The Spaniards used the island of Hispaniola (Haiti occupies the western part and the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern) as a launching point to explore the rest of the Western Hemisphere. French buccaneers later used the western third of the island as a point to pirate 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" and one of the richest colonies in France's 18th century empire.
During this period, African slaves were brought to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations. In 1791, the slave population revolted 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.
With 22 changes of government from 1843 to 1915, Haiti experienced numerous periods of intense political and economic disorder.
From Febr. 7, 1986 -- when the 29-year dictatorship of the Duvalier family ended -- until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. Most of those governments had been ruled by a member of the former army forces (general or colonel). In March 1987, a constitution was ratified that provides for an elected president to serve 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, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67 percent of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on Feb. 7, 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by dissatisfied members of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite. Following the coup, Aristide began a three-year exile in the United States. Several thousand Haitians may have been killed during the de facto military rule. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of people rescued in boats from the previous 10 years combined.
With his term ending in February 1996, and barred by the constitution from succeeding himself, President Aristide agreed to step aside and support a presidential election in December 1995. Rene Preval, a prominent Aristide political ally, who had been Aristide's prime minister in 1991, was sworn in to a five-year term on Feb. 7, 1996, during what was Haiti's first-ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.
On Feb. 29, 2004, Aristide, accused of corruption and murder by the majority of the population, submitted his resignation as president of Haiti and flew on a chartered plane to the Central African Republic. Boniface Alexandre, president (chief justice) of Haiti's Supreme Court, assumed office as interim president in accordance with Haiti's Constitution.
After an armed rebellion led to the departure 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 2006, former ally of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Rene Preval was sworn in as president.
The typical school year runs from September to June. Primary education is compulsory, but families must pay school fees. Most children do not pursue secondary education due to family and economic pressure.
Education in Haiti is seen as a trademark of success in life and opens doors for privileges, social rank, travel and better jobs. For example, Haiti has two official languages: French and Creole. Those who are uneducated can only speak Creole; those who are educated can speak both, but French is the preferred and necessary language of commerce.
There are three classes of people in Haiti: Elite (wealthy), Intellectual and Proletariat (working class). Someone who is educated is considered part of the Intellectual class.
The 1987 constitution grants freedom of religion. Goods brought into the country for use by registered churches and missionaries are exempt from customs duties and registered churches are not taxed. Foreign missionaries can enter on regular tourist visas.
Only 15 percent of schools are public. In 9 percent of these schools, Catholic and other clergy play a role in teaching and administration. Church-run schools and hospitals are subject to government oversight.
The government does not interfere with the operation of radio and other media affiliated with religious groups. In addition to the many radio stations operated by religious (mostly Protestant, including evangelical) groups, religious programming is a staple of commercial broadcasting.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Nov. 8, 2006, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51643.htm.
Haitians make beautiful artwork out of found objects, such as old tin, which they cut into scenes of birds, flowers and other subject matter. Woodcarving, painting, dance and storytelling are also popular.
The music of Haiti is influenced most by French colonial ties and African immigration (through slavery), as well as by its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. American jazz has also influenced Haiti; the country first experienced recorded music in 1937, when jazz was recorded noncommercially. The national dance is the méringue (similar to the Dominican version).
Independence Day, Jan. 1: Thanksgiving and night services take place. It is a time of visiting with friends and family. Pumpkin soup is traditionally shared to celebrate the end of slavery.
Good Friday, April 13
Christmas, Dec. 25: Houses are repainted and tree trunks are whitewashed. Families attend church services and midnight supper, then children play in the moonlight.
Soccer is played year-round. Boys use anything round or oval for a soccer ball. Kites are popular, especially at Easter time. Children also like to play many versions of hide-and-seek.
Haitians eat rice, beans, corn and bananas. Coffee is a popular drink.
1/2 lb. salt pork (minced)
4 pints water
1 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. pumpkin, chopped (peel and remove seeds)
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
Cook the pork in the water with the thyme and bay leaf for 30 minutes. Add pumpkin, salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes, then sieve. Add the nutmeg; reheat and serve. Serves six.
Comment-allez vous? (How are you?)
Je m'appelle... (My name is...)
Kòman ou ye? (How are you?)
Mwen rele... (My name is...)
Compassion's work in Haiti began in 1968. Currently, more than 75,000 children participate in 255 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Haitian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Haiti.
9,648,924 (July 2010 estimate)
Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.
|307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
|French (official), Creole (official)
||English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Christian 96% (Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16% [Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%]), none 1%, other 3%
Note: Roughly half the population practices Voodoo.
|Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, other Christian 2.3%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Female: 51.2% (2003 estimate)
Female: 99% (2003 estimate)
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical; semiarid where mountains in east cut off trade winds
||Mostly temperate but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
|Percentage of population urbanized
82% (2008 estimate)
||Male: 55.83 years
Female: 59.35 years (2008 estimate)
Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years (2010 estimate)
|Under-5 mortality rate
8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$1,200 (2009 estimate)
||$46,000 (2009 estimate)
||U.S. dollar (USD)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||120,000 (2007 estimate)
||1.2 million (2007 estimate)
|Percent of population living below
$1.25 per day
|Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2010; The State of the World's Children, 2009