Unclean water, food shortages, unemployment, and lack of medical care are a way of life for many Haitians.

A malfunctioning traffic light near the congested center of Port-au-Prince is glowing red, yellow, and green at the same time. “Which one!” cries out a Haitian driver for a group of visiting American journalists. She then looks both ways and drives on as her perplexed passengers shake their heads in disbelief.

The problems, opportunities, and obstacles in a country as troubled as Haiti are also sending out confusing signals all at once. Haiti is a country of extremes. Sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti has the unwelcome distinction of being the poorest country in the Americas. About 80 percent of its 6.5 million people live below “absolute poverty,” a technical term meaning they do not have sufficient resources to house and feed themselves at subsistence levels. Yet, researchers have estimated that 1 percent of the populace controls 40 percent of the country’s wealth. Many of the Haitian elite live in large, walled compounds in the rolling hills above Port-au-Prince.

Haitians are proud of their heritage as the world’s first black republic, formed in 1804 after they revolted against French rule. The Haitian connection to the United States has been longstanding, including a period from 1915 to 1934 when the U.S. government ran the country. Today there are an estimated one million Haitians living in the United States.

American Christians active in the country commonly quip, “Haiti is 95 percent Christian and 100 percent voodoo.” The Catholic church has existed in Haiti since the sixteenth century. Protestant churches began mission work here in the nineteenth century and currently count 17 percent ...

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