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Haiti map

Haiti

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Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Republic occupies the remaining two-thirds of the island. Haiti is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. Approximately 9 million people live in this island nation.

Haiti’s terrain is very rough and mountainous. Its climate is tropical, but the eastern region, where mountains cut off the trade winds, is semiarid. The nation has a few natural resources, including bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, and hydropower.

The majority of Haitians are of African descent, and a small mulatto and white population makes up the minority. Haitians are also predominately Roman Catholic, but half of the population practices voodoo to some extent as well. Haiti’s official languages are French and Creole.

The island of Hispaniola was discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and claimed by the Spanish. By the early 17th century, however, the French had established a presence on the island. In 1697 the Spanish ceded the western third of the island to the French. Subsequently, the colony became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. An enormous amount of slave labor was imported  to support the colony’s large forestry and cane sugar industries.

After years of oppression, a slave population numbering around a half million revolted under the leadership of Toussanit L’Ouverture. In 1804 Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic. However, since its independence, Haiti has suffered repeated political violence. Today, Haiti is occupied by forces of the United Nations, who hope to provide stability to the traditionally tumultuous nation.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Eighty percent of its population lives under the poverty line, with 55 percent living on one dollar or less per day. Although the exact unemployment rate is unknown, it is extremely high, as more than two-thirds of the labor force is without a formal job.

The massive earthquake of January 2010 devastated Haiti’s capital city and surrounding areas. With the loss of as many as 150,000 lives and a million-plus left homeless by the disaster, this already anemic country is in more desperate need than ever.