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CHAPTER I

An Introduction to Haiti


GEOGRAPHY:

Haiti is situated some 750 miles southeast of Miami, FL, and occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti has a land mass of 10,714 square miles. Haiti, an Indian word meaning "mountains," is made up of extremely mountainous country of which only 20 percent of the territory lies below 600 feet. The highest mountain in Haiti (Chain de la Sel) is almost 9,000 feet above sea level.

Haiti's ecology has been damaged since its independence in 1804. Only seven percent of the country's original forest remains unscathed by deforestation. Most of the trees have been cut down and used as firewood for heating and cooking. Some wood has been sold to surrounding island nations to provide much needed income. Massive soil erosion has also occurred due to the vast amount of deforestation. Thus, much of the soil in Haiti has been depleted of vital minerals.

Most of the water in Haiti is also polluted. This includes parts of the coastal areas, such as the Bay of Port-au-Prince, and most of the major ports and some coastal towns. The water throughout the country is nonpotable.



CLIMATE:

The climate in Haiti is tropical with average temperatures ranging from 80 degrees in January to 86 degrees in July. There are also two rainy seasons. The first runs from April to June and the second between October and November. Like in all Caribbean countries, hurricanes are prevalent.

THE PEOPLE:

Haitian society is divided into black persons of African descent who constitute 95 percent of the population, mulattoes of mixed African and European stock, and a few Europeans. More than 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

LANGUAGE:

While the official language is French, 90 percent of the people speak Creole exclusively. The adult literacy rate is very low, averaging 23 percent at best.

RELIGION:

Ninety-five percent of all Haitians are Roman Catholics. The other five percent practice protestant religions. In conjunction with these religions, in particular with the Roman Catholic, Haitians practice voodoo. The religious ceremonies involved in the practice of the voodoo religion are usually closed to foreigners. They usually involve music, dancing, and sacrifices of sorts depending on what the practitioners want to accomplish.

There have been distinctions made between Voudun and Vaudun. Voudun is considered black magic or the evil branch. Vaudun is considered white magic or the good branch. Most people do not make a distinction between the two branches since both are practiced by all depending on what they want to do. Some terms and definitions follow:

    Ason - Sacred rattle of the priest or priestess. Made of dried gourd with trade beads of different colors strung on the outside. Dried snakes' vertebrae may also be strung.

    Bukulou - An evil and mischievous demon, a werewolf whose evil spirit is nourished by human flesh.

    Damballa - the snake god who rules the voodoo cult.

    Erzulie - The mistress of Damballa and a ruler.

    Freda - The wife of Damballa and a ruler.

    Guede - The god of death.

    Baron Samedi - The god of cemeteries.

    Loa - The spirit or god who possesses people during cult ceremonies. Originally from Africa, the loa may take residence in the head or occupy the entire body. Services to the loas are the chief means of perpetuating practices brought from Africa by the slaves.

    Boko - A cult priest who practices divining or magic in addition to working with the loa and the dead.

    Bosal - A wild, untamed and unclean spirit. Also one not yet inducted into the voodoo cult.

    Hounsi - An acolyte to the voodoo; servitor of the gods or loa who has been "tamed" or controlled. May be male or female.

    Dyab - Devil.

    Gri-gri - Fetish; talisman, magical charm; bird used in making charm.

    Cheval - Horse; person "mounted," or possessed, by god or loa.

    Houngfor - The voodoo temple, structure dedicated to the Haitian loa of gods for permanent housing and ceremonial offerings; repository of artifacts associated with, and of, the mystic spirit of the gods.

    La Plase - Chief assistant of the hougan. Assumes responsibility for running the houngfor in the absence of his chief.

    Hougun - Officiating priest of the voodoo.

    Mambo - Officiating priestess of the voodoo.

    Ouanga - Aggressive magic; charm; spell.

    Veve - Ceremonial drawing made of meal or flour on the ground by the hougan.

HEALTH AND DISEASE IN HAITI:

Malaria: Malaria exists countrywide throughout the entire year. Data from 1989 indicates that 23,000 cases were recorded.

* AIDS: The blood supply may not be adequately screened, and single-use, disposable needles and syringes may not be available. When possible, travelers should defer medical treatment until reaching a facility where safety can be assured. (Reports indicate that 50 percent of Haitian prostitutes carry the AIDS virus and that about 4 of every 10 AIDS victims are female.)

Tuberculosis (TB): It is estimated that about 10 percent of the population has TB. It is present throughout the country.

Other Diseases:

Insect-borne illness: outbreaks of dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever occur.

  • Filariasis (Bancroftian type) occurs.

  • Tularemia - occurs.

    Food-borne and water-borne illness, such as bacillary and amoebic dysentery, are common.

  • Poliomyelitis - prevalent.

Other hazards:

  • Animal rabies, particularly in the mongoose, is reported in some areas.

  • Coral and jellyfish may present problems.

KEY POLITICAL AND MILITARY PERSONALITIES:

President Jean-BertrandAristide.

Jean Bertrand Aristide is the first democratically elected President of Haiti. He is a former priest who is very popular among the lower class Haitians. His symbol was the black chicken during the presidential election. He won the election by taking 67 percent of the popular vote. After seven months as President, he was ousted in a coup by the Haitian military.

Lieutanant-General Raoul Cedras.

Lt-General Cedras is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Haiti (FAD'H). He has held this position since July 1991 when he was appointed by President Aristide. When Prime Minister Marc Bazin stepped down from power, Lt-General Cedras became the DeFacto leader of Haiti. He was also the Haitian representative in the New York talks with President Aristide. Lt-General Cedras has agreed to resign upon President Aristide's return to Haiti.

Brigadier General Philippe Biamby

Brigadier General Biamby currently holds the position of Chief of the General Staff. He was appointed to this position in February 1992 after President Aristide's ouster. He has attended the U. S. Army Infantry Officer Basic Course at Ft Benning, GA, and is a very influential leader in Haiti.

Major General Jean Claude Duperval.

Major General Duperval is the Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Haitian Armed Forces (FAD'H) and has held this position since February 1992. He served for nearly 13 years in an Infantry Unit and has attended the U.S. Army Adjutant General Officer basic course. He also served in the Port-au-Prince Police as S2 and later as its Chief in the 1989-90 period.

Lieutenant Colonel Michel Francois.

Lieutenant Colonel Francois has been the Commander of the Port-au-Prince Police since the coup which ousted President Aristide in October 1991. LTC Francois received training in the United States when he attended the Infantry Officer basic course at Ft Benning, GA. He has been asked to resign from his position by President Aristide, but has not yet done so.

Prime Minister Robert Malval.

Robert Malval was picked by President Aristide to be the Prime Minister of Haiti. Malval was ratified by the Haitian Parliament and sworn in by Aristide in Washington, D. C. Malval is a former newspaper publisher. His priorities as Prime Minister include reconciliation, creating jobs, and rescuing the economy.

SIGNIFICANT DATES AND HOLIDAYS:

DATEHOLIDAY
JAN 01INDEPENDENCE DAY (1804)
JAN 02NATIONAL HEROES DAY/ANCESTOR'S DAY
FEB 07ANNIVERSARY OF DUVALIER' S FALL FROM POWER (1986)
APR 07ANNIVERSARY OF TOUSSAINT'S DEATH (1801)
APR 14PAN AMERICAN DAY
APR 21JEAN CLAUDE DUVALIER INSTALLED AS PRESIDENT FOR LIFE.
ANNIVERSARY OF DEATH OFFRANCOIS DUVALIER
MAY 01AGRICULTURE DAY
MAY 18FLAG DAY/UNIVERSITY DAY
JUL 28COMMEMORATIONOF U. S. INTERVENTION (1915)
JUL 29DAY OF DUVALIERIST MILITIA
AUG 15ASSUMPTION
SEP 22ANNIVERSARY OF DUVALIERIST REVOLUTION
SEP 29MICHAELMAR/FEAST OF ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS
OCT 06OCTOBER DAY
OCT 05-26VOTER REGISTRATION DAY
NOV 01ALL SAINT'S DAY
NOV 02MEMORIAL DAY/ALL SAINT'S DAY
NOV 11MARTINRAS
NOV 18ARMED FORCES DAY
DEC 05DISCOVERY DAY (1491)
DEC 16ELECTION DAY
DEC 25CHRISTMAS DAY
DEC 31ST SILVESTER'S DAY/NEW YEAR'S EVE
NOTE: MARDI GRAS AND GOOD FRIDAY DATES VARY FROM YEAR TO YEAR

POISONOUS PLANTS

*The black nightshade is a soft-stemmed, weedy-looking plant, about 91 centimeters high. The berries are considered poisonous. It has small, light purple or white flowers. The fruit is a small blackish-purple berry with numerous seeds. It is also called the garden huckleberry.

* The black poisonwood bush or small tree has thin russet bark, small white flowers, and yellow-orange berries. The sap causes blisters and prolonged inflammations similar to poison ivy. Also, if the wood is burned, the smoke can be an irritant.

* The coral bean has bright red flowers and a bean-like seed that is either bright red or red and black. The beans grow on a plant that can be either a bush or small tree and has hard spines.

* Cow-itch (also known as cowage, velvet bean, and pica-pica) is common to the plains areas. It is a low bush plant with hard seed pods that are covered by stiff hairs or bristles. These hairs can be easily separated from the pod and carried by the wind. The hairs can penetrate the skin and cause intense itching and irritation which lasts a long while. If the hairs get lodged in the eye, damage can occur.

* The dasheen (also known as coco-yam, coco, eddoes, malanga, malonqa yautia, and papamalangq) grows in the sandy soils of the lowlands. The underground tuber is poisonous and causes intense burning and swelling in the mouth and throat.

* Dumbcane is a plant found in the lowlands and wet areas. It has a milky sap that causes severe blistering and inflammation of the skin. The sap appears when the stems or leaves are broken open. If the plant is cut with a sharp instrument, it will give off an offensive skunk-like odor. The stems and portions of the roots grow along the ground.

* The guao is a small tree that has a long leaf stem with few or no branches. The leaves of this tree are very spiny and are clustered at the ends of the branches. The flowers are small and greenish. The sap of this plant causes blistering and long-term inflammation of the skin, something like poison ivy.

* Manclineel (or manzanillo) is a plant found only in dense thickets along the ocean beaches. It is a small tree, pale brown, with smooth bark, and very small green flowers. The fruit of this plant looks like small green apples. The sap is milky and causes blistering and inflammation of the skin. If the wood is burned, the smoke from the fire may cause eye injuries.

* The nettle tree is found most commonly growing at low and middle altitudes. Physical contact with the leaves or branches of this plant can be extremely painful. The irritation may last more than 24 hours. No permanent injury occurs from the spine, and there is no need for professional medical treatment. Many people plant this tree as a hedge.

* Physic nut trees (also known a pinon, tempale, conquillo, coquito, and tartago) are commonly found in the lowlands where they are planted for hedges or live fence posts. This bush or small tree has small greenish-yellow flowers. The seed pods contain two or three large oily seeds. The raw seeds or nuts of this plant are poisonous and can be violently cathartic.

* The poison spurge plant (also known as yerba mala, barrabas, and yerba lechera) grows in the lower mountain regions. It can take the form of a small tree or bush. It has close pale bark and is often planted as a living fence post. The sap is milky, and the flowers are small and white. The milky sap will produce blisters and intense inflammation of the skin similar to poison ivy.

* The sandbox tree (also known as jabillo and javillo) can be found growing at low altitudes. It has a trunk that is closely covered with short, sharp spines. The fruit is shaped like a small melon or pumpkin. The milky sap is used to catch fish. It is mixed with sand, then thrown into still bodies of water to stupefy the fish. The sap also causes severe irritation to the skin. Its woody fruits are dangerous to handle because when they dry they explode with a loud shot-like sound. The exploding pods scatter poisonous seeds in all directions.

* The white poison wood tree (also known as chechem ce caballo, maboq, and kutiar) has slender twigs, ashy gray bark, and white flowers. The sap will cause blisters and severe inflammation of the skin.

NOTE:These plants are pictured in Appendices B and C, FM 21-76.



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