U.S. Department of State Background Note
Although Haiti averages about 302 people per square kilometer, its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of African descent. The rest of the population is mostly of mixed Caucasian-African ancestry. A few are of European or Levantine heritage. Sixty percent of the population lives in rural areas.
French is one of two official languages, but it is spoken by only about 10% of the people. All Haitians speak Creole, the country's other official language. English is increasingly used as a second language among the young and in the business sector.
The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism. Increasing numbers of Haitians have converted to Protestantism through the work of missionaries active throughout the country. Much of the population also practices voudou (voodoo), recognized by the government as a religion in April 2003. Haitians tend to see no conflict in these African-rooted beliefs coexisting with Christian faith.
Although public education is free, the cost is still quite high for Haitian families who must pay for uniforms, textbooks, supplies, and other inputs. Due to weak state provision of education services, private and parochial schools account for approximately 90% of primary schools, and only 65% of primary school-aged children are actually enrolled. At the secondary level, the figure drops to around 20%. Less than 35% of those who enter will complete primary school. Though Haitians place a high value on education, few can afford to send their children to secondary school and primary school enrollment is dropping due to economic factors. Remittances sent by Haitians living abroad are important in paying educational costs.
Large-scale emigration, principally to the U.S.--but also to Canada, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and other Caribbean neighbors, and France--has created what Haitians refer to as the Tenth Department or the Diaspora. About one of every eight Haitians lives abroad.
In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. Aristide took office on February 7, 1991, but was overthrown that September in a violent coup led by dissatisfied elements of the army and supported by many of the country's economic elite. Following the coup, Aristide began a 3-year exile in the U.S. Several thousand Haitians may have been killed during the de facto military rule. The coup contributed to a large-scale exodus of Haitians by boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians at sea during 1991 and 1992, more than the number of rescued boat people from the previous 10 years combined.
From October 1991 to September 1994 an unconstitutional military de facto regime governed Haiti. Various OAS and UN initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government, including the Governor's Island Agreement of July 1993, failed. When the military refused to uphold its end of the agreements, the de facto authorities refused to allow a return to constitutional government, even though the economy was collapsing and the country's infrastructure deteriorated from neglect.
1994 - International Intervention
In the weeks that followed, the United States took the lead in forming a multinational force (MNF) to carry out the UN's mandate by means of a military intervention. In mid-September, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force, President Clinton dispatched a negotiating team led by former President Jimmy Carter to persuade the de facto authorities to step aside and allow for the return of constitutional rule. With intervening troops already airborne, Gen. Raoul Cedras and other top leaders agreed to accept the intervention of the MNF. On September 19, 1994, the first contingents of what became a 21,000-member international force touched down in Haiti to oversee the end of military rule and the restoration of the constitutional government. By early October, the three de facto leaders--Cedras, Gen. Philippe Biamby, and Police Chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois--and their families had departed Haiti. President Aristide and other elected officials in exile returned on October 15.
Under the watchful eyes of international peacekeepers, restored Haitian authorities organized nationwide local and parliamentary elections in June 1995. A pro-Aristide, multi-party coalition called the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL) swept into power at all levels. With his term ending in February 1996 and barred by the constitution from succeeding himself, President Aristide agreed to step aside and support a presidential election in December 1995. Rene Preval, a prominent Aristide political ally, who had been Aristide's Prime Minister in 1991, took 88% of the vote, and was sworn in to a 5-year term on February 7, 1996, during what was Haiti's first-ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.
1996-2000 - Political Gridlock
During this gridlock period, the government was unable to organize the local and parliamentary elections due in late 1998. In early January 1999, President Preval dismissed legislators whose terms had expired--the entire Chamber of Deputies and all but nine members of the Senate--and converted local elected officials into state employees. The President and Prime Minister then ruled by decree, establishing a cabinet composed almost entirely of FL partisans. Under pressure from a new political coalition called the Democratic Consultation Group (ESPACE), the government allocated three seats of the nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to opposition groups and mandated the CEP to organize the overdue elections for the end of 1999. Following several delays, the first round of elections for local councils--ASEC and CASEC, municipal governments, town delegates, the Chamber of Deputies, and two-thirds of the Senate took place on May 21, 2000. The election drew the participation of a multitude of candidates from a wide array of political parties and a voter turnout of more than 60%.
2000 Electoral Crisis Leads to Aristide Departure
Through a number of diplomatic missions by the OAS, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the United States, the international community had sought to delay Parliament's seating until the electoral problems could be rectified. When these efforts were rebuffed, Haiti's main bilateral donors announced the end of "business as usual." They moved to re-channel their assistance away from the government and announced they would not support or send observers to the November elections. Concurrently, most opposition parties regrouped in an alliance that became the Democratic Convergence. The Convergence asserted that the May elections were so fraudulent that they should be annulled and held again under a new CEP. Elections for President and nine Senators took place on November 26, 2000. All major opposition parties boycotted these elections in which voter participation was estimated at 5%. Jean-Bertrand Aristide emerged as the easy victor of these controversial elections, and the candidates of his FL party swept all contested Senate seats. On February 6, 2001, the Democratic Convergence named respected lawyer and human rights activist Gerard Gourgue as provisional president of their "alternative government." Gourgue called the act "symbolic," designed to protest flawed elections. On February 7, 2001, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was inaugurated as President. Notwithstanding the previous year's electoral controversy, the inauguration marked the first time in the country's history that a full-term president peacefully transferred power to an incoming president.
It did not, however, put an end to the political stalemate. OAS-mediated negotiations began in April 2001 to find a resolution, focusing on the on possible makeup of a new electoral council, a timetable for new elections, security for political parties, and other confidence-building measures. These negotiations made some progress, but were suspended in mid-July without a final agreement. On July 28, 2001, unknown gunmen attacked police facilities in Port-au-Prince and the provinces. A subsequent government crackdown on opposition party members and former soldiers further increased tensions between Lavalas and Convergence. On December 17, 2001, unidentified gunmen attacked the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. Following the assault, pro-government groups attacked the offices and homes of several opposition leaders. One opposition member was killed. Negotiations between FL and Democratic Convergence, already on hold following the July violence, were suspended indefinitely.
In January 2002, the OAS Permanent Council adopted Resolution 806 on Haiti that called for government action to address the political stalemate, growing violence, and deterioration in respect for human rights. It also authorized OAS establishment of a Special Mission in Haiti to support implementation of steps called for in Resolution 806. The OAS Special Mission began operations in March 2002, working with the government on plans to strengthen Haiti's democratic institutions in security, justice, human rights, and governance. Nevertheless, the climate of security deteriorated and a rapidly weakening economy created risks of a humanitarian disaster. The OAS Permanent Council adopted Resolution 822, September 4, 2002, which set a new course for resolving the crisis by: committing the Haitian government to a series of steps leading to an improved climate of security for free and fair elections in 2003; supporting Haiti's resumption of normal relations with the International Financial Institutions; and strengthening the mandate of the OAS to monitor as well as support Haitian government efforts to comply with OAS resolutions. It also conferred new mandates related to conduct of elections and disarmament.
Protest strikes and attacks on opposition demonstrations by government-supported gangs between November 2002 and February 2003 hardened attitudes on both sides. The opposition issued a public call for Aristide's removal and announced plans for a transitional government. In March 2003, a high-level joint delegation of the OAS and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) presented specific demands to President Aristide to restore public security and create confidence necessary to move toward elections: select new leadership for the Haitian National Police in consultation with the OAS; arrest Amiot Metayer, a notorious gang leader; and disarm the security forces used by government politicians to intimidate opponents.
Events spiraled downward: In June 2003 the new police chief, appointed in consultation with the OAS, resigned and fled the country 14 days later after being ordered to give up his authority over budget and personnel; government-paid thugs violently disrupted a civil society public ceremony July 12 in Cité Soleil; police attacked civil society marches in Cap Haitien August 30 and September 14 and prevented an opposition march scheduled for October 5. Amiot Metayer was murdered September 21 (it is widely believed the government ordered the murder to prevent release of compromising information). The government announced August 13 that it was re-activating a defunct CEP in what many interpreted as a move toward holding elections outside the framework of OAS Resolution 822. The OAS and other foreign observers, including the U.S., denounced these steps. To re-invigorate the process envisioned in Resolution 822, the OAS designated a Special Envoy for Dialogue in Haiti, Terence Todman, a retired U.S. Career Ambassador. Todman, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, undertook three negotiating missions to Haiti in September-October 2003. Political instability grew throughout fall 2003. In Gonaives, Metayer's followers, hitherto pro-Aristide, led a violent rebellion against government authorities in the city. Government-sponsored repression of opposition protests reached a nadir when on December 5 pro-government gangs entered Haiti's state university campus and broke the legs of the Rector.
Following a meeting with Aristide at the Summit of the Americas in January 2004, Caribbean Community leaders proposed a plan to resolve the political crisis. President Aristide stated he accepted the plan at a meeting January 31. However, as the plan remained unimplemented, a high-level international delegation came to Haiti February 21 to obtain agreement on specific implementation timetable. President Aristide agreed, but the opposition "Democratic Platform" group of political parties and civil society expressed reservations. Meanwhile, the violence in Gonaives culminated February 5 in the former Cannibal Army, now called the Artibonite Resistance Front, seizing control of the city. Other armed groups opposed to the Aristide government quickly emerged and succeeded in seizing control of many towns, mostly with little resistance from government authorities. By February 28, 2004, a rebel group led by a former police chief, Guy Philippe, had advanced to within 25 miles of the capital. On February 29, 2004 Aristide submitted his resignation as President of Haiti and flew on a chartered plane to South Africa.
2004-2007 - Interim Government Prepares the Way for a New Democracy
René Préval, former President (1996-2001) and former ally to Aristide, won the presidential election with 51.15%. Partial results had shown he fell short of the majority and triggered demonstrations against alleged fraud. The later decision of the Electoral Council not to count blank ballots gave the victory to Préval. The Parliament, composed of a 30-seat Senate and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies, was elected in two rounds held on February 7 and April 21, 2006. Lespwa is the main political force in both chambers but fell short of the majority. Fusion, UNION, Alyans, OPL, and Famni Lavals have many representatives in both chambers. Préval chose his long-time political associate and former Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis to serve again as his Prime Minister. Municipal elections were held December 3, 2006 and April 29, 2007. Some of these local government positions had not been filled in over a decade.
International Presence 1995-2004
International Presence 2004-Present
In April 2004, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1542, which created the UN Stability Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Since that time, the Security Council has consistently and unanimously approved the renewal of MINUSTAH's mandate at 6-month intervals. On February 15, 2007, the UNSC unanimously voted to extend MINUSTAH's mandate for 8 months through October 15. The Stability Mission is currently authorized at 7,200 troops and 1,951 civilian police.
Principal MINUSTAH Officials
Principal Government Officials
The Embassy of Haiti is located at 2311 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-4090).
Haiti remains the least-developed country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Comparative social and economic indicators show Haiti falling behind other low-income developing countries (particularly in the hemisphere) since the 1980s. Haiti now ranks 154th of 177 countries in the UN's Human Development Index. Haiti's economic stagnation is the result of earlier inappropriate economic policies, political instability, a shortage of good arable land, environmental deterioration, continued reliance on traditional technologies, under-capitalization and lack of public investment in human resources, migration of large portions of the skilled population, a weak national savings rate, and the lack of a functioning judicial system.
The 1991 coup and the irresponsible economic and financial policies of the de facto regime resulted in a sharp economic decline from 1991-94. Following the coup, the United States adopted mandatory sanctions, and the OAS instituted voluntary sanctions aimed at restoring constitutional government. International sanctions culminated in the May 1994 UN embargo of all goods entering Haiti except humanitarian supplies, such as food and medicine. The assembly sector, heavily dependent on U.S. markets, employed over 100,000 workers in the mid-1980s. During the embargo, employment fell below 17,000. Private domestic and foreign investment has returned to Haiti slowly. Since the embargo's end, assembly sector employment has gradually recovered to about 18,500. The Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), enacted by the U.S. Congress in December 2006, provides new trade preferences for textile/apparel products that could boost production in the sector. However, growth has been stalled by investor concerns over security, lack of access to credit, and legal and physical infrastructure constraints.
Under President Préval (1996-2001), the country's economic agenda included trade/tariff liberalization, measures to control government expenditure and increase tax revenues, civil service downsizing, financial sector reform, and the modernization of two out of nine state-owned enterprises through their sale to private investors, the provision of private sector management contracts, or joint public-private investment. Structural adjustment agreements with international financial institutions (IFIs) intended to create conditions for private sector growth proved only partly successful, however. Workers in Haiti are guaranteed the right of association. Unionization is protected by the labor code. A legal minimum wage of 70 gourdes a day (about U.S. $1.70) applies to most workers in the formal sector.
Haiti's real GDP growth turned negative in FY 2001 after six years of growth. Following almost 4 years of recession ending in 2004, the economy grew by 1.5% in 2005 and 2.5% in 2006. But significant improvement in living standards would require an estimated doubling of the growth rate. Since the departure of President Aristide, the financial situation has stabilized. Inflation fell from 42.7% at end-2003 to 12.4% at end-2006. The interim government conducted a largely sound fiscal policy which has been followed by the Alexis government. But the traditional low revenue collection rate (roughly 9% of the GDP) constrains its ability to provide social services and invest in physical and human capital. External assistance (approximately $965 million from July 2004 through March 2006) as well as diaspora remittances (estimated at approximately $1.65 billion) remain critical to keeping the economy afloat. In November 2006, Haiti was approved for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) and reached decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.
Haiti is one of the original members of the United Nations and several of its specialized and related agencies, as well as a member of the Organization of American States (OAS). It maintains diplomatic relations with several dozen countries.
The international community rallied to Haiti's defense during the 1991-94 period of de facto military rule. Thirty-one countries participated in the U.S.-led multinational force (MNF) which, acting under UN auspices, intervened in September 1994 to help restore the legitimate government and create a secure and stable environment in Haiti. At its peak, the MNF included roughly 21,000 troops, mostly Americans, and more than 1,000 international police monitors. Within 6 months, the troop level was gradually reduced as the MNF transitioned to a 6,000-strong peacekeeping force, the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH). UNMIH was charged with maintaining the secure environment which the MNF had helped establish as well as nurturing Haiti's new police force through the presence of 900 police advisers. A total of 38 countries participated in UNMIH.
To spur Haiti's social and economic recovery from decades of misrule before that, international donors pledged in 1994 to provide more than $2 billion over five years in total assistance. Most bilateral assistance is now channeled through non-governmental organizations. Major bilateral donors are led by the United States, with the largest program, and include Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, and Taiwan. Cuba provides highly visible, low-cost medical and technical experts. Multilateral aid is provided by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the UN and its agencies. All aid is coordinated informally by the World Bank.
In July 2004, $1.085 billion was pledged through 2006 at the World Bank Donors' Conference. Donors include the U.S., Canada, the EU, France, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Greece, Norway, Mexico, and Ireland. The IDB and the World Bank pledged multilateral aid. As of March 2006, $965 million had been disbursed, mainly to address humanitarian needs.
U.S. policy toward Haiti is designed to foster and strengthen democracy; help alleviate poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition; promote respect for human rights; and counter illegal migration and drug trafficking. The U.S. also supports and facilitates bilateral trade and investment along with legal migration and travel. U.S. policy goals are met through direct bilateral action and by working with the international community. The United States has taken a leading role in organizing international involvement with Haiti. The United States works closely with the Organization of American States (OAS; see "Key OAS Issues"), particularly through the Secretary General's "Friends of Haiti" group (originally a UN group that included the U.S., Canada, France, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina which was enlarged in 2001 to add Germany, Spain, Norway, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and The Bahamas), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and individual countries to achieve policy goals.
Maintaining good relations with and fostering democracy in Haiti are important for many reasons, not least of which is the country's geographical proximity to the continental United States. In addition to the many Haitians who receive visas to immigrate into the U.S. (averaging over 13,000 annually in FY 1999-2003), there is a flow of illegal migrants. Over 100,000 undocumented Haitian migrants were intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard in the past two decades, particularly during the 1991-94 period of illegal military rule when more than 67,000 migrants were interdicted. Since the return of the legitimate government in 1994, the interdiction of illegal migrants by U.S. Coast Guard vessels has decreased dramatically, averaging fewer than 1,500 annually. Neighboring Caribbean countries, particularly The Bahamas, continue to interdict Haitian migrants as well. The prospect remains, however, for the renewal of higher flows of illegal migrants, particularly under conditions of political unrest or further economic downturn.
U.S. Economic and Development Assistance
Haiti has been plagued for decades by extremely high unemployment and underemployment. The precipitous decline in urban assembly sector jobs, from a high of over 100,000 in 1986 to fewer than 20,000 in 2006, exacerbated the scarcity of jobs. To revitalize the economy, U.S. assistance attempts to create opportunities for stable sustainable employment for the growing population, particularly in rural areas. More recently, programs that help to increase commercial bank lending to micro-enterprises, especially in the agricultural sector, have helped to create a significant number of jobs. U.S. assistance is channeled primarily through private voluntary agencies and contractors to ensure efficient implementation of U.S. assistance programs.
Combating Drug Trafficking
U.S. Business Opportunities
Further opportunities for U.S. businesses include the development and trade of raw and processed agricultural products; medical supplies and equipment; rebuilding and modernizing Haiti's depleted infrastructure; developing tourism and allied sectors--including arts and crafts; and improving capacity in waste disposal, transportation, energy, telecommunications, and export assembly operations. Haiti's primary assembly sector inputs include textiles, electronics components, and packaging materials. Other U.S. export prospects include electronic machinery, including power-generation, sound and television equipment, plastics and paper, construction materials, plumbing fixtures, hardware, and lumber. Benefits for both Haitian and American importers and exporters are available under the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA)--which provides for duty-free export of many Haitian products assembled from U.S. components or materials--the successor program to the Caribbean Basin Initiative, and the HOPE Act, which provides additional duty-free preferences for qualifying apparel/textiles products and automotive wire harnesses.
U.S. export opportunities also exist for four-wheel-drive vehicles, consumer electronics, rice, wheat, flour, animal and vegetable fats, meat, chicken, vegetables, and processed foodstuffs. The Government of Haiti seeks to reactivate and develop agricultural industries where Haiti enjoys comparative advantages, among which are essential oils, spices, fruits and vegetables, and sisal. The government encourages the inflow of new capital and technological innovations. Additional information on business opportunities in Haiti can be found at the Country Commercial Guide for Haiti.
Establishing a Business
Property restrictions still exist for foreign individuals. Property rights of foreigners are limited to 1.29 hectares in urban areas and 6.45 hectares in rural areas. No foreigner may own more than one residence in the same district, or own property or buildings near the border. To own real estate, authorization from the Ministry of Justice is necessary.
Hurdles for businesses in Haiti include poor infrastructure, a high-cost port, an irregular supply of electricity, and Customs delays. There is little direct investment.
In November 2002, the Haitian Parliament passed an investment law prohibiting fiscal and legal discrimination against foreign investors. The 2002 law explicitly recognizes the crucial role of foreign direct investment in spurring economic growth and aims to facilitate, liberalize, and stimulate private investment in Haiti. Foreign investment protection is also provided by the Haitian Constitution of 1987, which permits expropriation of private property for public use or land reform with payment in advance. American firms enjoy free transfer of interest, dividends, profits, and other revenues stemming from their investments, and are guaranteed just compensation paid in advance of expropriation, as well as compensation in case of damages or losses caused by war, revolution, or insurrection. The U.S. and Haiti have a bilateral agreement on investment guarantees that permits the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation to offer programs in Haiti. The two governments also signed a bilateral investment treaty in December 1983, but it was not ratified.
Additional information on establishing a business in Haiti can be found at www.export.gov, then to market research, then Country Commercial Guides.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti is located on 5, Harry Truman Blvd., Port-au-Prince.
Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)
U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of Latin America and the Caribbean
Association des Industries d'Haiti (ADIH)
Centre Pour la Libre Entreprise et la Democratie (CLED)
Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie d'Haiti
Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AMCHAM)
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Aug. 2007