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Francois Duvalier, Papa Doc, poorest country, island of Hispaniola, African slaves

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Haiti, independent country in the West Indies, occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. Haiti shares the island with the Dominican Republic. In 1804 Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America and the only nation ever created as a result of a successful rebellion by slaves. Originally a Spanish colony and later a French colony, Haiti achieved independence after African slaves, who formed the vast majority of the population, overthrew the French colonists. Port-au-Prince is the country’s capital and largest city.

Forests once covered this mountainous land. Most of the trees have been cut down, which has led to soil erosion. In rural areas farmers cultivate small plots on mountainsides and try to eke out a living from the overworked land. Malnutrition is a serious problem in Haiti. So is unemployment.

Throughout its history Haiti has been divided between a tiny educated elite, which holds most of the wealth and political power, and a large underclass with little or no power. Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Many Haitians have left their impoverished land; others have tried to leave and been sent back.

Haiti also has had a long history of political instability under dictators, most notably Francois Duvalier (known as Papa Doc), who stifled any political opposition. In the early years of the 21st century, Haiti was struggling to establish the legitimacy of its government and to improve the economic and social conditions of its people.


For younger readers

Myers, Walter Dean, and Jacob Lawrence. Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom. Simon & Schuster, 1996. The story of the slave who led Haiti's fight for freedom; for readers in grades 3 to 6.

Turck, Mary C. Haiti: Land of Inequality. Lerner, 1999. An introduction to the country; for readers in grades 6 to 8.

Will, Emily Wade. Haiti. Lucent, 2001. For readers in grades 5 to 8.


Abbott, Elizabeth. Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. McGraw-Hill, 1988. An inside account of a devastating regime and its aftermath.

Dayan, Joan. Haiti, History, and the Gods. University of California Press, 1995. Mix of Haitian history and folk beliefs reveals the complexity of Haitian culture.

Gold, Herbert. The Best Nightmare on Earth: A Life in Haiti. Prentice Hall, 1991. Based on a writer's many visits.

Goldish, Meish. Crisis in Haiti. Millbrook, 1994. An overview of Haitian history, from Columbus to Aristide; for younger readers.

Stotzky, Irwin P. Silencing the Guns in Haiti: The Promise of Deliberative Democracy. University of Chicago Press, 1997. A study of Haiti's recent transition to democracy.

Wilentz, Amy. The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. Simon & Schuster, 1989. A vivid portrait of Haiti after 1986.


Tata, Robert J., A.B., M.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Geography, Florida Atlantic University. Author of Haiti: Land of Poverty.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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