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The nation of Haiti is located in the Caribbean, and is the western part of the island of Hispaniola. To the east, it is bordered by the Dominican Republic. It lies in the Caribbean Sea, with the Atlantic Ocean to its north.
The population of Haiti is estimated to be about 9.8 million (July 2012, CIA Factbook). Approximately 95% of Haiti’s people are of African descent. Approximately 10 % of the population speaks French, and the remainder speaks Haitian Creole; these are the two official languages. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism.
Haiti is the oldest black republic in the world having declared its independence from France in 1804. It is the only country to have gained its independence as a result of a successful slave revolt. Haiti is also the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, and it has faced chronic problems of poverty, social divisions and violent conflict, for much of its history. Only two of Haiti’s presidents have completed their term of office and left voluntarily.
Under the rule of President Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier from the late 1950s, and then under the rule of his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier from 1971, the people of Haiti experienced repression for decades. Following popular unrest, the latter fled to France in 1986, and President Aristide was elected in 1990, only to be overthrown shortly thereafter in a violent coup. Between 1991 and 1994, Haiti was essentially governed by the military, and many Haitians were killed, and many more fled during this time.
A U.S.-led multinational force intervened under a United Nations mandate, and the constitutional government was restored when President Aristide returned from exile in 1994. A new democratically elected President, Preval, assumed leadership in 1996, but strong political opposition led to serious challenges, and following a controversial election in 2001, Aristide returned as President.
Political stalemate between opposition groups continued and became violent, international efforts to resolve the political crisis bore little fruit, and in 2004, after an armed rebellion, Aristide fled the country with U.S. assistance. A United Nations peacekeeping mission was deployed to Haiti, and an interim government of technocrats was formed. Elections were held in 2006, and President Preval was returned to office.
In 2008, increases in food and fuel prices led to popular unrest, and severe storms in September caused further hardship for Haiti’s people. Yet important gains in political stability were achieved, and international support for an economic development strategy for the country held the promise of further progress.
In January 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, destroying the capital city of Port-au-Prince. An estimated 300,000 Haitians were killed and 1.3 million people were left homeless. A large international relief operation led by the United States provided emergency assistance. Subsequent recovery efforts were thwarted by a political crisis and rubble from the earthquake remains in place, with well over half a million people still living in tent encampments.
Less than a year after the January earthquake, a cholera outbreak occurred in Haiti for the first time in more than a century. The ensuing cholera epidemic has yet to be resolved; a news report in early 2013 estimated that as many as 1 out of every 16 Haitians had been afflicted as of that time.
An election in 2011 resulted in singer Michel Martelly being named Haiti’s new President, and he was inaugurated in May 2011. The country’s politics remain fragile, however. Prime Minister Garry Conille resigned in February 2012 after only four months in office. Laurent Lamothe was appointed to the position in May 2012, and since then, the country has enjoyed a rare period of political stability, with construction having begun on several government offices, such as new justice, interior and foreign ministries, and parliament. President Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe have made diplomatic visits with international bodies like the U.N., and increasing tourism and foreign investment have been articulated as top priorities for their administration.
Against this political backdrop, the country continues to face significant challenges in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. Despite aid and assistance from the international community, extensive temporary tent camps in the capital, large numbers of displaced people, widespread hunger and lack of successful housing construction projects are signs of the work that still needs to be done. Loss of arable land and livestock to natural disaster has contributed to the difficulty of ongoing recovery efforts. Numerous instances of sexual violence and of violent conflict among local groups over scarce resources have underscored the ongoing insecurity. Longstanding economic and social tensions persist in this deeply impoverished country, and international support remains critical to establishing stability for the future.
Through a working group on Haiti, created in 2006, the United States Institute of Peace has convened discussions and programs, and produced a range of important publications on the key issues the country faces. The Institute closely tracks the situation in Haiti, providing information and analysis to a range of audiences.
Since 2008, USIP has worked with partners to conduct training workshops in Haiti, engaging community leaders there in programs that enhance their ability to manage conflict nonviolently.
USIP is also working with the Haitian government to support legal reform efforts.
The USIP Haiti Program has the following key components:
More information about our work in and on Haiti
News updates on Haiti
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