With its mountainous scenery and tropical climate, Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, has the basic ingredients of a holiday destination. However, decades of poverty, instability and violence, especially since the 1980s, have all but killed off this prospect and left it as the poorest nation in the Americas.
Under the brutal dictatorships of the voodoo physician, Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, and his son, Jean-Claude, known as 'Baby Doc', political dissent was systematically eradicated and opponents jailed or murdered.
When Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected in 1990, the country's future looked brighter until he was overthrown by the armed forces a short time later. Although economic sanctions and US-led military intervention forced a return to constitutional government in 1994, Haiti's fortune did not improve, with allegations of electoral irregularities, ongoing torture and brutality.
In 2003, a wave of protests against Aristide quickly spread throughout the country plunging Haiti into chaos. By 2004, armed rebels had seized control of many towns and violence spread across the island. In February 2004, Aristide fled the country.
Former president René Préval won presidential elections in 2006. But Haiti remains plagued by violent confrontations between rival gangs and political groups. The UN has described the human rights situation as 'catastrophic'.