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Need to know ~ Places

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Mountainous farming plots near Port-au-Prince, June 5, 2003

Photo: Jlanghurst, CC BY-SA 3.0

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 2014

Photo: Ketounette CC BY-SA 3.0

Why current?


On July 7th, the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was killed while in his home in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.  While several of the armed men who carried out the attack have been arrested, it is still unclear who organized and funded the operation and why.  Some people have been pointed to as prime suspects, including Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian pastor who has been living in Florida for the last 20 years.  Sanon is known to have been highly critical of Moïse and to have expressed interest in pursuing political ambitions in Haiti.

So if the president is dead, who is leading Haiti?  For a while, this wasn’t a simple question to answer.  Immediately following the killing of the president, the acting prime minister of Haiti, Claude Joseph, was running things.  But not everyone agreed that he was supposed to be in that position because shortly before his death, Moïse had actually appointed Ariel Henry to the position of prime minister; Joseph was just filling the role temporarily.  So some people thought Henry should be in charge, not Joseph.  Still others in government believed that Joseph Lambert, the senate leader, should lead the country.

As a result, Haiti was in an extremely unstable situation for several days, amidst fears of increased civil unrest while various men vied for the nation’s top position.  The fact that there was no clear leader created a “power vacuum.”  In other words, because there was a hole left at the top of Haiti’s government, the probability was high that someone would fill it, and not necessarily in a fair way.  Whoever could grab power first (and by whatever means necessary) might be able to take the presidency.   

Two weeks after the president’s death, the question was settled and Moïse’s appointee, Ariel Henry, was sworn into office.  The situation remains shaky, though, because for years, Haiti has been mired in layers of problems.  Widespread poverty, violent gangs in the streets, political instability, and the spread of Covid-19 without any vaccine doses available, have set the stage for continued suffering among the Haitian people.

See Haiti on Google Earth:  https://earth.google.com/haiti

More about Haiti

– The small, mountainous country of Haiti makes up about 1/3 of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic,  its neighbor to the east.   Haiti is located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  Its total land area is slightly less than that of the U.S. state of Maryland.

– The population of Haiti is around 5.4 million.  Many people live in the countryside and try to survive off of whatever they produce on their small farms.  Market towns called bourgs dot the land.  A typical bourg consists of a Catholic church, a police station, a court house, a shop, and a central square. 

– Rural areas are quite densely populated, but more and more people have been moving to the cities.  The nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has grown in recent years, and its current population is about 2.8 million. 

– Haiti’s official languages are French and Creole.

– The currency is the Haitian gourde.

– Haiti’s national flower is the hibiscus flower, and its national colors are blue and red.

– Some of Haiti’s main agricultural products are sugarcane, rice, corn, avocados, and mangoes.

– Haiti’s most important industries include textile manufacturing, sugar refining, and flour milling.  Some of the country’s exports are clothing, essential oils, perfumes, and mangoes.

– The climate of Haiti is warm and tropical throughout most of the year.

– While much of the country is covered by mountainous terrain. a small portion of the land is flat and arable.  Some coastlines are flat, too.  That’s where giant royal palms can be found, reaching heights of over 18 meters (60 feet).  Sea life flourishes around the coral reefs in the waters close to the shore. 

– Haiti has two national parks, both established in 1983.  Macaya Peak National Park is a cloud forest reserve and home to many endangered plants and animals.  La Visite National Park is also a nature reserve.  Sadly, protection of vulnerable species in both parks has been inconsistent over the years.  Some farming is taking place within the parks.

– Forests used to flourish in Haiti.  But with more and more people needing to survive off the land, much of the countryside has been cleared of trees and turned into farmland.  Deforestation has led to massive soil erosion.  In addition, many wild animals and plants have lost their homes and are rapidly dying off.

– The history of Haiti is a violent one.  In 1492, the island of Hispaniola became a colony of Spain.  Within just 25 years, most of the Taino people native to the island were killed by the colonists, who later brought enslaved people over from Africa, whom they forced to work for the colony.  In the 1600s, the French gained control of the part of Hispaniola that would become Haiti.  They continued to use slave labor to enrich themselves with the production of crops like sugarcane, cotton, and coffee.

– The nearly half million enslaved people of Haiti eventually rose up in rebellion against the French and gained their independence in 1804.  That’s when Haiti became an independent nation.  Since then, dictatorships, corruption, upheavals, and a period of U.S. occupation all contributed to Haiti’s ongoing struggle to gain solid economic and political footing.

– Much of the country’s population lives in deep poverty.  Many Haitians try to eke out a living from the earth, farming small pieces of land and surviving off of whatever they manage to grow.  Others look for work in the cities, but good jobs are difficult to come by.  Unemployment is high, and even those who are able to find work, can rarely rely on steady paychecks.

– Adding to Haiti’s troubles is the fact that it regularly gets hit by hurricanes and strong tropical storms.  In 2008, for example, four fierce storms ripped through the country, leaving death and destruction in their wake.  In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused immense damage on the island and killed more than 500 people.

– In 2010, some 300,000 people lost their lives when a cataclysmic 7.0 earthquake destroyed much of Haiti’s already fragile infrastructure.  Over a million of those who survived were left with no place to live.  Many were thrown into deeper poverty, having lost everything in a country where there is no reliable safety net for most of the population.

– Life expectancy for men in Haiti is 61, for women 64.

– Despite the deeply-rooted problems facing Haiti – some of which originated centuries ago – the Haitian people maintain a luminous and dynamic cultural tradition.  The famous merengue musical style was created in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  The visual arts of Haiti have been receiving international acclaim ever since the 1940s, when a group of Haitian artists opened Centre d’Art – a workshop for the development of the arts in Port-au-Prince.  The national capital is also home to the National Library, the National Council for Scientific Research, and a number of celebrated museums and performance venues.  Dance, music, art, and literature have blossomed amidst a people searching for creative self-expression in the face of a hard history, a still-difficult present, and an uncertain future.

Sources: Lall, Rashmee Roshan, opendemocracy.net, “What’s happening in Haiti?” https://www.opendemocracy.net/haiti/, July 13, 2021; National Geographic Kids, “Haiti,” https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/haitiBBC, “Haiti country profile,” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-19548810, July 7, 2021; CIA.gov, “The World Factbook – Haiti,” https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/haiti/#environment, July 2021; Lawless, Robert, Britannica, “Haiti,” https://www.britannica.com/place/Haiti, July 8, 2021.