Haiti: the poorest country in the Americas

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A man sells food close to electoral posters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin of the LAPEH party, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on October 22, 2015

A man sells food close to electoral posters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin of the LAPEH party, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on October 22, 2015 (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Haiti, which votes Sunday for a new president and lawmakers, is the poorest country in the Americas, crippled by long-term political instability and a devastating quake in 2010.

- Fears of poll violence -

Fifty-four candidates are running for the Caribbean nation's highest office. Haiti's 5.8 million voters will also cast ballots in round two of legislative elections that are being held three years behind schedule, as well as municipal ones.

Haiti is deploying 10,000 police, backed by almost 5,000 UN police and peacekeepers, to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred the legislative first round on August 9, leaving one person dead. Tensions are running high with five police officers killed in the Port au Prince area in the past three weeks.

The European Union has deployed 74 observers and the Organization of American States is sending another 125 in hope of ensuring a smooth vote.

- Chronic instability -

Under Spanish domination until 1697, and then under the French, Haiti became the world's first independent black-led republic in 1804, after a revolt by slaves.

Diplomatically isolated and facing hostility from both Europe and the young United States, the country sank into poverty.

Haiti suffered a succession of brutal dictatorships which continued almost to the end of the 20th century, interrupted only by a US military occupation from 1915 to 1934.

In 1990, after the ousting of the dictatorship of Jean-Claude "(Baby doc)" Duvalier, a former Roman Catholic priest called Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected, only to be overthrown in a coup, reinstated, ousted a second time and finally sent into exile.

Rene Preval succeeded Aristide in 2006 and Michel Martelly, a former singer, succeeded him in 2011.

A United Nations stabilization force was sent to Haiti after an attempted coup in 2004.

- Devastating quake -

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7 quake devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and the surrounding region.

The quake cut the country off from the rest of the world for 24 hours, killed over 250,000 people, left 1.2 million homeless and shattered much of its frail infrastructure.

In the wake of the disaster billions of dollars of international aid were promised, but much of it failed to materialize and Haiti's recovery was further hampered by political instability.

According to Amnesty International 85,432 Haitians were still without a home five years after the quake with around 25,000 families living in precarious conditions.

- One of world's poorest countries -

The country of 10.4 million people occupies the western part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the larger eastern part of which is the Dominican Republic. At 27,750 square kilometers (10,715 square miles) in area, Haiti is slightly smaller than Belgium.

The poorest country on the American continent, Haiti ranks 168th out of 187 countries on the UN's human development index.

Close to 60 percent of Haitians live in conditions of extreme poverty, surviving on less than $2.5 per day, according to the World Bank.

Haiti's economy contracted by a brutal 5.3 percent following the 2010 quake, growing on average 3.8 percent between 2011 to 2014 -- not enough to alleviate poverty -- according to the World Bank.

Life expectancy at birth is 63. Infant mortality fell by 11 percent between 2005 and 2012, and last year stood at 71 out of 1,000 according to the World Bank.