Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free
Population: 7,500,000
GNI/Capita: $480
Life Expectancy: 51
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (80 percent), Protestant (16 percent), other (4 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Black (95 percent), other [including mulatto and white] (5 percent)
Capital: Port-au-Prince


The year 2003 saw no progress in stemming the absolute decline in the political and economic conditions that, for most Haitians, make life extremely difficult. Political violence increased dramatically as parts of the country slipped into chaos, and supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide battled opponents on a regular basis in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Hopes for a brokered solution to the impasse over parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2004 grew dimmer, as the opposition began to insist on the resignation of the president.

Since gaining independence from France in 1804 following a slave revolt, the Republic of Haiti has endured a history of poverty, violence, instability, and dictatorship. A 1986 military coup ended 29 years of rule by the Duvalier family, and the army ruled for most of the next 8 years. Under international pressure, the military permitted the implementation of a French-style constitution in 1987.

Aristide was first elected in 1990. After having called on his supporters to use force in defending his government, he was deposed by a military triumvirate after only eight months in office and sent into exile. While paramilitary thugs terrorized the populace, the regime engaged in blatant narcotics trafficking. The United States and the United Nations imposed a trade and oil embargo. In September 1994, facing an imminent U.S. invasion, the officers stepped down. U.S. troops took control of the country, and Aristide was reinstated. Aristide dismantled the military before the June 1995 parliamentary elections got under way. International observers questioned the legitimacy of the June election, and Aristide's supporters fell out among themselves. The more militant Lavalas Family (FL) party remained firmly behind him, while the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), a leftist coalition that had backed him in 1990, claimed fraud and boycotted the runoff elections. The FL won an overwhelming parliamentary majority.

The FL nominated Rene Preval, Aristide's prime minister in 1991, as its presidential candidate in the fall. In the December 17, 1995 election, marred by irregularities and fraud, Preval won about 89 percent of the vote with a turnout of less than one-third of those eligible; he took office on February 7, 1996. The United Nations had planned to withdraw its troops by the end of the month. The new U.S.-trained Haitian National Police (HNP), however, lacked the competence to fill the void. At Preval's urging, the United Nations extended its stay, but by June cut its presence to 1,300. The final U.S. combat force had withdrawn two months earlier.

In September 1996, Preval purged much of his security force after allegations surfaced that members were involved in the murders of two politicians from the right-wing Mobilization for National Development (MDN) party. Senate elections held in April 1997 were beset by irregularities, and the resulting ongoing election dispute meant that parliament would not approve a new prime minister to replace Rosny Smarth, who resigned in June 1997 following growing criticism of the government's policies. In September, Aristide announced an alliance with other congressional groups to oppose Preval's economic reform plans.

Aristide had been revered as a defender of the powerless and was swept to victory again in November 2000. The elections were boycotted by all major opposition parties and held amidst widespread civil unrest and voter intimidation. Aristide ran on a populist platform of economic reactivation; opponents claimed he was bent on establishing a one-party state. Aristide's nearly 92 percent of the vote in the presidential election was mirrored in contests for nine Senate seats – all won by his FL party – giving his new government all but one seat in the upper house. In parliamentary elections, which opponents claimed were rigged, the FL won 80 percent of the seats in the lower house.

Following a mysterious attack on congress in December 2001 and the subsequent violent retribution, various international efforts, including those of the Organization of American States (OAS), with over 20 visits, have failed to find a negotiated solution to the political impasse that began after the 2000 parliamentary elections. The opposition Democratic Convergence (DC) has refused to cooperate with President Aristide's efforts to stitch together a coalition that will satisfy the reservations of the United States and the OAS and lead to an end to the sanctions imposed on Haiti.

The country has become a dictatorship in all but name, as power has been monopolized by Aristide and his FL party. The FL holds 73 of 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 19 of 27 in the Senate; there are 8 seats vacant in the latter. Two-thirds of the Senate and all members of the Chamber of Deputies are up for election in January 2004. If elections are not held, the president will be forced to dissolve the legislature and govern by decree. The next presidential elections are scheduled for November 2005, and though Aristide may not be reelected, no successor has been named.

Political warfare involving the former military, Aristide supporters, and others continues unabated. Since 2000, the FL itself appears to have fallen victim to open strife between warring factions. In September 2003, Amiot Metayer, a former FL militant who had moved to oppose Aristide, was murdered. As the murder remained unresolved, supporters mounted protests, and on October 1, they attacked government buildings. In the ensuing melee, five people were left dead, with witnesses claiming that the police had shot indiscriminately into the crowds.

Haiti has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti's people are among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and have the lowest levels of human development, including a literacy rate of less than 50 percent.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of Haiti cannot change their government democratically. Haiti's 1987 constitution provides for a president elected for five years, an elected parliament composed of the 27-member Senate and the 83-member Chamber of Deputies, and a prime minister appointed by the president. Credible charges of irregularities and fraud have beset every election since 1990. The Lavalas Family (FL) party has manipulated most legislative and general elections, including the presidential election of 2000. In practice, the FL controls the presidential, legislative, and judicial branches, and most local and regional elected leaders are members of the FL.

Haiti received the dubious distinction of being identified as the most corrupt country in the region by Transparency International in its 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of speech and the press is limited, and violence against journalists is common. International observers find that media outlets tend to practice self-censorship over fear of violent retribution. There is a variety of newspapers, including two French-language newspapers, with a combined circulation of less than 20,000 readers. Many newspapers include a page of news in Creole. While opposition to the government can be found in the written press, access to such views is beyond the reach of most, primarily because of illiteracy and cost. There are 275 private radio stations, including 43 in the capital. Most stations carry news and talk shows, which many citizens regard as their only opportunity to speak out with some freedom. Television is state run and strongly biased toward the government. Satellite television is available, though it has a minimal impact as most Haitians cannot afford access to television. The few stations carrying news or opinion broadcasts express a range of views. There is no censorship of books or films, and access to the Internet is free. There is freedom of religion. The official educational system is hostage to patronage and pressure from the FL.

Freedom of assembly and association, including labor rights, are not respected. Unions are too weak to engage in collective bargaining, and their organizing efforts are undermined by the country's high unemployment rate.

The judicial system is corrupt, inefficient, and dysfunctional. The legal system is burdened by a large backlog, outdated legal codes, and poor facilities; business is conducted in French, rather than Creole, Haiti's majority language. Prison conditions are harsh, and the ponderous legal system guarantees lengthy pretrial detention periods. International reform efforts ended in 2000 following allegations of corruption involving the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Justice Department contractors, and others.

The 5,200-member Haitian National Police (HNP) force has been politicized by the FL, is inexperienced, and lacks resources. The HNP has been accused of using excessive force and mistreating detainees, and accusations of corruption are frequent. The HNP is increasingly used against protesters attacking the government. Police brutality is on the rise, and there is credible evidence of extrajudicial killings by members of the HNP. Mob violence and armed gangs pose serious threats in urban areas. Former soldiers and others linked to the former military regime, as well as common criminals, are responsible for much of the violence, including political assassinations. Break-ins and armed robberies are commonplace, and many observers tie the growing violence directly to increases in the drug trade and local narcotics consumption. Haitian officials also say that the rise in crime is due to the repatriation of convicted criminals from other countries, particularly the United States. Turf wars between rival drug gangs have resulted in the killing of scores of people, including several policemen. Private security forces that carry out extralegal search and seizure are flourishing.

Trafficking of drugs and people is a serious problem. There is widespread violence against women and children. Up to 300,000 children serve in restavec ("live with" in Creole), a form of unpaid domestic labor with a long national history.

Trend Arrow

Haiti received a downward trend arrow due to ongoing political warfare, rampant corruption, and generalized social and political violence.

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