Background on Haiti

Haiti is one half of the island of Hispaniola, and the other half is the Dominican Republic. 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 heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L'Ooverture and after a prolonged struggle, became the first black republic to declaring its independence in 1804.

Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history since then, and it is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its once majestic mahogany forests have been stripped by lumber merchants who did not care that the topsoil washed away, leaving a barren land, creating soil erosion, and thus terrible agriculture opportunities and inadequate supplies of portable water. Voodoo is widely practiced in Haiti, even though the majority of the population claims to be Catholic. Haiti lacks the social infrastructure and government assistance to help with most social programs. Most hospitals and schools have been started by Western organizations. Currently the United Nations is the peacekeeping force in Haiti; its presence can be seen throughout the country. Most of the unrest and uprisings occur in Port-au-Prince.

The Haitian people are very friendly, and their culture is beautiful. Please, just remember that is is different from your and be respectful of it.

Haiti statistics:

  • Population: 9,900,000
  • Life expectancy: 61
  • Population under 18: 4,200,000
  • Area: 10,714 square miles (about the size of Massachusetts)
  • Literacy: 46%
  • Poorest country in Western Hemisphere
  • Percent of population below poverty line: 80%
  • Forested area less than 2%, compared to 1920's at 60%
  • Language: French, Haitian Creole

Sources: CIA- The World Factbook,, Library of Congress Federal Research Division, Unicef 2012 - taken from