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February 2004

Haiti, 1999

Haiti, 1999

Haiti (HAI-tee), Fr. Haïti (ah-ee-TEE), independent republic. Roughly the size of Maryland (area: 10,700 sq mi/27,713 sq km) with a population (1990 pop. 5,820,000) slightly larger than that state, the Republic of Haiti is situated on the western third of the island of Hispaniola.

The native Arawak Amerindians - who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus 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 - 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, and after a prolonged struggle in 1804 Haiti became the second nation in the Western Hemisphere, and the first after the U.S., to win complete independence. Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history since then, and it is now one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Over three decades of dictatorship followed by military rule ended in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. Most of his term was usurped by a military takeover, but he was able to return to office in 1994 and oversee the installation of a close associate to the presidency in 1996. Aristide won a second term as president in 2000, and took office early in 2001. However, a political crisis stemming from fraudulent legislative elections in 2000 has not yet been resolved.

CIA World Factbook;U.S. State Department Background Notes;The Columbia Gazeteer, 2003; 2003; 2003