Haiti

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Haiti is a Caribbean country that occupies the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola. The eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola is occupied by the Dominican Republic. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north, while the Caribbean Sea lies to the south. Haiti is a country with a troubled past, and its future still remains uncertain. Decades of poverty, environmental degradation, violence, instability, dictatorship and coups, among other things, have left it the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. (less...) (more...)

Population: 9,893,934 people
Area: 27,750 km2
Highest point: 2,680 m
Coastline: 1,771 km
Life expectancy: 62.85 years
GDP per capita: $1,300
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About Haiti

History

Haiti was inhabited by the native Taino Indians when Christopher Columbus landed on December 5, 1492 at Mole St Nicolas. Columbus named the island Hispaniola. The Taino were a branch of the Arawak Indians,a peaceful tribe that was weakened by frequent violent invasions by the cannibalistic Carib Indians. Later, Spanish settlers brought smallpox and other European diseases to which the Taino had no immunity. In short order, the native Taino were virtually annihilated. There is no discernible trace of Taino blood on Haiti today. The current inhabitants have exclusively African and/or European roots.

In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola and in 1697 Spain ceded the western third of the island to France. Through the development of sugar and coffee plantations, the French colony of Saint-Domingue flourished, becoming one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. Enslaved Africans were brought to Haiti to work on these French plantations. Work conditions for slaves on Haiti were the harshest imaginable, as sugar and coffee plantations required intensive labor. The French imported an enormous slave labor force, which ultimately vastly outnumbered the French planters 10 to 1.

In August 1791, Saint-Domingue's nearly 500,000 slaves revolted, burning every plantation to the ground and killing all the whites that they could find. After a bloody 13 year struggle, the former slaves ousted the French and created Haiti, the first black republic, in 1804. Since its revolution, Haiti has had at least 32 coups over the centuries, a series of military dominations that focused on maintaining power and extracting wealth from a large peasant base. A lack of government and civil unrest led to the American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934.

While order was brought about and much infrastructure was developed in Haiti by the United States, Haitians resented the occupation of their country. The withdrawal of Americans by President Roosevelt in 1934 left a power vacuum that was filled by Haitian military elite. The Forbes Commission in 1930 accurately noted that "the social forces that created [instability] still remain--poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government."

The following 20 years saw ruthless struggles for power that ended with the ascension of François (Papa Doc) Duvalier. Duvalier's brutal dictatorship lasted nearly thirty years, with his son, Jean-Claude (Bébé Doc) Duvalier assuming power after Papa Doc's death in 1971. Bébé Doc was ousted in 1986, followed by more bloodshed and military rule that culminated in a new Constitution in 1987 and the election of former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president in 1990.

After a coup, Aristide went into exile. Most of his term was usurped by a military takeover, but he returned to office in 1994 after Haitian General Raoul Cedras asked the United States to intervene, negotiating the departure of Haiti's military leaders and paving the way for the return of Aristide. His former prime minister, René Préval, became president in 1996. Aristide won a second term as president in 2000, and took office early in 2001. However, accusations of corruption were followed by a paramilitary coup that ousted Aristide in 2004. Since then, Haiti has been occupied by U.N. peacekeeping troops (MINUSTAH).

Climate

Tropical and semiarid where mountains in the east cut off trade winds, Haiti lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to November. Experiences occasional flooding, earthquakes and droughts.

When traveling to Haiti it is very important that you bring a first aid kit. Be sure to include a lighter, flashlight (due to Haiti’s constant power outages), Pepto-Bismol, instant ice packs, Motrin, and Tylenol, water purifying tablets (just in case), bug spray, sunscreen, Benadryl, etc. Be sure to not drink the water and any drinks made with the water unless you are on an American-run base with guaranteed purified water.

Activities

Champs-de-Mars was once the most beautiful park in Haiti but is now covered in tents housing people made homeless by the earthquake. It was a public place where people went to relax, before the quake. It is located near the National Palace.

Food

Haitian cuisine is typical of Caribbean métissage, a wonderful mix of French and African sensibilities. It is similar to its Spanish Caribbean neighbors yet unique in its strong presence of spices. Roast goat called 'kabrit', morsels of fried pork 'griot', poultry with a Creole sauce 'poulet creole', rice with wild mushroom 'du riz jonjon' are all wonderful and tasty dishes.

Along the coast fish, lobster and conch are readily available. Haiti has a very fine collection of fruit including guava, pineapple, mango (Haiti's most prized fruit), banana, melons, breadfruit, as well as mouth watering sugarcane cut and peeled to order on the streets. Restaurants in the bigger cities provide safe and delicious meals, and precautions are taken with the food and water to keep things safe.

However, even in resorts with purified water, it is not always safe to assume that raw vegetables (such as lettuce and tomatoes) have been properly washed. In smaller or more humble venues make sure to eat fruit and vegetables that can be skinned or peeled, drink bottled drinks only, make sure any ice is from a clean water source, and make sure any meat is well-cooked.

When bottled water or boiled water is not available, a freshly opened coconut provides water and electrolytes with minimal health risk.

Drinks

Haitian rum is well-known. 'Barbancourt 5 star' is a top drawer drink. 'Clairin' is the local firewater made from sugarcane that can be bought on the street, often flavored with various herbs that can be seen stuffed into the bottle. 'Prestige' is the most popular beer, and is of good quality and excellent taste. Also be sure to try the 'Papye' drink, a sort of papaya milk shake that is deliciously refreshing beyond words on a hot day. Cremas is a tasty, creamy alcoholic beverage that is derived from coconut milk.

Shopping

The Haitian gourde is the currency of Haiti. As of April 2011, the exchange rate is 40.85 gourdes = $1 US. Although merchants are required to quote prices in gourdes by law, virtually everything is priced in "dollars"--not US but Haitian dollars, equivalent to 5 gourdes. This practice is a holdover from the US occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century, during which the gourde was pegged at 5 gourdes to the US dollar.

Haiti has become famous for its very informal yet interesting bustling marketplace. Everything is sold here ranging from the curiously appealing to the dullest of objects for rather inexpensive prices. Haggling is both wise and recommended, as most Haitians will charge foreigners at least double the market rate. There are various large retail supermarkets in the capital that offer a variety of items at fixed prices. Haiti has a world of crafts waiting to be sought after.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Haiti on Wikivoyage.

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Points of Interest in Haiti

Port-Au-Prince has some landmarks, structures and statues, such as a large pair of hand holding the earth. Many of these are close to the airport. This city is the largest in Haiti and was the most affected by the earthquake. You will still see evidence of the disaster, such as crumbling buildings, but much reconstruction has taken place. When you go a short distance outside of the city, you will have a better idea of the devastation. There are still people living in the "tent village," which extends for about two miles and is made up small tarps draped over sticks stuck in the ground. As you go on, you may pass one of the mass graves dug after the earth quake, but you probably will not realize it is a grave. It's on the side of small mountain, and the grass has grown over the turned earth. There are no markings but you will sometimes see people there or flowers placed in memory.

Haiti has beautiful scenery if you know where to find it. If you are travelling or staying with someone who knows the area well, ask if there are any nice beaches or mountainous areas nearby. St. Marc, along with some other cities, has a beautiful mountain range that can be hiked. At the top of these mountains are some historical artifacts, structures and incredible views of the ocean.

Labadee Beach - Labadee

Place d\'Armes - Cap-Haitien

Champs de Mars Square - Port-au-Prince

Church of St. Peter - Petionville

National Palace - Port-au-Prince

Cap-Haitien Cathedral - Cap-Haitien

Port-au-Prince Cathedral - Port-au-Prince

Sans Souci Palace - Cap-Haitien

Citadelle Laferriere - Cap-Haitien

Stade Sylvio Cator - Port-au-Prince

La Visite National Park - Petionville

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