natural depression



Haiti (English: or ; French fr:Haïti ; Haitian Creole: Ayiti), officially the Republic of Haiti (République d'Haïti ; Repiblik Ayiti), is a Creole- and French-speaking Caribbean nation. Along with the Dominican Republic, it occupies the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago. Ayiti (Land on high) was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island. The country's highest point is Pic la Selle, at . The total area of Haiti is 27,750 square kilometres (10,714 sq mi) and its capital is Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's regional, historical, and ethnolinguistic position is unique for several reasons. It was the first independent nation in the Caribbean, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. Haiti is the only predominantly Francophone nation in the Caribbean, and one of only two (along with Canada) which designate French as an official language; the other French-speaking North American countries are all overseas départements of France.

Derivation of the name of the country

The name Haiti comes from the Taíno word Aytí, which means "Mountainous Land" and referred to the entire island later called Hispaniola. The French staked their claim on the entire island based on settlement of Tortuga and Gonâve islands by French pirates in the 16th century. France officially incorporated the colony in the early 1600s. In 1697, with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick with Spain, the French took the western third of the island, naming their colony Saint-Domingue. The Spanish kept control of Santo Domingo, the eastern two-thirds of the island. Following the revolution and Saint-Domingue's declaration of independence from France on 1 January 1804, leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, of African descent, restored the original Taíno name of Haiti as an ode of honor to the Amerindian predecessors and as a demonstration of defiance against France.


The Taíno

The island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti occupies the western third, was originally inhabited by the Taíno Arawaks, a seafaring branch of the South American Arawaks. Christopher Columbus landed at Môle Saint-Nicolas on 5 December 1492, and claimed the island for Spain. Nineteen days later, his ship the Santa Maria ran aground near the present site of Cap-Haitien; Columbus was forced to leave 39 men, founding the settlement of La Navidad. Ayti, which means "mountainous land", is a name used by the Taíno-Arawak people, who also called some sections of it Bohio, meaning "rich villages". Kiskeya is yet a third term that has been attributed to the Taínos for the island.

The Taíno population on Hispaniola was divided through a system of established cacicazgos (chiefdoms), named Marien, Maguana, Higuey, Magua and Xaragua, which could be further subdivided. The cacicazgos (later called caciques in French) were tributary kingdoms, with payment consisting of food grown by the Taíno. Taino cultural artifacts include cave paintings in several locations in the nation, which have become national symbols of Haiti and tourist attractions. Modern-day Léogane, a town in the southwest, is at the epicenter of what was the chiefdom of Xaragua.

Following the destruction of La Navidad by the Amerindians, Columbus moved to the eastern side of the island and established La Isabela. One of the earliest leaders to fight off Spanish conquest was Queen Anacaona, a Taíno princess from Xaragua who married Chief Caonabo, a Taíno king (cacique) from Maguana. The two resisted European rule but to no avail; she was captured by the Spanish and executed in front of her people. To this day, Anacaona is revered in Haiti as one of the country's first founders, preceding the likes of founding fathers such as Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. The Spaniards exploited the island for its gold, mined chiefly by local Amerindians directed by the Spanish occupiers. Those refusing to work in the mines were slaughtered or forced into slavery. Europeans brought chronic infectious diseases with them that were new to the Caribbean. Diseases were the most powerful of the elements because the Taíno had no natural immunity, but ill treatment, malnutrition and a drastic drop of the birthrate also contributed to decimation of the indigenous population.

The Spanish governors began importing enslaved Africans for labor. In 1517, Carlos V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, authorized the draft of slaves. The Taínos became virtually extinct on the island of Hispaniola. Some who evaded capture fled to the mountains and established independent settlements. There survivors mixed with escaped African slaves (runaways called maroons) and produced a multiracial generation called zambos. French settlers later called people of mixed African and Amerindian ancestry marabou. The mestizo increased in number from children born to relationships between native women and European men. Others were born as a result of unions between African women and European men, who were called mulatto in Spanish and mulâtre in French.

The western part of Hispaniola soon was settled by French buccaneers. Among them, Bertrand D'Ogeron succeeded in growing tobacco, which prompted many of the numerous buccaneers and freebooters to turn into settlers. This population did not submit to Spanish royal authority until the year 1660 and caused a number of conflicts.

17th century settlement

Bertrand D'Orgeron attracted many colonists from Martinique and Guadeloupe, such as the Roy family (Jean Roy, 1625-1707), Hebert (Jean Hebert, 1624, with his family) and the Barre (Guillaume Barre, 1642, with his family), driven out by pressure on lands generated by extension of sugar plantations. From 1670 to 1690, a drop in the tobacco markets affected the island and significantly reduced the number of settlers. Freebooters grew stronger, plundering settlements, such as those of Vera Cruz in 1683 and Campêche in 1686. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay, elder son of Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Minister of the Navy, brought back some order. He ordered the establishment of indigo and sugar cane plantations. The first windmill for processing sugar was created in 1685.

Treaty of Ryswick

France and Spain settled hostilities on the island by the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697, which divided Hispaniola between them. France received the western third and subsequently named it Saint-Domingue. Many French colonists soon arrived and established plantations in Saint-Domingue due to high profit potential. From 1713 to 1787, approximately 30,000 colonists, emigrated from Bordeaux, France to the western part of the island. By about 1790, Saint-Domingue had greatly overshadowed its eastern counterpart in terms of wealth and population. It quickly became the richest French colony in the New World due to the immense profits from the sugar, coffee and indigo industries. The labor and knowledge of thousands of enslaved Africans made it possible, who brought skills and technology for indigo production to the island. The French-enacted Code Noir (Black Code), prepared by Colbert and ratified by Louis XIV, established rigid rules on slave treatment and permissible freedom.

The Haitian Revolution

The French Revolution contributed to social upheavals in Saint-Domingue and the French and West Indies. Most important was the revolution of the slaves in Saint-Domingue, starting on the northern plains in 1791. In 1792 the French government sent three commissioners with troops to try to reestablish control. They began to build an alliance with gens de couleur, who were looking for their rights. In 1793, France and Great Britain went to war, and British troops invaded Saint-Domingue. The execution of Louis XVI heightened tensions in the colony. To build an alliance with the gens de couleur and slaves, the French commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel abolished slavery in the colony. Six months later, the national Convention endorsed abolition and extended it to all of the French colonies.

Toussaint Louverture, a former slave and leader in the slave revolt who rose in importance as a military commander because of his many skills, achieved peace in Saint-Domingue after years of war against both external invaders and internal dissension. He had established a disciplined, flexible army and driven out both the Spaniards and the English invaders who threatened the colony. He restored stability and prosperity by daring measures, including inviting the return of planters and insisting that freedmen work on plantations to renew revenues for the island. He also renewed trading ties with Great Britain and the United States. Finally France appointed him Governor.


The French government changes and the legislature began to rethink its decisions on slavery in the colonies. After Toussaint Louverture created a separatist constitution, Napoleon Bonaparte sent an expedition of 30,000 men under the command of his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc, to retake the island. Bonaparte was influenced by Creole planters and traders. Leclerc's mission was to oust Louverture and restore slavery. The French achieved some victories. In addition, Leclerc kidnapped Toussaint Louverture and sent him to France, where he was imprisoned at Fort Le Joux. He died there of malnutrition and pneumonia.

The native leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, long an ally of Toussaint Louverture, defeated the French troops led by Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau at the Battle of Vertières. At the end of the double battle for emancipation and independence, former slaves proclaimed the independence of Saint-Domingue on 1 January 1804, declaring the new nation as Haiti, honoring the original indigenous Taíno name for the island. Haiti was consequently the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery.

Dessalines was proclaimed governor for life by his troops. He exiled the remaining whites and ruled as a despot. He was assassinated on 17 October 1806. The country was divided then between a kingdom in the north directed by Henri Christophe, and a republic in the south directed by a gens de couleur Alexandre Pétion. President Jean Pierre Boyer, also a gens de couleur, managed to reunify these two parts and extend control again over the eastern part of the island.

In July 1825, the king of France Charles X sent a fleet of fourteen vessels and troops to reconquer the island. To maintain independence, President Boyer agreed to a treaty by which France recognized the independence of the country in exchange for a payment of 150 million francs (the sum was reduced in 1838 to 90 million francs).

A long succession of coups followed the departure of Jean-Pierre Boyer. National authority was disputed by factions of the army, the elite class and the growing commercial class, now made up of numerous immigrants: Germans, Americans, French and English.

Twentieth century

The United States occupied the island from 1915 to 1934. From 1957 to 1986, the Duvalier family reigned as dictators. They created the private army and terrorist death squads known as Tonton Macoutes. Many Haitians fled to exile in the United States and Canada, especially French-speaking Quebec.

In December 1990, the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the election. His mandate began on 7 February 1991. During August, 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government faced a non-confidence vote within the Haitian Chamber of Deputies and Senate. 83 voted against him, and only 11 members voted in support of Aristide’s government. On 29 September 1991 President Aristide resigned and flew into exile. In accordance with Article 149, of Haiti’s Constitution of 1987, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nerette was named Provisional President and elections were called for December, 1991. These were blocked by the international community and chaos resulted extending into 1994.

In 1994, Haitian General Raoul Cédras asked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to help avoid a U.S. military invasion of Haiti. President Carter relayed this information to President Clinton, who asked Carter, in his role as founder of The Carter Center, to undertake a mission to Haiti with Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell. The team successfully negotiated the departure of Haiti's military leaders, paving the way for the restoration of Jean-Bertrande Aristide as president.

Aristide left the presidency in 1995. He was re-elected in 2000. The election of 2000 was not recognized by the international community, which claimed that massive fraud had taken place. The country continued to struggle. In 2004, after several months of popular demonstrations against him because of a poor economy and his corruption, and pressures exerted by the international community, especially by France, the USA and Canada, Aristide went into exile on 29 February 2004.

Boniface Alexandre assumed interim authority. In February 2006, following elections marked by uncertainties and popular demonstrations, René Préval, close to Aristide and former president of the Republic of Haiti between 1995 and 2000, was elected.

The government of Haiti is a presidential republic, pluriform multiparty system wherein the President of Haiti is head of state directly elected by popular elections. The Prime Minister acts as head of government and is appointed by the President from the majority party in the National Assembly. Executive power is exercised by the President and Prime Minister who together constitute the government.

Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the National Assembly of Haiti. The government is organized unitarily, thus the central government delegates powers to the departments without a constitutional need for consent. The current structure of Haiti's political system was set forth in the Constitution of Haiti on 29 March 1987. The current president is René Préval.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (also known as MINUSTAH) has been in the country since 2004.

Haitian politics have been contentious. Most Haitians are aware of Haiti's history as the only country in the Western Hemisphere to undergo a successful slave revolution. On the other hand, the long history of oppression by dictators, including François Duvalier, has markedly affected the nation. France and the United States have repeatedly intervened in Haitian politics since the country's founding, sometimes at the request of one party or another. People's awareness of the threat of such intervention also permeates national life.

Departments, arrondissements, and communes

Haiti is divided into 10 departments. The departments are listed below, with the departmental capital cities in parentheses.

  1. Artibonite (Gonaïves)
  2. Centre (Hinche)
  3. Grand'Anse (Jérémie)
  4. Nippes (Miragoâne)
  5. Nord (Cap-Haïtien)
  6. Nord-Est (Fort-Liberté)
  7. Nord-Ouest (Port-de-Paix)
  8. Ouest (Port-au-Prince)
  9. Sud-Est (Jacmel)
  10. Sud (Les Cayes)

The departments are further divided into 41 arrondissements, and 133 communes which serve as second and third level administrative divisions.


Haiti is situated 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 kilometre (224 mi) border with Haiti). Haiti at its closest point is only about away from Cuba and boasts the second longest coastline of any country in the Antilles, Cuba having the longest. Haiti's terrain consists mainly of rugged mountains interspersed with small coastal plains and river valleys.

The northern region consists of the Massif du Nord (Northern Massif) and the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain). The Massif du Nord is an extension of the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. It begins at Haiti's eastern border, north of the Guayamouc River, and extends to the northwest through the northern peninsula. The lowlands of the Plaine du Nord lie along the northern border with the Dominican Republic, between the Massif du Nord and the North Atlantic Ocean. The central region consists of two plains and two sets of mountain ranges. The Plateau Central (Central Plateau) extends along both sides of the Guayamouc River, south of the Massif du Nord. It runs from the southeast to the northwest. To the southwest of the Plateau Central are the Montagnes Noires, whose most northwestern part merges with the Massif du Nord.

The southern region consists of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac (the southeast) and the mountainous southern peninsula (also known as the Tiburon Peninsula). The Plaine du Cul-de-Sac is a natural depression which harbors the country's saline lakes, such as Trou Caïman and Haiti's largest lake Lac Azuei. The Chaîne de la Selle mountain range, an extension of the southern mountain chain of the Dominican Republic (the Sierra de Baoruco), extends from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. This mountain range harbors Pic la Selle, the highest point in Haiti at 2,680 metres (8,793 ft).

The country's most important valley in terms of crops is the Plaine de l'Artibonite, which is oriented south of the Montagnes Noires. This region supports the country's (also Hispaniola's) longest river, the Riviere l'Artibonite which begins in the western region of the Dominican Republic and continues most of its length through central Haiti and onward where it empties into the Golfe de la Gonâve. The eastern and central region of the island is a large elevated plateau. Haiti also includes various offshore islands. The historically famous island of Tortuga (Île de la Tortue) is located off the coast of northern Haiti. The arrondissement of La Gonâve is located on the island of the same name, in the Golfe de la Gonâve. Gonave Island is moderately populated by rural villagers. Île à Vache (Island of Cows) is located off the tip of southwestern Haiti. It is a lush island with many beautiful sights. Also part of Haiti are the Cayemites and Ile de Anacaona.


In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down all but an estimated 2% of its original forest cover, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification. Erosion has been severe in the mountainous areas. Most Haitian logging is done to produce charcoal, the country's chief source of fuel. The plight of Haiti's forests has attracted international attention, and has led to numerous reforestation efforts, but these have met with little success to date. Despite the large environmental crises, Haiti retains a very high amount of biodiversity in proportion to its small size. The country is home to more than 6,000 plants, of which 35% are endemic; and 220 species of birds, of which 21 species are endemic. The country's high biodiversity is due to its mountainous topography and fluctuating elevations in which each elevation harbors different microclimates and its own specific native fauna and flora. The country's varied scenery include lush green cloud forests (in some of the mountain ranges and the protected areas), high mountain peaks, arid desert, mangrove forest, and palm tree-lined beaches.

Environmental issues

In addition to soil erosion, deforestation has caused periodic flooding, as seen on 17 September 2004. Tropical storm Jeanne skimmed the north coast of Haiti, leaving 3,006 people dead in flooding and mudslides, mostly in the city of Gonaïves. Earlier that year in May, floods killed over 3,000 people on Haiti's southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early September of 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil conditions throughout Haiti, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding. Casualties proved difficult to count because the storm diminished human capacity and physical resources for such record keeping. Bodies continued to surface as the flood waters receded. A 10 September 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid. The grim state of affairs produced by these storms was all the more life threatening due to already high food and fuel prices that had caused a food crisis and political unrest in April of 2008.

As was the case in 2004, the coastal city of Gonaives was hit especially hard by the 2008 storms.

The country is working to implement a biofuel solution to its energy problems. Also, environmental organisations such as the Peasant Movement of Papay (formed by Jean-Baptiste Chavannes) is trying to find solutions for Haiti's environmental issues.


Haiti has remained the least-developed country in the Americas. Comparative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other low-income developing countries (particularly in the hemisphere) since the 1980s. Haiti now ranks 146th of 177 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index (2006). About 80% of the population were estimated to be living in poverty in 2003. Haiti is the only country in the Americas on the United Nations list of Least Developed Countries. Economic growth was negative in 2001 and 2002, and flat in 2003.

About 66% of all Haitians work in the agricultural sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming, but this activity makes up only 30% of the GDP. The country has experienced little formal job creation over the past decade, although the informal economy is growing. Mangoes and coffee are two of Haiti's most important exports. It has consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Foreign aid makes up approximately 30%-40% of the national government's budget. The largest donor is the United States followed by Canada, and the European Union also contribute. Venezuela and Cuba also make various contributions to Haiti's economy, especially after alliances were renewed in 2006-7.

U.S. aid to the Haitian government was completely cut off in 2001-2004 after the 2000 election was disputed and President Aristide was accused of various misdeeds. After Aristide's departure in 2004, aid was restored, and the Brazilian army led the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti peacekeeping operation.


Of Haiti's 8.7 million inhabitants, just below half are illiterate. The literacy rate of 52.9% is the lowest in the region. Haiti counts 15,200 primary schools, of which 90% are non-public and managed by the communities, religious organizations or NGOs. The enrollment rate for primary school is 67%, of which less than 30% reach 6th grade. Secondary schools enroll 20% of eligible-age children. Charity organizations like Food for the Poor are currently working on building schools for children as well as providing them necessary school supplies.

The educational system of Haiti is based on the French system. Higher education is provided by universities and other public and private institutions. It is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.

A list of universities in Haiti includes:

  • University of Caraibe (Université Caraïbe) (CUC)
  • University of Haiti (Université d'État d'Haïti) (UEH)
  • University Notre Dame of Haiti (Université Notre Dame d'Haïti) (UNDH)
  • Université Chrétienne du Nord d'Haïti (UCNH)
  • Université Lumière / MEBSH
  • Université Quisqueya (UNIQ)
  • Ecole Supérieure d'Infotronique d'Haïti (ESIH)
  • Université Roi Henri Christophe
  • Université Publique de l'Artibonite aux Gonaïves (UPAG)
  • Université Publique du Nord au Cap-Haïtien (UPNCH)
  • Université Publique du Sud au Cayes (UPSAC)


Although Haiti averages approximately 250 people per square kilometer (650 per sq. mi.), its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of predominantly African descent. The influential remainder of the population is mostly multiracial, and white (mostly of Arab and European origin). European-descended Haitians vary in origin; French, Polish, Spanish, Italian, and German ancestry is noted. There is a small percentage who are of Asian descent (mostly of Chinese origin).

Haitian diaspora

Like other poor nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Haiti has witnessed a diaspora of both educated and poor citizens, some of whom have become illegal immigrants in nearby countries. Millions of Haitians live abroad, chiefly in the United States, Dominican Republic, Canada, France, Bahamas, Cuba and the Turks and Caicos.

In the United States

There is a significant Haitian population in South Florida, specifically the Miami enclave of Little Haiti. New York City also has a thriving émigré community with the second largest population of Haitians of any state in the nation. A considerable number also reside in Boston.


One of Haiti's two official languages is French, which is the principal written and administratively authorized language. It is spoken by most educated Haitians and used in the business sector. The second is the recently standardized Haitian Creole, spoken by virtually the entire population of Haiti. Nearly all Haitians speak the latter as a first language, a French-based creole language that harbors significant African influence, as well as influence from Spanish, and Taíno to a minor extent. Residents near the border with the Dominican Republic have often learned enough Spanish for conversational speaking.


Haiti has a long and storied history and therefore retains a very rich culture. Haitian culture is a mix of primarily French, African elements, and native Taíno. With some lesser influence from the colonial Spanish as well as minor influences from colonial Portuguese. The country's customs essentially are a blend of cultural beliefs that derived from the various ethnic groups that inhabited the island of Hispaniola. In nearly all aspects of modern Haitian society however, the European and African element dominate. Haiti is world famous for its distinctive art, notably painting and sculpture.


About 95% of the population follows Christianity, however denominations vary. Roman Catholicism is the official state religion and approximately 80%, of the population belongs to this religion. An estimated 15% of the population follows the teachings of various Protestant churches such as Seventh day Adventist, Pentecostal, etc. As of 2007 there were 14,772 Jehovah's Witnesses in Haiti.

The New World Afro-diasporic religion of Voodoo is also practiced in rural areas. The religion is very similar to other regional variations such as Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Santería, and Espiritismo of Puerto Rico.

Some practitioners of voodoo syncreticize their faith with Catholic elements; however, the Catholic Church strictly forbids vodou practice.


Haiti has a vibrant and important carnival season; it is referred to as Mardi Gras or Carnaval in French and Kanaval in Haitian Creole. It is held every year on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The Jacmel Carnival is well known for its appealing displays of original costumes and masks. While it is a rather large carnival, it is dwarfed by the much larger Carnival of Port-au-Prince; the national parade which draws thousands of people annually. Vivid floats sponsored by the country's popular brand name products host some of the country's most well-known musicians. Carnival season is a joyous event attended by both locals as well as visitors from abroad, including the diaspora and foreigners. During this time, the country is engulfed by music and raucous celebration, a scene in dramatic contrast to the temporarily forgotten troubles that plague the country.


Haiti's most well-known music style is compas (also known as konpa or kompa), a vibrant music and dance genre similar to that of their Cuban neighbors but also related to American jazz. Kompa was created in 1957 by Nemours Jean-Baptiste and Wébert Sicot. Compas often employs African drumming, modern guitars/synthesized sounds, saxophones, and lyrics sung in Haitian Creole. Some Haitian Compas bands are well-known throughout the world in the US and Europe, especially in Haitian communities: Tabou Combo, T-Vice, and Carimi for example.

Haitian Méringue, a similar-sounding style to Dominican Merengue is also quite popular. The origins of both genres are unclear however it is believed that they are historically connected somehow. Other genres include Rasin, kadans and zouk (a derivation of compas, originating from the French Antilles).


Haitian Cuisine is influenced by the methods and foods of spanish cuisine as well as by staples originating from Africa and the local environment (the cuisine of the native Taino), such as cassava (kasav), yam, and maize (mayi). Haitian food, though with unique characteristics, shares much with other cuisines of the Caribbean. Haitian food tends to be mildly spicy. The cuisine features several varieties of rice and beans, the de facto national dish.




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