The Republic of Haiti makes up the western third of the Carribean island of Hispaniola which it shares with the Dominican Republic. It is the poorest and most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere.
The native Taíno Amerindians - who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus in 1492 - were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola, and in 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island - Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L'Ouverture and after a prolonged struggle, became the first Black republic to declare its independence in 1804. Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history.
The dictatorship of father and son team, Dr. François Duvalier "Papa Doc" and Jean-Claude Duvalier "Baby Doc" marked a particulaly brutal period in Haiti's history when thousands of people were killed under their 29-year rule. Control was maintained through secret police organizations targeting political adversaries and this worsened after the death of Duvalier senior in 1971 when his son took over. He was eventually deposed in 1986. The next era was that of former priest, President Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE who was elected in 1990, overthrown a short time later and then re-elected in 1994. Eventually after pressure from France and the US an armed rebellion led to his departure and he left the country in 2004. An interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006. Click here for more information on Haiti.