HAITI'S History

Haiti's history is one of triumph and tragedy. Originally, it was the home of Taino indians, who had a proud culture. Sadly, the natives were completely wiped out by Spanish settlers within 25 years of Columbus' discovery of the island nation of Hispaniola in 1492. Haiti then suffered through centuries of oppression and colonization by western powers, including the French who brought African slaves to help turn the colony into one of its most lucrative in the New World. Finally, in the late 18th Century, Haiti's half-million slaves revolted under Touissant l'Overtoure and threw out Napoleon's French. Haiti declared independence in 1804, the first successful black slave revolt in the world. The successful slave rebellion was a source of inspiration and pride to American slaves during the Civil War, including John Brown and Frederick Douglass.


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Today, Haiti is a country of contrasts: beauty and promise on the one hand, and abject poverty and disease on the other. It remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A trip to the shantytowns surrounding Port-au-Prince yields horrific visions of raw sewage running in the streets, blue-helmeted UN soldiers on patrol, and masses of malnourished people scrounging for food. Just 28% of its population of 9 million people has access to adequate sanitation. The life expectancy of a healthy male born in Haiti today is just 44 years of age. In 2005, more than 53% of female adults were infected with the HIV virus. Literacy hovers at around 50% of the adult population and joblessness and homelessness are rampant. There are at least 200,000 children living in orphanages around the country, with many thousands more roaming the streets or forced into slavery or prostitution.

However, we are also at a promising moment in Haiti's history. Encouraged by what is arguably the most stable government in Haiti's history, businesses, including luxury hotels and manufacturers, are starting to reinvest in Haiti. There is significant momentum and energy coming off the devastation of the January, 2010 Quake. The Haitian government has invested heavily in tourism, a traditional driver of Haiti’s economy. National highways have improved dramatically, and emphasis is being placed on rebuilding Haiti’s agriculture. A state of the art teaching hospital has opened in Mirebalais, thanks to a visionary partnership between the Haitian government, Partners in Health and large American foundations. While illiteracy, deforestation, and cholera continue to plague Haiti, miraculous strides have been made against infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis. Many believe that Haiti is at a crossroads, and it’s hopeful, generous people are on the verge of transformative change.