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History of Haiti

Haiti is located in the Caribbean Sea, about 600 miles from Florida. It makes up approximately one third of the island known as Hispaniola, the other two-thirds consisting of the Dominican Republic. Before 1492, the island was inhabited by native Taíno/Arawak people. European contact occurred in 1492 when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island. The island was slowly settled by Spanish colonists who set up an economy based on sugar cane cultivation. They enslaved the native population, who eventually perished as a people due to maltreatment, overwork in plantations and infectious diseases (Dash, 2001). Attempts to replace the Taíno/Arawak by indigenous people from Nicaragua were unsuccessful due to mortality, rebellion and escape. As the plantation economy grew and the original inhabitants perished, there was a need for more labor. The Spanish turned to the Atlantic slave trade for people to work on the plantations. French traders and planters also began to settle on the island. This led to competing European claims on the island of Hispaniola, especially between France and Spain. In 1697 the island was divided and the Western part (modern-day Haiti) came under French administration and was renamed Saint Domingue. As time progressed, the colony became France’s richest and furnished two-thirds of her overseas trade.

Haiti was the first Black republic—the first country where the slaves fought their colonial masters and declared independence—recognized officially by France in 1804. This victory continues to be a source of hope, pride, encouragement, and motivation to Haitians and others. In its early years, however, the sovereignty of Haiti was not recognized either by the Roman Catholic Church or by nations that controlled trade across the Atlantic, including the United States, France and Spain. Despite these challenges, Haiti grew and flourished in the nineteenth century. However, internal and external forces combined during the twentieth century to undermine Haiti’s hard won freedoms. Foreign governments and investors exploited Haiti’s fragile position to maximize profit and trade. Within Haiti, political instability, mismanagement, corruption and oppression have contributed to collective suffering and under-development.

Demography and Diversity

Haiti has a population of more than 9 million people and is growing at a rate of 2.2% per year. In 2003, almost 60% of the population lived in rural areas (Caribbean Country Management Unit, 2006). The population of the country is young, with approximately 50% under 20 years of age. About 51% of the population is single and 44% married or cohabiting.

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