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Haiti - Introduction

The U.S. government rates Haiti as Critical in the threat categories of Crime and Political Violence. Haiti is unique in the Caribbean for its relative lack of tourism, scarcity of foreign investment, and inferior infrastructure. Haiti is the poorest and most densely populated country in the western hemisphere, frequently marred by political violence. About a third of Haiti's population - 2.8 million -lives in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Haiti's per capita GDP is one-fifth of the average value for all Latin American and Caribbean countries combined. The country depends heavily on subsistence agriculture. However, Haiti also has several major industries, including sugar refineries, textile and flour mills, and cement. Most industrial facilities are concentrated in the major cities, including Port-au-Prince, Cap Haitian, and Bainet.

Haiti is the second oldest independent country in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest black republic in the world. It was established in 1804 by the only successful country-wide slave rebellion in history. However, Haiti, even after independence from France, was ruled by a succession of dictators. From one of the richest agricultural lands in the Americas It is unable to produce enough food to adequately feed its population, most of whom are moderately malnourished. Life expectancy is short and infant mortality is high, about 12% of children dying before their first birthday. One third of all children die before their 5th birthday.

The population of Haiti today is about 8,300,000 people. 75% of the population live in rural areas, concentrated on small family plots in the few areas suitable for agriculture. In these areas, the population density is very high, increasing the problems of disease exposure and spread. Although the official language is French, the principal spoken language is Creole, used by about 90% of the people. About 50% of the population is illiterate.

It is a cliche of political science that in every society those who have power fight to maintain their influence in the face of challenges from those who are disenfranchised. In few parts of the world has that struggle been as longstanding or accompanied by such brutality as in Haiti. For half a millenium, Haiti has been the battleground for this most basic kind of political struggle. It is a classic contest between diametrically opposed visions of power and governance -- between the power of the few and the rights of the many. This battle has taken many forms and included many different participants. It began with the original Spanish voyagers' conquest of the indigenous Indian peoples and persisted with the French plantation owners' control over their African slaves. It continues today with the domination by certain elements of Haiti's tiny elite minority, supported by the army, of the rural peasants and urban poor.

Over 80% of Haiti's people live in abject poverty. Haiti is one of the most impoverished nations in the Western Hemisphere. The unemployment rate is estimated to be around 60 percent; and the literacy rate is approximately 45 percent. Eighty percent of the population lives in abject poverty and the unemployment rate is estimated to be nearly 90 percent. Half the population of Haiti earns $60 or less per year. The total expenditure on health per person is $54 (compared to $4,499 in the USA and $483 in Mexico).

Less than 45 percent of all Haitians have access to potable water. The life expectancy rate in Haiti is only 53 years. Seventy-six percent of Haiti's children under the age of five are underweight, or suffer from stunted growth and 63 percent of Haitians are undernourished. Ninety percent of all HIV and AIDS infections in the Caribbean are in Haiti: over 300,000 infected people have been identified and deaths from HIV/AIDS have left 163,000 children orphaned. Tuberculosis remains a major cause of adult mortality; rates are thought to be the highest in the hemisphere. Cases of TB in Haiti are more than ten times as high as those in other Latin American countries. Haiti's infant mortality rate is staggering: 74 deaths per 1,000 live births and the maternal mortality rate is approximately 1400 deaths for every 100,000. Only 1 in every 10,000 Haitians has access to a physician.

Most Haitians are Christian but have woven elements of the traditional African religions into their current religious practices. This is the practice of "Voodoo." The term "voodoo" which Americans have come to think of as something dangerous or secret, merely refers to an Important and open part of Haitian religious life.

The nation's capital, Port-Au-Prince, is the largest city and the commercial center of the country. It has an estimated population of 2,000,000 people. A large percentage of these people live in shacks and in extreme urban poverty. These parts of the cities have no sanitation or potable water and the residents of these neighborhoods have high rates of infection with tuberculosis and HIV. Other cities are Cap-Haitians (600,000) on the northern coast, Gonaives (34,000) on the east coast and Les Cayes (34,000) on the southern coast of the island.

Four years after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, complaints remain about the slow pace of reconstruction efforts. And questions have been raised about where all the billions of dollars in pledged aid money have gone.

Basic human rights problems include some arbitrary and unlawful killings by government officials; excessive use of force against suspects and protesters; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient, unreliable, and inconsistent judiciary subject to significant outside and personal influence; rape, other violence, and societal discrimination against women; child abuse; social marginalization of minority communities; and human trafficking. Allegations continued of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Violence and crime within camps for approximately 370,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remained a problem.

Sanitation varies with location, but typically is well below US standards. Local food and water sources (including ice) may be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and viruses to which most foreigners have little or no natural immunity. Diarrheal diseases can be expected to temporarily incapacitate a high percentage of personnel within days if local food, water, or ice is consumed. Hepatitis A can cause prolonged illness in a smaller percentage. Additionally, viral gastroenteritis (e.g., norovirus) and food poisoning (e.g., Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfi'ingens, Staphylococcus) may cause significant outbreaks. Ecological conditions in both rural and urban areas support populations of arthropod vectors, including mosquitoes and sand flies, with variable rates of transmission.

The water and sewer systems in Haiti were constructed mainly by the United States in the 1930s; this aging infrastructure has not been properly maintained nor upgraded to meet the needs of the growing population. Haiti is ranked one of the worst in the world by the United Nations and other groups for water supply and water quality. Less than half of Haiti's population has access to clean drinking water and sanitation; only 2 of the nation's 30 original natural reservoirs remain.

Driving requires extreme caution, particularly in the evening hours. Road conditions inside and outside the major cities are extremely poor. Very few roads are paved, and the ones that are are generally in a state of disrepair. A majority of the roads outside of the main cities are either topped with gravel or are poorly maintained dirt roads. There are a few road improvement projects underway, and roadways remain hazardous. Traffic rules and courtesies are not observed or enforced, and traffic within Port-au-Prince is often gridlocked. Embassy policy strictly prohibits U.S. government employees from driving at night outside of Port-au-Prince.

Piles of trash in the streets and missing manhole covers add to the threats to traffic that include gaping ditches and pot holes, wayward and oblivious pedestrians, and small animals. Street lighting is sporadic and of poor quality in Port-au-Prince and relatively non-existent outside cities. Street signs are also lacking in certain areas, adding confusion to the casual traveler.

The prevalence of guns remains a key security concern, as disarmament efforts, such as the UN's Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program and Haitis Commission for National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (CNDDR) program, have yielded only modest results over the past few years. Robbery-related shootings continued during 2012, and there are frequent reports of random gunfire throughout Port-au-Prince. Anyone visiting or residing in Port-au-Prince for more than a few days is likely to hear gunfire. There has been an increase in reports of crimes being committed by persons carrying/brandishing firearms. Knives or similar weapons also remain popular among criminal elements.




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