Haiti, rocked by a massive earthquake measuring 7.
0, is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of its most politically unstable.
– GEOGRAPHY: Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. A largely mountainous country with a tropical climate, it has a land mass of 27,750 square kilometers (10,714 square miles) and lies less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Cuba.
– POPULATION: Over 8.5 million, 95 percent of whom are black descendants of African slaves. Literacy rate is 45 percent and life expectancy is just 52 years. Seventy percent live on less than two dollars a day.
– ECONOMY: Two-thirds of Haitians depend on agriculture, and most of them are subsistence farmers. Exports include coffee and textiles. Remittances from Haitians working abroad are the main source of foreign income. Gross national income per capita was 660 dollars in 2008, according to the World Bank.
– CAPITAL: Port-au-Prince.
– LANGUAGES: French and Creole.
– RELIGION: Mainly Roman Catholic. Many Haitians also practice voodoo.
– HISTORY: Ruled for centuries by the Spanish and then the French, Haiti gained independence in 1804. It was occupied by the US Marine Corps between 1915 and 1934. It gained notoriety for brutal dictatorships from the late 1950s until the mid-1980s under Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Jean Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, swept to power in Haiti’s first free elections in 1990. He was overthrown in a military coup eight months later. In 1994, he returned to Haiti with US military help before turning over power in 1996 to his elected successor, Rene Preval. Aristide was re-elected in 2000.
Faced with an armed insurrection and street protests, Aristide bowed to pressure from the United States, France and Canada and fled Haiti on February 29, 2004. Preval regained power in elections in 2006.
The country has remained rocked by violence including bloody feuds between drug trafficking gangs, despite the presence of a UN stabilization force numbering just over 9,000 troops and police.
– ARMED FORCES: Haiti’s army was dissolved in 1994. The United States lifted an arms embargo in 2006.