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BBC Country Profiles, 29 March 2001

[Map of Haiti]

The world's first black-led republic and the first Caribbean state to achieve independence, Haiti's pride has been dented by decades of poverty, environmental degradation, violence, instability and dictatorship which have left it the poorest country in the Americas.


A largely mountainous country with a tropical climate, Haiti's location, history and culture, epitomised by voodoo, with its associated music, drumming and dancing, had once made it a potential tourist hot spot. However, instability and violence, especially since the 1980s, have all but killed off this prospect.

For years Haiti had been notorious for the brutal dictatorships of the voodoo physician, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and his son, Jean-Claude, or "Baby Doc". But hopes that the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990 would herald a brighter future were dashed when he was overthrown by the armed forces a short time later.

Although economic sanctions and US-led military intervention forced a return to constitutional government in 1994, Haiti's fortunes have not picked up, amid allegations of electoral irregularities and continuing extra-judicial killings, torture and brutality.

Meanwhile, Haiti's most serious social problem, the huge wealth gap between the impoverished Creole-speaking black majority and the French-speaking mulattos, 1% of whom own nearly half the country's wealth, remains unaddressed.

Furthermore, the country's infrastructure has almost completely collapsed and drug-trafficking has corrupted both the judicial system and the police force.


Population: 7 million
Capital: Port-au-Prince
Major languages:Creole, French
Major religion: Christianity
Form of government: Multi-party republic
Monetary unit: 1 gourde = 100 centimes
Main exports: Light manufactures, coffee, oils, mangoes
Internet domain:.ht
Time zone: GMT-5
International dialling code: +509


President: Jean-Bertrand-Aristide

[President Aristide]

President Aristide

Born in 1953, Aristide's anti-government sermons played an important role in the downfall of Papa Doc Duvalier.

A former Roman Catholic priest and an advocate of liberation theology, he first became president in 1990, when he was elected with a huge majority. He was overthrown just seven months later, but returned in 1994 after Haiti's military rulers were forced to step down.

Forbidden to stand for a second consecutive term, he was replaced by Rene Preval in the 1995 elections, but stood and won in the elections of 2000 amid accusations of irregularities.


Access to the press is limited by the low level of literacy. Although there are over 200 independent radio stations which provide a full spectrum of political views, self-censorship is common, with journalists trying to avoid offending financial sponsors or influential politicians, or being charged under defamation laws.

Official harassment often takes the form of physical assaults by mobs, and there has been at least one instance of journalists being beaten by the police.

Although uncensored satellite television is available, this reaches only a limited number of people because of financial constraints.

The press

Le Matin - independent daily

Le Nouvelliste - independent daily


PVS Antenne - independent, French-language

Television Nationale d'Haiti - government-owned, cultural station, four channels, broadcasting in Creole, French and Spanish

Trans-America - independent, French-language


Radio Antilles International - independent, French-language

Radio Haiti Inter - independent, French-language

Radio Lumiere - independent, Protestant, French-language station

Radio Nationale d'Haiti - government-run, French-language

Radio Soleil independent, Catholic educational station broadcasting in Creole and French

Radio Vision 2000

News agencies

Agence Haitienne de Presse

Haiti On Line