The Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, with Haiti occupying the western third of the island. Haiti has a wide range of geographic features, varying from fertile valleys and imposing mountains to areas of land that are practically desert. To the south lies the Caribbean Sea, and to the north lies the Atlantic Ocean.
With a population of about 9.7 million, Haiti covers an area of 27,750 sq km/10,714 sq mi. The capital city of Port-au-Prince has a population of over two million people.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover Haiti in 1492, when his ship, the Santa Maria crashed on the coast of Hispaniola. Using wood and other materials from the boat, Columbus built a small fort called La Navidad, and left 40 of his men in Haiti to search for gold. When Columbus returned on his next voyage a year later, all 40 men had died.
The Spanish lost control of Haiti to the French in 1697, under the influence of French buccaneers. Haiti, or Saint Domingue as it was called then, flourished economically under French rule, becoming one of the most prosperous colonies in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, while the French were profiting, the Haitian people were suffering greatly. In 1804, Haiti declared itself independent from France's rule. Since then, Haiti has suffered under a variety of dictators and leaders.
Being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it has been torn by political strife throughout it's history.
An armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE in February 2004, and an interim government took office; however, continued violence and technical delays caused many postponements, but Haiti finally did launch a democracy that would elect a president and parliament in May of 2006. While the situation has been improving steadily, foreign nationals in Haiti are still advised to be careful in certain situations.
An enormous 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010 with an epicenter about 15 km (9.32 mi) southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. An estimated two million people lived within the area of heavy to moderate structural damage. The earthquake was assessed as the worst in this region over the last 200 years and massive international assistance was, and is still, needed to help the country recover.