The Country of Haiti

Haiti Facts

Official NameRepublic of Haiti
LocationWestern three-eights of the tropical island of Hispaniola in the West Indes. (Eastern part is the Dominican Republic)
Size10,714 square miles (slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts)
Population10.6 million (2015 estimate)
Motto"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
CapitolPort-au-Prince (pop. 1.2 million)
Name of PeopleHaitians
National LanguagesFrench (spoken by 10%)
Creole - a mixture of Indian, French and Spanish
Ethnic GroupsAfrican descent 95%
African and European descent 5%
Major ReligionRoman Catholic
voodoo practices are pervasive
HealthInfant mortality 53/1,000 (2011)
Life expectancy 63 years (2012)
Cholera
Chikungunya
EducationSix years compulsory
Adult literacy 61% (est. 2015)
Economy69% lives in poverty
25% live in abject poverty
Unemployment is estimated at 50%
Poorest country in Western hemisphere

For more information, contact

    Peg Flahive, Director of Human Concerns
  • email Peg
  • 414-288-7387

History of Haiti's Upheaval

Explored by Columbus on Dec. 6, 1492, Haiti's native Arawaks fell victim to Spanish rule. In 1697, Haiti became the French colony of Saint-Dominique, which became a leading sugarcane producer dependent on slaves. In 1791, an insurrection erupted among the slave population of 480,000, resulting in a declaration of independence by Toussaint l'Ouverture in 1801. Napoléon Bonaparte suppressed the independence movement, but it eventually triumphed in 1804 under Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who gave the new nation the Arawak name Haiti.

Frances Duvalier was elected president in 1957; in 1964, he proclaimed himself president for life. Upon his death in 1971 he was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude, who also became president for life.

Drought in 1975-77 brought famine, and Hurricane Allen in 1980 destroyed most of the rice, bean, and coffee crops. Following several weeks of unrest, President Jean Claude Duvalier fled Haiti aboard a U.S. Air Force jet in 1986, ending the 28-year dictatorship by the Duvalier family.

In 1987, voters approved a new constitution, but the January 1988 elections were marred by violence and boycotted by the opposition. Gen. Namphy seized control in June, but was ousted by a military coup in September.

Jean-Betrand Aristide was elected president December, 1990. In September, 1991, Aristide was arrested by the military and expelled from the country. Aristide was restored to office and re-elected President in 2000. His election has not been recognized by the international community because of reports of election fraud. As a result, millions of dollars in international aid and loans have been withheld from Haiti, although the country is still expected to pay interest on debts accrued under the Duvalier regime.