rene PREVAL elected president; percent of vote – Rene PREVAL 51%

About the author

Staff Writer