Flag of Haiti

Haiti country brief

Overview

Australia established diplomatic relations with Haiti in 2000. 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. Currently, there is no Haitian diplomatic mission in Australia.

Currently the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has experienced political instability for most of its history. Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, comprising around one-third of the island with a 360 kilometre land boundary. The total land area of Haiti is 27,750 square kilometres of mostly rough and mountainous terrain, making it less than half the size of Tasmania. Haiti has an estimated population of 9,893,934 million (July 2013) making it the second most populous country in the Caribbean (after Cuba). Population estimates explicitly take into account the effects of high mortality due to AIDS, which can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.

The majority of Haitians are of African descent (95%) with a white and mulatto minority, most of whom remain disproportionately wealthy and powerful.  Reflecting its origins as a French colony, Haiti has two official languages: French (spoken by around 15% of the population and the lingua franca for education and advancement) and Creole (spoken by the majority). A small proportion of the population – around 5% - speak both languages.

Religious practices have been influenced by West African practices imported into Haitian culture, with Voodoo (or Vodou), practised by over half the population. This does not preclude adherence to the official religion, Roman Catholic Christianity, as Voodoo adapted the African veneration of family and ancestral spirits with local conditions under the French. The Roman Catholic Church is the main official religious denomination, and still claims the loyalty of 65% of the population. Protestant churches are also present.

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 in 1804. Although the 1791-1804 revolution brought an end to slavery, leading to both blacks and mulattos being free and theoretically equal, there were racial, social and economic divisions deriving from the colonial regime which exerted strong influences on the shaping of post-independence society.

The native Taino – who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 – were virtually annihilated in the 25 years following Spanish settlement. The French established a presence on Hispaniola in the early 17th century, with Spain ceding the western third of the island to France in 1697, which later became Haiti. The French colony, with an economy based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. Following the successful revolt by nearly half-a-million slaves in 1804 Haiti became the first post-colonial black-led nation in the world. The shift from plantation to small family farming was one of a number of factors which proved disastrous in the long run for Haiti's agriculture productivity, exports, and economy.

Since independence Haiti has been be characterised by political instability. The Government changed hands 22 times during the 19th century and the US intervened in 1915 following massive civil unrest. The US upgraded public administration and significantly improved 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 presence until a Haitian Government elected in 1930negotiated a full withdrawal of US military personnel in August 1934.

Haiti was subsequently 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 force 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 Duvalier's 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 1991 but 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 departed Haiti for political exile.  At the end of 2004, an 8,000 member UN Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) was deployed to Haiti to maintain civil order.

In 2006 Rene Preval again became President, succeeded in May 2011 by Michel Martelly, who has presided over the continuing challenge of promoting political stability.

MINUSTAH (UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti)

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) established MINUSTAH in June 2004 to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote the political process, to strengthen Haiti's Government institutions and rule-of-law-structures, as well as to promote and to protect human rights. The UNSC has extended the mandate for MINUSTAH annually, drawing on six monthly reports from the UN Secretary-General. While Australia does not contribute troops or police to MINUSTAH, Australia does contribute significant funds through assessed contributions and as a member of the UNSC 2013-2014 has participated in the Security Council's work on Haiti.

In response to continuing improvements in Haiti, the mandate for MINUSTAH agreed by the UNSC on 14 October 2014 provides for continuing reduction in troop numbers from 5,021 to 2,370 by 15 October 2015, while maintaining the current police strength of up to 2,061 officers. Given uncertainty about timing of overdue elections and potential for unrest during elections, the mandate calls for force levels to remain close to the current level in country until the UN Secretary-General's next report to the Council in March 2015, and affirms that adjustments to force configuration should  be based on the situation on the ground.

Australia's national statements in the Security Council on Haiti

Political system

Haiti is a Presidential-style Republic, with Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. At the executive level, the President of Haiti is the Head of State (President Michel Martelly since 14 May 2011). The President who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, may not serve consecutive terms.  The next election is due in 2015. The Prime Minister (Laurent Lamothe since 16 May 2012) is appointed by the President, ratified by the National Assembly. The Cabinet is chosen by the Prime Minister in consultation with the President.

The legislative branch is a bicameral National Assembly comprising the Senate (30 seats; members elected by popular vote for six-year terms; one-third elected every two years) and the Chamber of Deputies (99 seats; members elected by popular vote for four-year terms).

The Senate last held elections in 2010-2011, with the last regular election for one-third of seats scheduled for 2012 but delayed and now long overdue. The Chamber of Deputies last held elections in 2010-2011 with the next regular election due in 2014.

Haiti has a civil legal system strongly influenced by the Napoleonic Code. Haiti is a member of the Caribbean Court of Justice and accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction and has signed but has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Haiti's latest (23rd) constitution was approved in March 1987.

Bilateral relations

Australia has diplomatic relations with Haiti and coordinates on issues of shared concern, including in the United Nations.  Australia has also supported Haiti through the regional development program. In 2009, Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM - which includes Haiti) regarding international cooperation on development assistance. From 2010 to 2014, Australia provided A$60 million in official  development assistance to CARICOM including 128 scholarships, 70 fellowships, 25 volunteers and training for 61 diplomats. The regional program has now closed, though some activities that have already been funded will continue until 2018.

Haiti earthquake response

Australia responded quickly to the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010.

The Australian Government provided $26.2 million for immediate relief and reconstruction following the January 2010 earthquake, while the Australian public generously donated $26 million in response to appeals by Australian non-government organisations.  By 2014 virtually all of the Australian Government's assistance had been either delivered on the ground or allocated to international agencies to deliver their programs.

$10 million in emergency assistance was provided in the immediate aftermath of the disaster to support relief efforts:

  • $1 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • $4.5 million to the United Nations World Food Program which helped provide food to an estimated 3.5 million people
  • $1 million to the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
  • $1 million to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)
  • $2.5 million to six Australian NGOs—Oxfam, CARE, Caritas, Save the Children, Plan and World Vision.

This funding also helped deliver clean water, shelter, education and protection—for 4,800 children.

$14 million was provided to support recovery and longer-term reconstruction efforts in Haiti:

  • $2.5 million to the United Nations Development Programme's Cash for Work Programme which created  jobs for more than 97,000 Haitians
  • $10 million to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund which is managed by the World Bank
  • Of the remaining $1.5 million, $750,000 was provided to support the Caribbean Community's relief efforts and $750,000 to help construct water tanks for rainwater storage in partnership with Brazil.

The Australian Government rapidly responded to UNICEF's cholera appeal providing $1 million in December 2010 and then $455,000 through CARICOM in May 2011.  In addition, $765,000 supported Cuba's delivery of health assistance in Haiti.

The October 2010 cholera outbreak was mostly centred in central rural regions of Haiti straddling the Artibonite River.  As of 20 July 2014, the cholera epidemic had caused the death of 8,570 persons and infected 705,084.

Australia also deployed through the Australian Civilian Corps, a donor liaison officer in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission in Port-Au-Prince for 12 months ending March 2012.

With the support of Australia and other international donors more than 1.5 million people returned to their homes and have been rebuilding their livelihoods.

With the humanitarian situation and response now stabilised, the Haitian Government and donor partners are focusing on finding longer term solutions for the large numbers of people displaced, numbering approximately 103,565 (as of 30 June 2014).  Efforts will focus on shelter, livelihoods, health, education, the environment and other vital needs.

Economic overview

Haiti is a free market economy that enjoys the advantages of low labour costs and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports. Significant impediments to economic growth include: poverty, corruption, vulnerability to natural disasters, weak infrastructure such as access to electricity, telecommunications and poorly maintained roads and airports as well as environmental issues including extensive deforestation, soil erosion and inadequate supplies of potable water. Low levels of education for much of the population and political instability are also challenges.

Economic recovery has been impeded by the 2010 earthquake and 2012 hurricanes which adversely affected agricultural production and slowed public capital spending.

Haiti's natural resources include bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, and hydropower. Main agricultural products are coffee, mangoes, cocoa, sugarcane, rice corn, sorghum, wood, and vetiver. Main industries are textiles, sugar refining, flour milling cement and light assembly based on imported parts. Haiti's labor force by occupation (2010 estimate) is 50.4 per cent services, 38.1 per cent agriculture, and 11.5 per cent industry; the unemployment rate is 40.6 per cent (2010 estimate). Haiti has abundant unskilled labor but a shortage of skilled labor, with widespread unemployment and underemployment. More than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs. Mangoes and coffee are Haiti's most important exports. Foreign aid makes up 3-4 per cent of the national government budget, with the largest donors being the United States followed by Canada and the EU.

In 2013, bilateral trade between Australia and Haiti totalled $2,265 million. Australian exports to Haiti were valued at $543,000 (mostly raw hides & skins, vehicle parts & accessories, telecom equipment & parts, medical instruments (incl veterinary)) and imports from Haiti were worth $1.722 million (mostly clothing, electric power machinery & parts, prams, toys, games & sporting goods, meters & counters).  There is no significant investment or trade in services with Haiti.

Economic and trade policy directions

Progress towards sustainable development and political stability were severely impacted by the 2010 earthquake and subsequent weather events (including Hurricane Sandy in 2012). The earthquake killed 316,000 people, injured 300,000 people, and left 1,000,000 homeless and destroyed 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings. The situation was further exacerbated by the 2010 cholera outbreak. Haiti has made significant progress in recovery but substantial challenges remain. Thus Haiti's main trade and development partners, in the United States, France and Canada, together with multilateral agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the World Bank, will continue to play a key role in Haiti's future for the time being. Haiti will, for example, continue to be heavily reliant on trade with the United States given that 26 per cent of Haiti's goods imports and over 80 per cent of Haiti's goods exports are with the United States. .

High Level Visits

Former Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles visited Haiti in September 2012.