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Country Facts

Area: 27,750 sq km (10,714 sq miles)
Population: 10million (2010 est.)
Capital City: Port-au-Prince (population: 2.43 million). Other cities: Cap Haïtien (population: 800,000 est.) Gonaives (population 350,000 est.)
People: African descent 95%, African and European descent 5%
Language(s): French (official), Haitian Creole (official)
Religion(s): Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 8%, Baptist 7%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, voodoo practices country-wide
Currency: The Gourde
Major political parties: Traditionally Haiti’s political parties revolve around key political figures. As a result, new parties are constantly created and old ones disbanded (17 new political parties registered for the 2010 elections including President Martelly’s Repons Peyizan party). Parties include INITE Coalition (formerlyLespwa/Hope), Lavalas (ex President Aristide’s party), Fusion of Haitian Social Democrats, Struggling People’s Organization, Haiti in Action, Christian National Union for the Reconstruction of Haiti, Respè (Charles Henri Baker’s party); Independent Movement for National Reconciliation, Ansamn Nou Fo, FRN: Front for National Reconstruction and RDNP: Assembly of National Progressive Democrats
Head of State: President: Michel Martelly


Nationality: Noun and adjective - Haitian(s)
Annual population growth rate (2010 est.): 1.3%
Education: Adult Literacy: men 54%; women 50% (varies between regions, but male literacy rates tend to be higher than female).
Health: Infant Mortality rate - 76 per 1,000 live births.
Life Expectancy: - male 59 years; female 62 years.
Haiti's population is concentrated heavily in urban areas (47.8%), coastal plains and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of African descent. The rest of the population is mostly of mixed Caucasian-African ancestry with a small number of European or Levantine origin.

French is one of the two official languages but is spoken by only 10% of the population. The majority of Haitians speak Haitian Creole, the country's other official language. English and Spanish are increasingly spoken among the young and in the business sector.

The state religion is Roman Catholicism, which most of the population practice. Some Haitians have converted to Protestantism through the work of missionaries active throughout the country. Many also practice voodoo traditions and Haitians see no conflict in these African-rooted beliefs co-existing with Christian faiths.

Although public education is free, private and parochial schools provide around 85% of educational programs and fewer than 60% of those eligible for primary education are actually enrolled. At the secondary level, the figure drops to 19.5%. Only 35.6% of those enrolled will complete primary school. Though Haitians place a high value on education, few can afford to send their children to secondary school. Remittances sent by Haitians living abroad are important in contributing to educational costs.

Large-scale emigration, principally to the United States but also to Canada, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and other Caribbean neighbours, has created what Haitians refer to as the Tenth Department or the Diaspora. The importance of this group is reflected by the government having a Ministry for Haitians Living Abroad. It is estimated that about one in every six Haitians live abroad. Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic has caused considerable social pressures. Conservative estimates suggest the number of Haitians in DR is 500,000. Other estimates vary between 1 to 2 million.

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Basic Economic Facts

Annual GDP Growth: -5.4% (2010 est.)
GDP per head: purchasing power parity - US $1,200 (2010 est.)
GDP by sector (2010): agriculture – 24%; industry - 8%; services - 43%; other-25%
Inflation: 4.1% (2010 est.)
Natural resources: bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble.
Major Industries: Agriculture (coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, cacao, sorghum, peanuts, pulses, other fruits and vegetables) Industry (handicrafts, electronics, food processing, beverages, tobacco products, furniture, printing, chemicals, and steel services), Commerce, Government, Tourism
Major trading partners: US ($1.3 billion, 2009), Dominican Republic, Netherlands Antilles, EU, China,
Total Exports F.O.B. - $0.9bn (2010 est.): light manufactures, mangoes, essential oils, cocoa
Imports F.O.B.: US$2.8 bn (2010 est.)
Exchange rate: approx. 41 Haitian Gourds = US$1.00 (May 2011)
Note: There are serious problems with national accounts in Haiti, including incomplete coverage and the questionable accuracy of raw data.

Economy Overview

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Unemployment is estimated at 70% and approximately 80% of the population lives in poverty (around 65% live on under US$2.00 a day). Haiti is 146th of 177 countries in the UN’s Human development index.

On 12 January 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused devastation in Haiti. Until that moment, the economy was growing at a steady pace but the loss resulting from the catastrophe and cost of reconstruction is estimated around 11.5 billion. International donors have pledged 9.9 billion dollars in a long term aid/reconstruction program. The IDB and the World Bank have relieved almost $1.2 billion in debt and there has been100% debt cancellation from the Paris Club bilateral donors. The IDB cancelled all of Haiti’s debt and will provide $200 million annually until 2020. The World Bank is also structuring a similar plan. The IMF cancelled US $268 million of Haiti’s outstanding liabilities with the Fund and a new Extended Credit Facility will provide US$60 million over three years (with a temporary interest waiver) to boost Haiti’s international reserves and help the central bank manage the value of local currency.

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The earliest known inhabitants of Hispaniola (of which Haiti is today the western part and the Dominican Republic the eastern) reached the island about 2600 BC. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, the island was occupied by the Taínos, who were peaceful people. The Taínos were enslaved by the Spanish and virtually eradicated in the first 50 years of Spanish rule due to a combination of the import of old world diseases, harsh treatment and mass suicides. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spaniards used the island as a launching point from which to explore the rest of the Western Hemisphere. French Buccaneers later used the western third of the island as a point from which to harass English and Spanish ships. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. As piracy was gradually suppressed, some French adventurers became planters, making Saint Domingue, as the French portion of the island was known, the 'pearl of the Antilles' - arguably the richest colony in the 18th century French Empire.

During this period, African slaves were brought to work on Sugarcane and Coffee plantations. In 1791, the slave population revolted - led by Haitian heroes Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe - and gained control of the northern part of the French colony, waging a war of attrition against the French. By January 1804, the local forces defeated an army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, established independence from France, and renamed the area Haiti (one of the taino names for the entire island).

Haiti is the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States and the only country in the world to have gained its independence following a successful slave rebellion. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries, the independent nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere's first regional meeting of independent nations, in Panama in 1826, and did not receive US diplomatic recognition until 1862.

Two separate regimes (north and south) emerged after independence, but were unified in 1820. Two years later, Haiti occupied Santo Domingo, the eastern, Spanish speaking part of Hispaniola. In 1844, however, Santo Domingo broke away from Haiti and became the Dominican Republic.

With 22 changes of government from 1843 to 1915, Haiti experienced numerous periods of intense political and economic disorder, prompting the United States military intervention of 1915. Following a 19-year occupation, US military forces were withdrawn in 1934 and Haiti regained sovereign rule. From the mid 1930s to the late 1950’s, Haiti was marked by several democratically elected governments, coups and military rule.

In 1957 Francois Duvalier, commonly referred to as Papa Doc, was elected President amidst promises of well being, liberty and justice. He reinforced voodoo beliefs while at the same time presented himself as a key voodoo figure. His affiliation to the traditional religion aided him in controlling the population and propagating fear amongst them. By 1964 he had declared himself President for Life and thus ruled until his death in 1971. His son Jean-Claude Duvalier, Baby Doc, continued the dictatorship aided by the repressive forces called the “Tontons Macoutes”. This combined period of father and son ruling is known as the Duvalier dictatorship. It was marked by fear and terror. Repression, violence and human rights violations were also present during this reign of terror. Conservative figures estimate around 30,000 people died while some think it could be around 60,000. The Duvalier’s became very rich in the process, diverting aid money and taking part in most of the State’s commerce. The regime lasted until February 7th 1986 when protests forced Baby Doc into exile in France.

From 7th February 1986 until 1991, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In 1987 a constitution was ratified that provided for an elected, bicameral Parliament, an elected President that serves as Head of State, and a Prime Minister, Cabinet, ministers, and Supreme Court appointed by the President with Parliament's consent. The Haitian Constitution also provided for political decentralisation through the election of mayors and administrative bodies responsible for local government.

Jean Bertrand Aristide was elected President in December 1990 with 67% of the votes in what was deemed by the international community as free and fair elections. His inauguration took place in 7 February 1991 but was overthrown in September of that same year in a violent coup, after which he spent the next 3 years in the US. Raoul Cedras lead an interim, unconstitutional, military de facto regime. Through UN Resolution, member states were authorized to use the necessary force to remove the military leadership, and restore Aristide. An international force lead by US troops entered the country and restored Aristide’s government in 15th October 1994. This force eventually became a peacekeeping force and in March 2000, a peace building mission was deployed in Haiti.

In the December 1995 Presidential elections, Rene Preval was elected with 88% of votes. During this time Aristide regrouped around a new party, Fanmi Lavalas. Presidential and Parliamentary elections took place on 26th November 2000 (which the international community did not consider to be free and fair). Since most contenders retired, Jean Bertrand Aristide became President for the second time.

Aristide’s second term in office was violent and unstable. Influential figures from the Haitian establishment strongly opposed his government. By the end of 2003 the political stalemate and nation-wide disenchantment with Aristide had reached a new level. An unlikely combination of the widely respected civil society “Group 184” successfully called for regular, peaceful, anti-government demonstrations while a group of increasingly vocal and violent members of the ex-army succeeded in elevating anti-Aristide sentiment in the country. The OAS and CARICOM tried unsuccessfully to mediate in the political violence and in February 2004 ex-army militants reportedly surrounded Port-au-Prince. On 29 February 2004 Aristide departed to South Africa. Supreme Court Chief Boniface Alexandre took office as prescribed by the Constitution. Gerard Latortue was appointed Prime Minister.

In 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 1529 mandated the despatch of a Multinational Interim Force (MIF). This ultimately became the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH). The mandate has been renewed annually and MINUSTAH remains in Haiti with 130000 troops and some 3500 police.

After a number of postponements due to security concerns, presidential elections were held in Haiti on 7th February 2006. Following the elections there were several days of demonstrations and sporadic outbreaks of violence due to the time taken by the Provisional Elections Commission to publicly announce the result. On 16th February Rene Preval was declared the winner. The announcement eased months of political tension.

2008 saw very high inflation. Riots followed. Michele Pierre-Louis was named the new Prime Minister but Parliament perceived her government to be acting slowly and she was removed one year into her post and replaced by Jean-Max Bellerive. Relative stability followed and some improvements were seen. Paul Collier, a British economist, was commissioned by the UN to produce an economic development strategy which was eventually adapted by Haiti’s government. May 2009 marked the appointment of former USA President Bill Clinton as special envoy in coordinating donations and investments.

On 12 January 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake severely damaged the country’s economy and infrastructure in addition to the numerous lives that were affected. The progress that had been achieved was eliminated or put on hold. It is estimated that 30% of the populations was affected, 2% killed, over 300,000 injured. Parliament authorized an extension of Preval’s mandate until May 2011. In October of 2010 it was confirmed that cholera was once again present in the country after years of absence. The last figures indicated there have been 252,640 cases and 4,672 deaths as of 10 March 2011.

BBC News Country Timeline: Haiti (

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Haiti is one of the original members of the United Nations and several of its specialised and related agencies, as well as a member of the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It maintains diplomatic relations with 37 countries. The International Community rallied to Haiti's defence during the 1991-94 period of illegal military rule. 31 countries participated in the US-led Multinational force (MNF) which, acting under UN auspices, intervened in September 1994 to help restore the legitimate government and create a secure and stable environment in Haiti. Six months later, the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) was charged with maintaining the secure environment. A total of 38 countries participated in UNMIH. Since then, UNMIH has been succeeded by UNSMIH, UNTIMH and MIPONUH. In general terms, all these missions have been mandated to help establish a professional police force; and to promote institution building, national reconciliation and economic rehabilitation in Haiti.

Canada, the US and France were three main contributors of personnel to the original MIF on Aristide’s departure. The MINUSTAH force is multinational, but predominately made up of Latin American troops. It is currently lead by a Brazilian Force Commander (Brazil is the largest troop contributor).

Major bilateral donors include the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Japan and Taiwan. Multilateral aid is co-ordinated through an informal grouping of major donors under the auspices of the World Bank and includes the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and the European Union. Millions of dollars continue to flow into NGO and civil society projects all around the country.

Relations with the UK

The British Embassy based in Santo Domingo has responsibility for British interests in Haiti. UK was the first country to recognize Haiti’s Independence and maintained an Embassy in the country until 1966. At that point the Embassy was closed, though diplomatic relations continue to this day The Ambassador visits regularly from Santo Domingo. The UK also maintains a locally engaged Honorary-Consul in Port-au-Prince.

Our main concern is the well being of the Haitian population. In addition, problems in Haiti can spill over into the wider Caribbean, posing a threat to regional stability. For example, illegal Haitian immigrants are a challenge in the British Overseas Territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Less than 24 hours sailing time from Haiti, TCI has attracted steady numbers of Haitians, in un-seaworthy sloops, looking for employment in the TCI tourist and construction industries. With a tiny population and limited resources, TCI has welcomed this source of labour. But increasing numbers brought unsustainable social strains, particularly on health, education and housing.

In December 2011, a delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union visited Haiti, accompanied by representatives of British companies from the construction, architecture and tourism industries. The delegation met President Martelly and developed contacts with Haitian parliamentarians and businesses.

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Terrain: rugged Mountains with small coastal plains and river valleys, and a large east central elevated plateau.
Climate: Warm, semi-arid, high humidity in many coastal areas.

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External aid is essential to the future economic development of Haiti, the least developed country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Comparative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other low-income developing countries (particularly in the Hemisphere) since the 1980s. Haiti's economic stagnation is the result of earlier inappropriate policies, political instability, and a shortage of good arable land, environmental deterioration and chronic deforestation, continued use of traditional technologies, under-capitalisation and lack of public investment in human resources, migration of large portions of skilled population, a weak national savings rate and corruption.

Workers in Haiti are guaranteed the right of association. Unionisation is protected by the labour code. As the situation deteriorates further the exodus of economic migrants may continue.

Investment and Business Opportunities

Foreigners seeking to establish a business in Haiti must obtain a residence visa. Non-resident entrepreneurs must have a locally licensed agent to conduct business transactions within the country. Individuals wishing to practice a trade in Haiti must obtain an immigrant visa from a Haitian Consulate and in most cases a government work permit. Transient and resident traders must also have a professional ID card. Hurdles for businesses in Haiti include poor infrastructure, a high cost port (highest in the hemisphere), an irregular supply of electricity and customs delays. The government places a 30% withholding tax on all profits received. There is little direct investment, though more is incoming than outgoing. Foreign Investment protection is provided by the constitution of 1987 which permits expropriation of private property for public use or land reform with payment in advance. American firms enjoy free transfer of interest, dividends, profits, and other revenues stemming from their investments, and are guaranteed just compensation paid in advance of expropriation, as well as compensation in case of damages or losses caused by war, revolution, or insurrection.

Special US legislation (HOPE I and HOPE II) provide privileged access to US markets for Haitian textile manufacturers. Korean and Chinese investors have begun to take advantage of them. There are opportunities for export to Europe too, as Haiti is a member of CARICOM and therefore enjoys the benefits of the Economic Partnership Agreement in the EU.

Trade and Investment with the UK

UK exports to Haiti totalled £16,417,720 in 2010. Main UK exports were miscellaneous manufactured articles; power generating equipment; road vehicles, textile yarn, fabrics and made up articles; medicinal and pharmaceutical products and beverages. Illegal imports are known to cross the border. UK imports of Haitian goods amounted to around £1,417,720 in 2010. These consisted mainly in articles of apparel & clothing accessories, fruits and vegetables. De la Rue continues to produce Haitian coins and notes, and Land Rover does steady Business in Haiti.

There are no official UKTI trade services in Haiti. British companies who wish to export or invest in the market should first contact the British Embassy in the Dominican Republic.

UK Development Assistance

Within hours of receiving reports about the earthquake, DFID’s humanitarian response team was helping co-ordinate relief efforts, working around the clock over the following days and weeks. A field team was en-route within 24 hours. The UK government gave £20 million in emergency support which included a 64 person emergency search and rescue team and funding which enabled more than 380,000 people to get access to food, clean water and medical care.

DFID was not the only arm of the UK government (HMG) to respond. Working closely with the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and the Stabilisation Unit, HMG support has also been provided to a number of UN organizations and the Government of Haiti through the secondment of specialist advisors.

In addition, four British civilian experts from the Stabilisation Unit were assigned to work with the Haitian Ministry of Justice to help with the reconstruction of two of the 19 prisons that were destroyed in the earthquake. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Largs Bay, was also dispatched to Haiti, delivering tonnes of much needed medical supplies, shelter material and other relief items.

As well as HMG support, the British public donated £100 million to the DEC Appeal for Haiti, helping contribute to one of the largest humanitarian responses ever mounted.

A further £2million of UK aid will support disaster risk reduction initiatives

HMG will continue to help with Haiti’s reconstruction through funding multilaterals like the World Bank, the EU the Inter-American Development Bank and the UN-MINUSTAH. The UK’s share of the funds so far announced by these bodies for the 2010/11 is over $100 million.

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Recent Political Developments

On 28 November, 2010, Legislative and Presidential elections took place after being postponed because of the January 2010 earthquake. The process was considered to be flawed by the international community. Following an OAS/CARICOM investigation and in accordance with its findings and suggestions, the results were adjusted to reflect the intentions of those who voted. The second round took place on 20th March 2011 between Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly. The official results confirmed that Michel Martelly was the new President. Problems also characterized the Parliamentary vote. Most of the seats were won by Preval’s party, INITE but they do not have overall control of Parliament.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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