Haiti: Location, History, Size, Population, & Government

About the location, history, size, population, and government of the country haiti



Location--Haiti occupies the western 1/3 of Hispaniola, a Caribbean island 550 mi. southeast of Florida, 50 mi. east of Cuba. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern part of the island.

How Created--The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus on December 6, 1492. He named the island La Isla Espanola (later corrupted to Hispaniola) and left his brother Bartholomew there in 1493 to explore and settle the island. The entire island was at 1st claimed by Spain, but the French encroached on the western part. Louis XIV gave this to the French West Indies Company in 1664, and by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), Spain officially ceded the western 1/3 to France. Now called Saint-Domingue (the Spanish part was known as Santo Domingo), the colony soon became one of the world's richest, far more prosperous than its neighbor. However, the slave revolt of 1791, led by freed slave Toussaint L'Ouverture, and partially inspired by the French and American Revolutions, gave control of the entire island to the slaves by 1804. On January 1, 1804, Saint-Domingue was proclaimed an independent republic, taking the name of Haiti (an Indian word meaning land of mountains). With the final ouster of Haitian forces from Santo Domingo in 1844, the boundary still current between the 2 countries was established.

Size--10,714 sq. mi. (27,750 sq. km.).

Population--5.3 million: black, 95%; mulatto, 5%, with a sprinkling of whites. 66% Roman Catholic, 10% Protestant, 24% native beliefs and others.

Who Rules--In name only, the country is governed under a 1964 Constitution. Actually, since its independence in 1804, Haiti has been run by a succession of dictators, except for the period 1915-1934, when the U.S. Marines invaded and occupied the country. Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, President-for-Life from 1957-1971, was notorious for his repressive measures and for the Tontons Macoutes ("bogeymen" in Creole), his private militia, who did his dirty work. Current President-for-Life is Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier, 23-year-old son of Francois.

Who REALLY Rules--Although named to the Presidency-for-Life by his father, Jean-Claude shared the power with his sisters and particularly with his mother during the 1st few years of his rule. However, increasingly self-confident and secure, he has squelched power moves on the part of family and advisers, and is now acknowledged to be firmly in control of Haiti. Still one of the most repressive regimes in the Western Hemisphere, there is no press or political freedom, opposition parties are banned, and graft and corruption abound. Jean-Claude has nonetheless achieved a slightly more relaxed climate, thus luring investors and tourists to desperately poor Haiti.

The French, after virtually ignoring their onetime colony for 150 years, are starting to invest, while the U.S., concerned about retaining U.S. control in the Caribbean, is also investing in Haiti.

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