Convulsed by coups and terrorized by thugs for much of its history, Haiti held presidential elections in early 2006 in a tenuous but critical step toward democracy.

Underscoring the chaos, balloting was postponed three times last year and has been delayed at least a few weeks from the latest official date of Jan. 8.

The vote will be the first since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced out by armed rebels in February 2004, spawning a political and human rights crisis of such magnitude that United Nations peacekeepers, like the U.S. Marines who preceded them, can barely keep order.

Starting Sunday, January 1, 2006, Newsday begins a three-day series about the problems facing Haiti, one of the most troubled nations in the Western Hemisphere.

SUNDAY: Illegal armed groups pose the single greatest threat to bringing democracy, jobs and hope to Haiti.

MONDAY: Rice production, once the backbone of the rural workforce, could be the key to jumpstarting Haiti's ravaged economy.

TUESDAY: Deforestation threatens to turn Haiti into a Caribbean desert; a quick exit by international donors could doom the country to anarchy.

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