One island shared by two very different nations. Hispaniola was the island where Columbus first brought Spanish settlers, wiping out the Amerindians who lived there within a generation. At the end of the 17th century, the island was divided between France and Spain and from then on their paths diverged. The French colony, Saint Domingue, was highly profitable but based on the untenable basis of slavery. The Spanish colony, Santo Domingo, was less profitable, having been abandoned by Spain in favour of richer colonies in South and Central America. Nowadays the position is reversed. Having carried out a successful slave rebellion at the beginning of the 19th century, Haiti's new rulers never managed to achieve the former level of prosperity and gradually the country declined to become the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The former Spanish colony, which called itself the Dominican Republic, remained impoverished under the rule of ruthless dictators until the 1960s, when the last of the oligarchs was assassinated and the first steps were taken towards democracy and prosperity.
Today, the Dominican Republic welcomes foreign visitors to its beach resorts and millions come each year to enjoy the sun, sea and sand, while others seeking more adventurous pastimes head into the mountains and the national parks for mountain biking, hiking, whitewater rafting and other sports. Athletes come from around the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding competitions, while in 2003 the country hosted the Pan American Games. Haiti, on the other hand, receives aid workers and peace-keeping troops and only a handful of tourists. Despite its rich Afro-French culture, its people are torn apart by political rivalries and gang warfare, while the countryside is ravaged by poverty and the hillsides are stripped bare of trees.