Monday, January 18, 2010
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Port-au-Prince (pronounced /ˌpɔrtoʊˈprɪns/; French pronunciation: [pɔʁopʁɛ̃s]; Haitian Creole: Pòtoprens) was the capital and largest city of the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The city's official population was 704,776 as of the 2003 census.
Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the region that would eventually become Port-au-Prince was not the site of any permanent human settlement.
The city of Port-au-Prince faces the Gulf of Gonâve, at 18°32′N 72°20′W / 18.533°N 72.333°W / 18.533; -72.333. The bay on which the city lies, which acts as a natural harbor, has sustained economic activity since the civilizations of the Arawaks. It was first incorporated under the colonial rule of the French, in 1749, and has been Haiti's largest metropolis since then. The city's layout is similar to that of an amphitheatre; commercial districts are near the water, while residential neighborhoods are located on the hills above. Its population is difficult to ascertain due to the rapid growth of slums in the hillsides above the city; however, recent estimates place the metropolitan area's population at between 2.5 and 3 million people.
In 2010, Port-au-Prince was catastrophically affected by the January 12 earthquake, with large numbers of structures damaged or destroyed. Haitian officials estimate that thousands have been killed – perhaps more than 100,000 – though there is no firm or confirmed death toll.
Cité Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum in the capital of Port-au-Prince, has been called "the most dangerous place on Earth" by the United Nations. Cité Soleil (Kreyol: Site Soley, English: Sun City) is a very densely populated commune located in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area in Haiti. It has development as a shanty town. Most of its estimated 200,000 to 300,000 residents live in extreme poverty. The area is generally regarded as one of the poorest, roughest, and most dangerous areas of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country; it is one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. There is little police presence, no sewers, no stores, and little to no electricity. Armed gangs roam the streets. Murder, rape, kidnapping, looting, and shootings are common as every few blocks is controlled by one of more than 30 armed factions.
The Cité-Soleil shantytown in Port-au-Prince has been the scene of deadly clashes between armed groups and UN forces. Local people live in abject poverty against a backdrop of violence, without even basic services to make their lives more bearable. ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross are providing an ambulance service for the sick and wounded, repairing water points and seeking to give some hope again to the people of Cité-Soleil.
Since 2004, the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) has been in Haiti and it now numbers 8,000 troops but continues to struggle for control over the armed gangs. In October 2006 a group of heavily armed Haitian police were able to enter Cité Soleil for the first time in three years and were able to remain one hour as armored UN troops patrolled the area. Since this is where the armed gangs take their kidnap victims, the Haitian police's ability to penetrate the area even for such a short time was seen as a sign of progress. The situation of continuing violence is similar in Port-au-Prince.
In 1770, Port-au-Prince replaced Cap-Français (the modern Cap-Haïtien) as capital of the colony of Saint-Domingue, and in 1804, it became the capital of newly-independent Haïti. Before Haïtian independence, it was captured by British troops on June 4, 1794. During the French and Haïtian Revolutions, it was known as Port-Républicain, before being renamed Port-au-Prince by Jacques I, emperor of Haïti. When Haïti was divided between a kingdom in the north and a republic in the south, Port-au-Prince was the capital of the republic, under the leadership of Alexandre Pétion. Henri Christophe renamed the city Port-aux-Crimes after the assassination of Jacques I at Pont Larnage (now known as Pont-Rouge, and located north of the city.)
Port-au-Prince has managed to maintain a tourism industry despite political instability. The Toussaint Louverture International Airport (referred to often as the Port-au-Prince International Airport) is the country's main international gateway for tourists. The Pétionville area of Port-au-Prince is affluent and is generally the most common place for tourists to visit and stay. The vast majority of tourists concentrate their visits around the various cultural sites that exist within the capital, an example being the large number of gingerbread houses.
On 12 January 2010, a 7.0 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, devastating the city. Most of the central historic area of the city was destroyed, including Haiti's prized Cathédrale de Port-au-Prince, the capital building, the parliament building, several ministerial buildings, and at least one hospital. The second floor of the Presidential Palace was thrown into the first floor, and the domes skewed at a severe tilt.
Famous people born in Port-au-Prince
* Jean Alfred (1940-), former politician and deputy of the Assemblée nationale du Québec
* Silvio Cator (1900-1952), athlete and mayor of Port-au-Prince
* François Duvalier (1907-1971), president and dictator of Haiti
* Jean-Claude Duvalier (1951-), former president and dictator of Haiti
* Wagneau Eloi (1973-), former international soccer player and now coach of the Haiti national football team
* Michaëlle Jean (1957-), current governor general of Canada
* Wyclef Jean (1972-), US-based international rapper
* Dany Laferrière (1953-), novelist and journalist.
* Luck Mervil (1967-), Québec-based actor, singer
* Olden Polynice (1964-), former professional basketball player
* Emmanuel Sanon (1951–2008), national soccer player of Haiti
* Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), declared venerable by Pope John Paul II, the second step toward sainthood
* Samuel Dalembert (1981-), current NBA player. He is the Center for the Philadelphia 76ers.