Haiti facts

Population: Haiti is the most densely populated country in Latin America and has the lowest per capita income, with about two thirds of the people unemployed and at least three quarters living in poverty. About 95% of the inhabitants are descendants of African slaves. Since the mid-19th century, Haiti has often been politically dominated by the mulatto (of African-European descent) minority.

Languages: Haitian Creole, French (both official).

Religions: Christianity (mainly Roman Catholic; also Protestant); also Vodou.

Currency: Gourde. In 1912, the gourde was pegged to the US dollar at a value of 5 gourdes to the US dollar. Although this peg was abandoned in 1989 and the currency now floats, because of the old link, five gourdes is often referred to as a “Haitian dollar”. Prices are thus often given in “Haitian dollars”, which must be multiplied by five to convert to gourdes.

Geography: Most of the land is mountainous, about two-thirds above 490 m. The mountain ranges alternate with fertile but overpopulated lowlands. The longest river is the Artibonite. About one third of the land is arable. Once covered by forest, the country has been heavily logged for wood and fuel and to clear land for farming, and is now largely deforested.

Climate: Tropical climate, modified by the mountains and subject to periodic droughts and hurricanes.

Economy: Agriculture is the principal economic activity in Haiti. Subsistence crops include cassava, rice, sugarcane, sorghum, yams, corn, and plantains. Haiti’s major exports are light manufactures and coffee; other exports include oils, cocoa, mangoes, sugar, sisal, and bauxite.

Politics: Multiparty republic with two legislative houses; the chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister.


The strongest earthquake in Haiti in more than 200 years, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation on 12 January 2010 in the late afternoon.

Epicenter: 17 km south-west of Port-au-Prince. The city of Léogâne is reported to be 80% destroyed. Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Jacmel and other areas south and west of Port-au-Prince were also heavily affected.

Prior to the earthquake, around 67% of the population were living on less than US$ 2 a day.

After the earthquake, around 1.5 million people, representing 15% of the population, have been directly affected. Over 220,000 people lost their lives and over 300,000 were injured.

Thousands of people are in need of psychological support or psychosocial supervision. Around 1.3 million people are living in temporary shelters in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and over 500,000 people have left the disaster areas to seek refuge in the rest of the country.

(Adapted from WHO/PAHO situation report May 2010)


before 1942 – History not outlined by most sources because the island wasn’t discovered by Europeans yet. The island was inhabited by the Taino Indians (which may or may not be Arawak, this is disputed).

1492 – Christopher Columbus lands and names the island Hispaniola, or Little Spain. Within 25 years up to 90% of the native Indian population died due to disease (not immune to e.g. smallpox) and ill treatment.

1496 – Spanish establish first European settlement in western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, now capital of Dominican Republic. While establishing plantations in East Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic), however, the Spanish largely ignored the western part of the island, which by the 17th cent. became a base for French and English buccaneers. Gradually French colonists, importing African slaves, developed sugar plantations on the northern coast.

1697 – Spain cedes western part of Hispaniola to France, and this becomes Haiti, or Land of Mountains as named by the native Taino. Through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation, Haiti became France’s most prosperous colony in the Americas and one of the world’s chief coffee and sugar producers. The pattern of settlement took the French south in the 18th cent. and society became stratified into Frenchmen, Creoles, freed blacks, and black slaves. Between the blacks and the French and Creoles were the mulattoes, whose social status was indeterminate. When French-descended Creole planters sought to prevent mulatto representation in the French National Assembly and in local assemblies in Saint-Dominque, the mulattoes revolted under the leadership of Vincent Ogé.

1801 – A former black slave who became a guerrilla leader, Toussaint Louverture, conquers Haiti, abolishing slavery and proclaiming himself governor-general of an autonomous government over all Hispaniola.

1802 – French force led by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, fails to conquer Haitian interior.


1804 – Haiti becomes independent; former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines declares himself emperor.

1806 – Dessalines assassinated and Haiti divided into a black-controlled north and a mulatto-ruled south

1818-43 – Pierre Boyer unifies Haiti, but excludes blacks from power.

1915 – US invades Haiti following black-mulatto friction, which it thought endangered its property and investments in the country.

1934 – US withdraws troops from Haiti, but maintains fiscal control until 1947.

Duvalier dictatorships

1956 – Physician Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power in military coup and is elected president a year later.

1964 – Duvalier declares himself president-for-life and establishes a dictatorship with the help of the Tontons Macoute militia.

1971 – Duvalier dies and is succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude, or “Baby Doc”, who also declares himself president-for-life.

1986 – Baby Doc flees Haiti in the wake of mounting popular discontent and is replaced by Lieutenant-General Henri Namphy as head of a governing council.

1988 – Leslie Manigat becomes president, but is ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Prosper Avril, who installs a civilian government under military control.

Democracy, coup and intervention

1990 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide elected president in Haiti’s first free and peaceful polls.

1991 – Aristide ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Raoul Cedras, triggering sanctions by the US and the Organisation of American States.

1994 – Military regime relinquishes power in the face of an imminent US invasion; US forces oversee a transition to a civilian government; Aristide returns.

1995 – UN peacekeepers begin to replace US troops; Aristide supporters win parliamentary elections

Rene Preval, from Aristide’s Lavalas party, is elected in December to replace Aristide as president.

1997-99 – Serious political deadlock; new government named.

1999 – Preval declares that parliament’s term has expired and begins ruling by decree following a series of disagreements with deputies.

Aristide’s second term

2000 November – Aristide elected president for a second non-consecutive term, amid allegations of irregularities.

2001 July – Presidential spokesman accuses former army officers of trying to overthrow the government after armed men attack three locations, killing four police officers.

2001 December – 30 armed men try to seize the National Palace in an apparent coup attempt; 12 people are killed in the raid, which the government blames on former army members.

2002 July – Haiti is approved as a full member of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade bloc.

2003 April – Vaudou (or voodoo) recognised as a religion, on a par with other faiths.

2004 January-February – Celebrations marking 200 years of independence turn into uprising against President Aristide, who is forced into exile. An interim government takes over.

2004 May – Severe floods in south, and in parts of neighbouring Dominican Republic, leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared.

2004 June – First UN peacekeepers arrive, to take over security duties from US-led force and to help flood survivors.

2004 July – International donors pledge more than $1bn in aid.

2004 September – Nearly 3,000 killed in flooding in the north, in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne.

late 2004 – Rising levels of deadly political and gang violence in the capital; armed gangs loyal to former President Aristide are said to be responsible for many killings.

2005 April – Prominent rebel leader Ravix Remissainthe is killed by police in the capital.

2005 July – Hurricane Dennis kills at least 45 people.

Preval wins elections

2006 February – General elections, the first since former President Aristide was overthrown in 2004. Rene Preval is declared the winner of the presidential vote after a deal is reached over spoiled ballot papers.

2006 June – A democratically-elected government headed by Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis takes office.

2006 September – Launch of a UN-run scheme to disarm gang members in return for grants, job training.

2006 October – US partially lifts an arms embargo, imposed in 1991.

2007 January – UN troops launch tough new offensive against armed gangs in Cite Soleil, one of the capital’s largest and most violent shantytowns.

2008 April – Food riots. Government announces emergency plan to cut price of rice in bid to halt unrest. Parliament dismisses Prime Minister Alexis.

2008 May – US and World Bank announce extra food aid totalling 30m dollars.

In response to plea from President Preval for more police to help combat wave of kidnappings-for-ransom, Brazil agrees to boost its peacekeeping force.

Tropical storms

2008 August/September – Nearly 800 people are killed and hundreds are left injured as Haiti is hit by a series of devastating storms and hurricanes.

2008 September – Michele Pierre-Louis succeeds Jacques-Edouard Alexis as prime minister.

2008 November – A school in Port-au-Prince collapses with around 500 pupils and teachers inside. The authorities blame poor construction methods.

2009 May – Former US President Bill Clinton appointed UN special envoy to Haiti.

2009 July – World Bank and International Monetary Fund cancel $1.2bn of Haiti’s debt – 80% of the total – after judging it to have fulfilled economic reform and poverty reduction conditions.

2009 October-November – Jean-Max Bellerive becomes prime minister after the Senate passes censure motion against his predecessor, Michelle Pierre-Louis.


2010 January – Up to 300,000 people are killed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the capital Port-au-Prince and its wider region – the worst in Haiti in 200 years.

US takes control of the main airport to ensure orderly arrival of aid flights.

2010 March – International donors pledge $5.3 billion for post-quake reconstruction at a donor conference at UN headquarters.

2010 July – Popular anger grows over slow pace of reconstruction six months after quake, aid workers report.

Sources: AlertNet 2010, UN Office of the Special Envoy 2010, BBC News, ALNAP Context analysis 2010 

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