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Unstable Haiti: the poorest country in the Americas

Wednesday February 13 2019

A masked demonstrator gestures before burning

A masked demonstrator gestures before burning tires on the fourth day of protests in Port-au-Prince, on February 10, 2019. PHOTO | HECTOR RETAMAL | AFP 

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Haiti, where protesters are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, is the poorest country in the Americas, crippled by long-term political instability and highly exposed to natural disasters.

Here are some key facts about the troubled nation which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

With three-fifths of the population of nearly 11 million people living below the national poverty line of $2 a day, Haiti is the poorest country of the Americas and among the poorest in the world.

It is also one of the least developed nations on the planet, ranking 168 out of 189 on the UNDP's Human Development Index (2018) which compares longevity, education and income per capita.

Around 20 percent of the population controls more than 60 percent of the country's wealth.

Purchasing power has been weakened by two-digit inflation and a strong depreciation of the currency, the gourde, has pushed up prices of staple items, which are mostly imported.

The economy grew at around 1.2 percent in 2017. Remittances from the country's growing diaspora represent nearly a third of gross domestic product, based on World Bank data.

Due to a lack of protection for investments, corruption and administrative red tape, Forbes magazine in 2018 ranked Haiti as one of the worst countries in which to do business.

Each year thousands of young people flee as illegal migrants, including to the nearby Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands.


Under Spanish domination until 1697, and then under the French, Haiti became the world's first independent black-led republic in 1804 after a revolt by slaves.

It suffered a succession of brutal dictatorships which continued almost to the end of the 20th century, interrupted only by brief stints of democracy and foreign occupation.

From 1957 until 1986 Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean Claude "Baby Doc" ruled with their ruthless Tontons Macoutes militia.

Driven out by a popular revolt in 1986, "Baby Doc" went into exile in France for 25 years, returning in 2011 and dying three years later.

In 1990 former Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected in Haiti's first free elections.

But he was overthrown in a coup, reinstated, ousted a second time and finally sent into exile under pressure from the United States, France and Canada.

Rene Preval came to power in elections in 2006, followed by Michel Martelly, a former carnival singer, in 2011.

Current president Moise, a one-time banana exporter, took office in February 2017, having won elections with 55 percent of the votes but with a turnout of just 21 percent.


Haiti is vulnerable to natural disasters, to which most of its inhabitants are exposed.

On January 12, 2010 a magnitude-seven quake devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving 1.5 million homeless while shattering much of Haiti's frail infrastructure.

Billions of dollars of international aid were promised, but much of it failed to materialise. Political instability also hampered recovery.

In 2018 a scandal broke out over allegations that staff members from British charity Oxfam hired prostitutes in Haiti following the earthquake.

More than 10,000 Haitians died in a deadly cholera epidemic introduced by infected Nepalese UN peacekeepers sent in after the disaster.

In October 2016 Haiti was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, the strongest in a decade, in which more than 500 people were killed. It caused $2 billion in damage.

Haiti's debt has tripled in the past decade to exceed $3 billion, preventing investment in measures to reduce climatic risks.