By far the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the island nation of Haiti suffers from numerous domestic problems, such as extreme poverty, the spread of AIDS, unreliable electrical service and powerful gangs. Despite these problems, its location in the Caribbean has made it an important strategic target for the United States because of its proximity to Cuba. US involvement in the country’s internal affairs began in the early 19th Century when President Thomas Jefferson encouraged France to grant Haiti its independence. However, freedom, did not bring stability. For most of its history, Haiti has suffered from multiple dictatorships. In 1915, the assassination of its dictator prompted the US to send the Marines to restore order. They occupied Haiti until the 1930s, with American officials virtually ruling the country through a puppet government. Even when the Haitian people finally were given a chance at democracy and elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide president in 1991, a military coup quickly squashed its dreams of self-determination, forcing Aristide to flee to the US. After several UN peacekeeping efforts and an interim government, Haiti still faces rising food prices and a multitude of human rights violations. In January 2010, Haiti experienced a 7.0 earthquake that leveled the capital city, affected an estimated three million people, and killed more than 200,000 people.
Lay of the Land: Haiti is located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola is the second-largest island in the Caribbean (Cuba is larger). Nearly two thirds of the Haitian terrain is mountainous and unable to support crops. The warm, rainy tropical climate is moderated by trade winds.
Population: 8.9 million
During Columbus’s famed voyage in 1492, the explorer landed on the island of Hispaniola which was inhabited by the Arawaks. Disease and repression by the Spaniards decimated the Arawaks, who gave Haiti (“land of mountains”) its name. While establishing plantations on the eastern side of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic), the Spanish largely ignored the western part of the island, which became a base for French and English settlers. Gradually French colonists imported African slaves and developed sugar plantations on the northern coast. In 1697, the Spanish gave up control of Haiti (then called Saint-Dominque) to France.
(Library of Congress)
The United States has a long history of being involved in Haiti’s domestic affairs. In the early 19th century, the administration of Thomas Jefferson became concerned that France’s presence on the island nation could afford the European power a jumping off point to invade the Louisiana Territory. When Napoleon’s forces struggled to suppress a Haitian uprising, Jefferson used the opportunity to encourage France to vacate the colony.
Who Removed Aristide? (by Paul Farmer, London Review of Books)
(by David Wallechinsky, AllGov.com)
Haiti is a major provider of cheap labor for clothing manufacturers in the United States. This has resulted in apparel and household goods becoming the No. 1 import for the US from the island nation, increasing from $253 million in 2004 to $347 million in 2008. No other import comes close in terms of dollar value. Other top imports include fruits and frozen juices ($8.2 million); cocoa beans ($7.8 million); and tobacco, waxes, and nonfood oils ($2.9 million).
Aristide Accuses US of Kidnapping Him
(by Greg Hitt, Wall Street Journal)
The State Department reports that despite some improvements, the Haitian government’s human rights record remained poor. The following human rights problems were reported: “failure to hold timely parliamentary elections; alleged unlawful killings by the Haitian National Police [HNP] officers; ineffective measures to address killings by members of gangs and other armed groups; HNP participation in kidnappings; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; arbitrary threats and arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient judiciary subject to significant influence by the executive and legislative branches; severe corruption in all branches of government; violence and societal discrimination against women; child abuse, internal trafficking of children, and child domestic labor; and ineffective enforcement of worker rights.”
After the January 2010 Earthquake in Haiti, What are the Options for Rebuilding Haiti?
(by Angel Parham, The Maroon)
Benjamin F. Whidden
An economist and international development specialist, Paul G. Altidor was named as Haiti’s ambassador to the United States in January 2012 and presented his credentials to President Barack Obama on May 2.
Altidor, 39, was born in the port city of Jérémie, Haiti. He was educated in the U.S. after his family moved to Boston when he was a teenager. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston College and a master’s in international development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also did graduate work in economics and law in France at Paris X Nanterre (now known as Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense).
Early in his career, Altidor headed a non-profit organization, taught at the École Supérieure Catholique de Droit de Jérémie, a law school in his home town and started a small motorcycle business. Then he went to work at the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group. In this role he advised foreign governments on public-private partnerships, including a deal involving Vietnam’s government-run telecommunications company, Viettel, investing in Haiti’s state-owned telephone operation.
Prior to becoming ambassador to Washington, Altidor served as vice president of programs and investments for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Created in the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit the Caribbean island nation in 2010, the fund was established with the support of President Barack Obama and co-chaired by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Official Biography (Embassy of Haiti)
With a New Ambassador at the Helm, Haiti’s Embassy Gets a Facelift (by Manolia Charlotin, Haitian Times)
Haiti’s New Ambassador To U.S. Takes Office (by Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald)
De la ville de Jérémie à Washington : Paul Altidor nommé ambassadeur (referencefm.com)