Haiti, or Republic of Haiti, a country occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies.
Haiti is shaped roughly like a letter U lying on its side, with the open end facing west. The base of the U forms the boundary with the Dominican Republic, which occupies the rest of Hispaniola. The Gulf of Gonâve separates the two arms of the U. The Atlantic Ocean is on the north, the Caribbean Sea on the south. Gonâve and Tortue (Tortuga) are the largest offshore islands. The total area of the country is 10,714 square miles (27,750 km2).
|Facts in brief about Haiti|
|Official language: Creole and French.|
|Area: 10,714 mi2 (27,750 km2). Greatest distances—east-west, 180 mi (290 km); north-south, 135 mi (217 km). Coastline—672 mi (1,081 km), including offshore islands.|
|Elevation: Highest—Pic La Selle, 8,783 ft (2,677 m) above sea level. Lowest—sea level.|
|Population: Current estimate—9,037,000; density, 843 per mi2 (326 per km2); distribution, 61 percent rural, 39 percent urban. 2003 census—7,929,048.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—coffee, sisal, sugar cane.|
|National anthem: "La Dessalinienne” (“The Song of Dessalines").|
|Flag: Haiti's state flag has a dark blue top half that stands for the blacks of Haiti. The red bottom half represents its mulattoes. In the center of the state flag is the Haitian coat of arms. The civil flag, flown by the people, has no coat of arms.|
|Money: Basic unit—gourde. One hundred centimes equal one gourde.|
Mountains cover two-thirds of Haiti, which is an Indian word meaning “mountain country.” Several ranges, separated by broad, fertile valleys, stretch from east to west. La Selle in the southeast is the highest peak, 8,773 feet (2,674 m) above sea level. There are plains along much of the coast. Haiti's only important river, the Artibonite, flows from its source in the Dominican Republic to the Gulf of Gonâve.
Haiti's climate is hot in the plains and cooler in the mountains. The mean annual temperature at Port-au-Prince, the capital, is 81° F. (27° C.), one of the highest in the West Indies. Rainfall varies widely according to region.
Haiti is one of Latin America's poorest countries. It has few natural resources, illiteracy is widespread, and the country is overpopulated. Corrupt, dictatorial governments have also hindered economic growth.
The vast majority of the people live at a subsistence level, raising such crops as corn, millet, rice, cassava, and beans on small plots of land. Coffee and sugarcane are the main cash crops. Crop yields are low nearly everywhere, due largely to soil depletion and erosion and the use of primitive farming methods.
Manufacturing is concentrated in Port-au-Prince and consists mainly of processing basic foods and manufacturing essential personal and household items. In addition, Haitians produce many handicraft items. Because of Haiti's cheap labor, a number of foreign firms have established assembly plants there; parts are imported and the finished products exported, primarily to the United States. Tourism, once a vital part of Haiti's economy, has declined considerably since the mid-1980's, mainly because of political instability. Some cruise ships visit Haiti's small northern resort of labadie.
Haiti trades primarily with the United States. The chief exports are coffee, assembled manufactured products, and handicrafts. Imports are mostly manufactured goods and foods.
Haiti's basic currency unit is the gourde.
There are few paved roads. The last operating railway, used only to transport sugarcane, closed in the early 1990's. Port-au-Prince is the chief port and air terminal.
About 95 per cent of the people are black. The rest—except for a few whites—are mulattoes, descendants of African slaves and early French settlers. Haiti's population density is about 699 persons per square mile (270 per km2). Port-au-Prince is the capital and largest city.
The official languages are French and Creole. Roman Catholicism is the prevailing and official religion. Voodoo is widely practiced.
Elementary education is free and compulsory, but only about one-fourth of the children attend school and nearly half of the adults are illiterate. The national university—the University of Haiti—is at Port-au-Prince.
The constitution of 1987 provides for an elected president, who is the head of state,and a bicameral legislature called the National Assembly. The National Assembly consists of a 27-member Senate and an 83-member Chamber of Deputies. The president, who is elected by the people to a five-year term, appoints a prime minister as head of the government. Members of the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal are appointed by the president. All citizens 18 and older may vote.