Country Study: Haiti

Located on the western side of the Island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean Sea, Haiti is part of the Greater Antilles. The Greater Antilles is a mountain range whose tops stick up above the sea to form islands. The formation of these islands clustered together is known as an archipelago.

This is a view of the Haitian countryside. Photo by Alex Proimos, CC license, Wikimedia.

The island has a tropical, warm climate year round. It used to be covered with thick vegetation, but most of the land has been cleared for agriculture and now has problems with desertification and soil erosion.

This is a satellite image of the Haiti/Dominican Republic border. You can very clearly see the deforestation on the Haiti side of the border. Image created by NASA, public domain.

The nation calls itself a republic, but in fact its government has taken a totalitarian form and as a result Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Foreign aid makes up a large portion of the budget of its government, about 40%, with most of the aid coming from the United States. The Haitian government is rife with corruption and almost none of that aid actually goes towards helping the people. Less than half the population has access to any kind of medical attention at all. Most of the people live in extreme poverty, in shanty towns. The illiteracy rate is around 50%. Those who do get college educations nearly all immigrate to the U.S. for better opportunities.  Haitians mostly speak Haitian Creole or French. Spanish is spoken by some as well, but is not an official language.

In spite of beautiful beaches like this Haiti has almost no tourism. Photo by Bruno Le Bansais, CC license, Wikimedia.

Haiti was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage. The Taino Indians who inhabited the island were treated horribly by the men that Columbus left behind, enslaving them int heir quest for gold. The Taino population of the island was nearly wiped out by forced labor and infectious diseases brought by the Europeans. Africans were imported to the island as slaves to work in Spanish gold mines and on Spanish plantations. A little more than a hundred years later Haiti was a popular spot for pirates, mostly French, who lurked along its coasts waiting to waylay the Spanish ships laden with gold. They eventually made settlements there and grew tobacco and other crops. France and Spain had conflicts on the area and in 1697 made a treaty dividing the island. The French got the western half, which later became Haiti.  It became one of the most brutal of slave holding nations with 1/3 of African slaves dying within one year of importation from Africa. A slave named Toussaint L’Ouverture led a rebellion in 1791. They were successful and Haiti was established as a short-lived republic. since then Haiti has suffered under unstable governments, European and US interference, and repeated coups. Haiti is also in the path of hurricanes that hit the Caribbean every year. and in January 2010, Haiti was hit with a catastrophic earthquake that killed thousands.

This is Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. Photo by Ketounette, CC license, Wikimedia.

Explorations

To learn more about Haiti, get a book from your library for background information, then:

  • And finally discuss compassion and what your family might do for the people of Haiti.

Additional Layers

  • Look at a globe or map of the earth, can you find other archipelagos?
  • Find out what kinds of fish live in the sea around Haiti. Paint an aquarium picture of the sea creatures.
  • Pirates are fascinating. Check out The Great Pirate Activity Book for fun pirate related activities. Then draw your own pirate maps. Argggg!!
  • Like any island nation, the ocean is very important to Haiti. Try our ocean in a bottle experiment.
  • Slavery is an important part of the history of Haiti, learn more about slavery, why it happened, and how it ended.

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