Flag of Haiti

Haiti country brief

Overview

The Republic of Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, which takes up the eastern two-thirds of the island.  The total land area of Haiti is 27,700 square kilometres, making it less than half the size of Tasmania. Haiti has a population of around 9.9 million making it the most populous member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Political overview

Background

A former French colony, Haiti was the only country to have been formed from a successful slave revolt and only the second country in the Americas (after the United States) to declare its independence, which it did 1 January 1804.

Haiti's Government changed hands 22 times during the nineteenth century and it was eventually invaded by the US in 1915 following massive civil unrest. The US upgraded public administration and significantly improved the physical infrastructure but also expanded opportunities for foreigners to invest and own property in Haiti. Nationalist rebels, called the "Cacos," waged guerrilla warfare against US occupation until a Haitian Government elected in 1930negotiated a full withdrawal of US military personnel in August 1934.

Haiti was then governed by a succession of unstable regimes in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1957 Francois Duvalier became President following an election that is widely believed to have been influenced by the military. In1964, Duvalier declared himself president for life, maintaining control through a secret police and death squads. Upon Duvalier's death in 1971, his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, succeeded him as President for Life.

Over the next 15 years, despite the Duvaliers' repression, social unrest continued to grow, destabilising the government. In 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier agreed to exile in France leaving the government in the hands of the military. Political instability continued until a provisional government led by Supreme Court Justice Ertha Pasqualle Trouillot scheduled elections for December 1990, which were won by Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide was deposed in October 1991but returned to the Presidency in 1994 following intervention by a Multi-National Force headed by the US under a UN mandate. In 1995 Rene Preval was elected President and remained in office until 2000 but was not able to provide the political stability needed to foster economic development. In 2000, Aristide was again elected President but continuing political opposition led to the near economic collapse of the country. By 2004, following unsuccessful coup attempts and civil unrest, Haiti was on the verge of civil war and Aristide left Haiti and went into political exile. At the end of 2004, an8,000 member UN Stabilisation Mission(MINUSTAH) was deployed to Haiti to maintain civil order.  MINUSTAH is not scheduled to depart until 2016.

In May 2006 Rene Preval again became President.  He was succeeded in May 2011 by Michel Martelly who won elections held in two rounds in November 2010 and 20 March 2011. The formation of government was delayed until October 2011, however, when the Haitian Parliament rejected two of Martelly's nominees for Prime Minister. His third nominee, Garry Conille, was finally appointment Prime Minister in October 2011 but resigned again in February 2012.  Conille was succeeded as Prime Minister by Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe in March 2012.

Political system

Haiti's political system is a Presidential-style Republic. The President of Haiti is the Head of State. The Prime Minister, chosen by the President from the largest party in Parliament, is the Head of Government. Executive power is exercised by the Government, and legislative power is the two-chamber National Assembly of Haiti. The Assembly comprises a 30-member Senate (the upper house), which is elected for six-year terms in staggered elections, with one-third of seats being contested every two years, and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies.

Economic overview

Haiti is the most populous member of the Caribbean Community and the poorest country in the Americas according to the Human Development Index. Haiti's GDP was US$7.4 billion in 2011 and GDP per capita was around US$1241. 66 per cent of Haitians work in agriculture which accounts for 30 per cent of GDP.  Mangoes and coffee are Haiti's most important exports.  Foreign aid makes up 3-4 per cent of the national government budget.  The largest donor is the US followed by Canada and the EU.

In 2010-11, bilateral trade between Australia and Haiti totalled A$3million. Australian exports to Haiti were valued at A$1,392,000(mostly metal containers, vehicles and parts and telecoms equipment) and imports from Haiti were worth A$1,691,000 (mostly textiles and clothing).

Economic and trade policy directions

The Haitian economy and people are still recovering from a devastating earthquake and hurricane in 2010. The earthquake killed 316,000 people, injured 300,000 people and left 1,000,000 homeless.  250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial building were destroyed.  The situation was exacerbated by a cholera outbreak in October 2010 which infected 530,953 people and killed 7,040.  The Australian Government provided A$26 million in emergency and recovery assistance to Haiti, including A$1 million to deal with the cholera outbreak.  The Australian public donated a further A$26 million through NGOs.

The support of the governments of the US, France and Canada, Haiti's main trade partners and aid donors, as well as that of multilateral agencies such as the IMF, the UN and the World Bank, will be needed to ensure the continuation of both multilateral and bilateral aid flows to Haiti. Haiti will continue to be heavily reliant on the US as over 30 percent of Haiti's imports and nearly 80 percent of Haiti's exports are with the United States.

Bilateral relationship

Australia has diplomatic relations with Haiti but no formal representation there. The Australian High Commissioner in Trinidad and Tobago has non-resident accreditation to Haiti and is responsible for the conduct of the full range of diplomatic relations with Haiti.

Updated July 2012