History

The Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola (of which Haiti is the western part and the Dominican Republic the eastern) as a launching point from which to explore the rest of the Western Hemisphere. French buccaneers later used the western third of the island as a point from which to harass English and Spanish ships. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Saint Domingue, as the French portion of the island was known, the "pearl of the Antilles"--one of the richest colonies in the 18th century French empire.

 

During this period, African slaves were brought to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations. In 1791, the slave population revolted--led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe--and gained control of the northern part of the French colony, waging a war of attrition against the French.

 

By January 1804, local forces defeated an army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, established independence from France, and renamed the area Haiti. The impending defeat of the French in Haiti is widely credited with contributing to Napoleon's decision to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries, the independent nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere's first regional meeting of independent nations, in Panama in 1826, and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.

 

Two separate regimes--north and south--emerged after independence but were unified in 1820. Two years later, Haiti occupied Santo Domingo, the eastern, Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola. In 1844, however, Santo Domingo broke away from Haiti and became the Dominican Republic. With 22 changes of government from 1843 to 1915, Haiti experienced numerous periods of intense political and economic disorder, prompting the United States military intervention of 1915. Following a 19-year occupation, U.S. military forces were withdrawn in 1934, and Haiti regained sovereign rule.

 

From February 7, 1986--when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended--until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In March 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected, bicameral parliament; an elected president that serves as head of state; and a prime minister, cabinet, ministers, and supreme court appointed by the president with parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provides for political decentralization through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.

 

In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by army elements and supported by many of the country's economic elite. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. From October 1991 to September 1994 a de facto military regime governed Haiti. Several thousand Haitians may have been killed during the de facto military rule. Various OAS and UN initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government failed. On July 31, 1994, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 940, which authorized member states to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure of Haiti's military leadership and to restore Haiti's constitutionally elected government to power.

 

The United States took the lead in forming a multinational force (MNF) to carry out the UN's mandate by means of a military intervention. In mid-September, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force, Gen. Raoul Cedras and other top leaders agreed to accept the intervention of the MNF. On September 19, 1994, the first contingents of what became a 21,000-member international force touched down in Haiti to oversee the end of military rule and the restoration of the constitutional government. President Aristide and other elected officials in exile returned on October 15.

 

Nationwide local and parliamentary elections in June 1995 returned a pro-Aristide, multi-party coalition called the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL) to power at all levels. In accordance with the constitutional bar on succeeding himself, President Aristide agreed to step aside and support a presidential election in December 1995. Rene Preval, a prominent Aristide political ally, took 88% of the vote, and was sworn in to a 5-year term on February 7, 1996, during what was Haiti's first-ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.

 

In late 1996, former President Aristide broke from the OPL and created a new political party, the Lavalas Family (FL). The OPL, holding the majority of the Parliament, renamed itself the Struggling People's Organization. Initial results of elections in April 1997 for the renewal of one-third of the Senate and creation of commune-level assemblies and town delegations showed victories for FL candidates in most races. However, the elections, which drew only about 5% of registered voters, were plagued with allegations of fraud and not certified by most international observers as free and fair.

 

The government was unable to organize local and parliamentary elections due in late 1998. In early January 1999, President Preval dismissed legislators whose terms had expired--the entire Chamber of Deputies and all but nine members of the Senate--and converted local elected officials into state employees. The President and Prime Minister then ruled by decree, establishing a cabinet composed almost entirely of FL partisans. First round elections for local councils--ASEC and CASEC, municipal governments, town delegates, the Chamber of Deputies, and two-thirds of the Senate took place on May 21, 2000. The election drew the participation of a multitude of candidates from a wide array of political parties and a voter turnout of more than 60%. Manipulated vote counting by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) prevented run-off elections for eight Senate seats and gave the FL a virtual sweep in the first round. Although the flawed vote count undercut the credibility of the election, Haiti's new Parliament, including the contested Senators, was convened on August 28, 2000.

 

After this flawed election, Haiti's main bilateral donors re-channeled their assistance away from the government and announced they would not support or send observers to the November elections. Most opposition parties regrouped in an alliance that became the Democratic Convergence. Elections for President and nine Senators took place on November 26, 2000. All major opposition parties boycotted these elections, in which voter participation was estimated at 5%. Jean-Bertrand Aristide emerged as the easy victor of these controversial elections, and the candidates of his FL party swept all contested Senate seats. On February 7, 2001, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was inaugurated as President.

 

The political stalemate continued, and violence ensued. On July 28, 2001, unknown gunmen attacked police facilities in Port-au-Prince and the provinces. A subsequent government crackdown on opposition party members and former soldiers further increased tensions between Lavalas and Convergence. On December 17, 2001, unidentified gunmen attacked the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. Following the assault, pro-government groups attacked the offices and homes of several opposition leaders. One opposition member was killed. Negotiations between FL and Democratic Convergence were suspended indefinitely.

 

In January 2002, the OAS Permanent Council adopted Resolution 806 on Haiti that called for government action to address the political stalemate, growing violence, and deterioration in respect for human rights. It also authorized OAS establishment of a Special Mission in Haiti to support implementation of steps called for in Resolution 806. The OAS Special Mission worked with the government on plans to strengthen Haiti's democratic institutions in security, justice, human rights, and governance.

 

Security continued to deteriorate. Protest strikes and attacks on opposition demonstrations by government-supported gangs hardened attitudes on both sides. The opposition issued a public call for Aristide's removal and announced plans for a transitional government. In March 2003, a high-level joint delegation of the OAS and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) presented demands to President Aristide to restore public security; select new leadership for the Haitian National Police; arrest a notorious gang leader; and disarm the security forces used by government politicians to intimidate opponents.

 

Events spiraled downward: government-paid thugs violently disrupted a civil society public ceremony July 12 in Cite Soleil; police attacked civil society marches in Cap Haitien August 30 and September 14 and prevented an opposition march scheduled for October 5. Political instability grew throughout fall 2003. In Gonaives, hitherto pro-Aristide gang members led a violent rebellion against government authorities in the city. Government-sponsored repression of opposition protests reached a nadir when on December 5 pro-government gangs entered Haiti's state university campus and broke the legs of the Rector.

 

Following a meeting with Aristide at the Summit of the Americas in January 2004, Caribbean Community leaders proposed a plan to resolve the political crisis that President Aristide stated he accepted . A high-level international delegation came to Haiti February 21 to obtain agreement on a specific implementation timetable. President Aristide agreed, but the opposition "Democratic Platform" group of political parties and civil society expressed reservations. Meanwhile, the violence in Gonaives culminated February 5 in the "Artibonite Resistance Front" seizing control of the city. Other armed groups opposed to the Aristide government quickly emerged and succeeded in seizing control of many towns, mostly with little resistance from government authorities. By February 28, 2004, a rebel group led by a former police chief, Guy Philippe, advanced to within 25 miles of the capital. On February 29, 2004 Aristide submitted his resignation as President of Haiti and flew on a chartered plane to Africa.

 

International Presence 1995-2004
After the transition of the 21,000-strong MNF into a peacekeeping force on March 31, 1995, the presence of international military forces that helped restore constitutional government to power was gradually ended. Initially, the U.S.-led UN peacekeeping force numbered 6,000 troops, but that number was scaled back progressively over the next 4 years as a series of UN technical missions succeeded the peacekeeping force. By January 2000, all U.S. troops stationed in Haiti had departed. In March 2000, the UN peacekeeping mission transitioned into a peace-building mission, the International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH). MICAH consisted of some 80 non-uniformed UN technical advisers providing advice and material assistance in policing, justice, and human rights to the Haitian Government. MICAH's mandate ended on February 7, 2001, coinciding with the end of the Preval administration. The OAS Special Mission has some 25 international police advisors who arrived in summer 2003; is in addition to observing and reporting Haitian police performance, they provide limited technical assistance.

 

2004-Present - Interim Government Gives Way to a New Democracy
Following the constitutional line of succession, Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre assumed the presidency and Gerard Latortue was appointed prime minister of the Interim Government of Haiti (IGOH) with the mandate of organizing elections to choose a new government. The interim government managed to organize three rounds of elections with the help of the OAS and UN. The first round of elections for President and Parliament took place peacefully on February 7, 2006, with a turnout estimated at over 60% of registered voters. The elections were considered generally free, fair, transparent, and democratic by national and international observers.

Rene Preval, former President (1996-2001) and former ally to Aristide, won the presidential election with 51.15%. Partial results first showed he fell short of an absolute majority, which triggered demonstrations against alleged fraud. The later decision of the Electoral Council not to count blank ballots gave the victory to Preval. The Parliament, composed of a 30-seat Senate and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies, was elected in two rounds held on February 7 and April 21, 2006. Lespwa is the main political force in both chambers but fell short of the majority. Fusion, UNION, Alyans, OPL, and Famni Lavalas have many representatives in both chambers. Preval chose his long-time political associate and former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis to serve again as his Prime Minister. Municipal elections were held December 3, 2006 and April 29, 2007. Some of these local government positions had not been filled in over a decade.

 

After a lengthy delay, President Preval was finally inaugurated in mid-May 2006 and began to reorganize the government and move towards local mayoral and community representative elections.

 

The process of reinstituting a democratic government is still in progress with the first steps of the installation of Parliament, the inauguration of the President, the ratification of a new Prime Minister and his ministers (including the Minister of Justice), the ratification of a permanent police chief, and the appointment of a Security of State for Public Security have all very recently been completed. However, several key positions still have yet to be reorganized such as the appointment of Director Generals who are the administrators of the various Ministries and government agencies, the replacement of the diplomatic corps, the replacement of mayors and other local representatives, and an assessment and reorganization of offices that were restructured under the Interim Government, as well as evaluating which public administration personnel are actually eligible and qualified to remain, including within the ranks of police and corrections.

 

Further, during the period which forced President Aristide from the country and the subsequent two years, many police stations, courts and prisons were destroyed and the justice system reversed.

 

During the month of July 2006, insecurity, which can be attributed to several sectors, resurfaced and kidnappings escalated to a few a day.

After a lengthy delay, President Preval was finally inaugurated in mid-May 2006 and began to reorganize the government and move towards local mayoral and community representative elections.

The process of reinstituting a democratic government is still in progress with the first steps of the installation of Parliament, the inauguration of the President, the ratification of a new Prime Minister and his ministers (including the Minister of Justice), the ratification of a permanent police chief, and the appointment of a Security of State for Public Security have all very recently been completed. However, several key positions still have yet to be reorganized such as the appointment of Director Generals who are the administrators of the various Ministries and government agencies, the replacement of the diplomatic corps, the replacement of mayors and other local representatives, and an assessment and reorganization of offices that were restructured under the Interim Government, as well as evaluating which public administration personnel are actually eligible and qualified to remain, including within the ranks of police and corrections.

 

Further, during the period which forced President Aristide from the country and the subsequent two years, many police stations, courts and prisons were destroyed and the justice system reversed.

 

During the month of July 2006, insecurity, which can be attributed to several sectors, resurfaced and kidnappings escalated to a few a day.

 

After a lengthy delay, President Preval was finally inaugurated in mid-May 2006 and began to reorganize the government and move towards local mayoral and community representative elections.

 

The process of reinstituting a democratic government is still in progress with the first steps of the installation of Parliament, the inauguration of the President, the ratification of a new Prime Minister and his ministers (including the Minister of Justice), the ratification of a permanent police chief, and the appointment of a Security of State for Public Security have all very recently been completed. However, several key positions still have yet to be reorganized such as the appointment of Director Generals who are the administrators of the various Ministries and government agencies, the replacement of the diplomatic corps, the replacement of mayors and other local representatives, and an assessment and reorganization of offices that were restructured under the Interim Government, as well as evaluating which public administration personnel are actually eligible and qualified to remain, including within the ranks of police and corrections.

 

Further, during the period which forced President Aristide from the country and the subsequent two years, many police stations, courts and prisons were destroyed and the justice system reversed.

 

During the month of July 2006, insecurity, which can be attributed to several sectors, resurfaced and kidnappings escalated to a few a day.

 

OFFICIAL NAME:
Republic of Haiti

Geography
Area: 27,750 sq. km. (10,714 sq. mi.); about the size of Maryland. Ile de la Gonave, Ile de la Tortue, and Ile a Vaches comprise Haiti's principal offshore territories.
Cities: Capital--Port-au-Prince (pop. 2 million). Other cities--Cap Haitien (pop. 240,000).
Terrain: Rugged mountains with small coastal plains and river valleys, and a large east-central elevated plateau.
Climate: Warm, semiarid, high humidity in many coastal areas.

 

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Haitian(s).
Population (2006 census): 8.5 million.
Annual population growth rate: 1975-2001, 1.9%; 2.5% per year.
Ethnic groups: African descent 95%, African and European descent 5%.
Religions (2003 data): Roman Catholic 55%, Protestant 28%, voudou (voodoo) practices pervasive.
Languages: French (official), Creole (official).
Education: Years compulsory--6. Adult literacy (2006 census)--56%.
Health: Child mortality--1 out of 8 children die before they reach the age of five. Life expectancy--56 years (women), 52 years (men).

Government
Type: Republic.
Independence: January 1, 1804.
Constitution: March 1987.
Branches: Executive--President. Legislative--Senate (30 seats), Chamber of Deputies (99 seats). Judicial--Court of Cassation.
Administrative subdivisions: Ten departments.
Political parties and coalitions: Lespwa, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), Struggling People's Organization (OPL), Open the Gate Party (PLB), Christian Movement for a New Haiti (MOCHRENHA), Tet Ansam, Fusion of Socialist Democrats (FUSION), Grand Center Right Front Coalition, Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RNDP), Union to Save Haiti, Mobilisation for Haiti's progress, Haitian Democratic and Reform Movement, several others.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

 

Economy
GDP (2007): $6.1 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2007): 3.2%.
Per capita GDP (2007): $713.
GDP by sector (2006): Agriculture--27%; industry--8%; services--40%; other--25%.
Inflation (2007 est.): 8.1%.
Natural resources: Bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble.
Agriculture (27% of GDP): Products--coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, cacao, sorghum, pulses, other fruits and vegetables.
Industry (8% of GDP): Types--apparel, handicrafts, electronics assembly, food processing, beverages, tobacco products, furniture, printing, chemicals, steel.
Services (40% of GDP): Commerce, hotels and restaurants, government, tourism.
Trade (2006 est.): Total exports f.o.b.--$494.4 million: apparel, mangoes, leather and raw hides, seafood, electrical. Major market--U.S. Total imports f.o.b.--$1,548.3 million: grains, soybean oil, motor vehicles, machinery, meat, vegetables, plastics, petroleum.
Note: There are serious problems with national accounts in Haiti, including incomplete coverage and the questionable accuracy of raw data.