The (Original) Problems of Haiti

By Deane Barker tags: social-justice, politics

I’m more than a little amazed that I stumbled on this article.

A divided island: the forces working against Haiti:

For years, I have wondered about this very question: why has the Dominican Republic done fairly well, while Haiti is a trainwreck, given that they share the same island?

Last year I listened to “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond, which is about why and how civilizations developed. I enjoyed it, and I was thinking to myself, “Man, I wish Jared Diamond would answer my questions about Haiti…”

And here is an article with this subtitle:

Why does Haiti have it so tough compared with its neighbour, the Dominican Republic? Jared Diamond explains

That’s crazy awesome.

(The article is actually extracted from his current book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” which I now have to read, I supposed.)

The gist of it comes down to these precipitating factors:

  • The Haitian side of the island doesn’t get much rain – not nearly as much as the Dominican side. So the Dominican side of the island is vastly superior to plant life and agriculture.

  • Back in the Colonial Period, Haiti was a French colony, and France developed it with slave labor. The Dominican Republic was a Spanish colony, and Spain was having economic problems, so couldn’t develop their side of the island. This caused Haiti to have a much greater population density than their neighbor, along with the accompanying societal problems of slavery.

  • France deforested a lot of the country in the 19th century and brought the timber back to Europe.

So, Haiti by the start of the 20th century was (1) relatively arid, (2) packed with former slaves, and (3) largely stripped of its forests. Not a good way to head into the Industrial Revolution.

The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, was still fairly fresh. It peaked later, essentially. In the 20th century, it was much more attractive to Europeans who brought business, investment, and help it develop an export economy.

The rest is history, really.

The question becomes, what do you do now? How do you turn a country around? I wish I knew.

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