Why is Haiti so poor?

by Dave

Some context on the current disaster’s aftermath in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.  Jared Diamond, of Guns, Germs and Steel fame, in his later book Collapse compares Haiti with Dominican Republic – located on the same island of Hispaniola – where incidentally Columbus landed in the Americas. He too attributed Haiti’s lower economic growth trajectory to ecological damage continuedover a hundred years. Haiti’s forest cover is almost entired destroyed (1% of trees in Haiti compared to 28% in Dominican Republic) with its attendant problems of soil erosion, decrease in fertility, population pressure on shrinking amounts of fertile land etc. Of course you have colonial shenanigans by France, the UK in the 19th century, US interventionism in the 20th making things worse. A great inspiring book to read, which also is mostly set in Haiti,  Mountains beyond Mountains, Dr. Paul Farmer’s work to cure disease there. In this video, he speaks of the political crisis there, in addition to ecological crisis.

via (Harper’s Magazine)

 Among the answers were that “Haiti cut its colonial ties too early, rebelling against the French in the early 19th century and achieving complete independence”; and that “Haiti has higher than average levels of polygamy.”

It’s pretty stunning that this almost entirely ignores the role of outside powers. Is Haiti poor simply because foreigners exploited it? Of course not, but one can’t understand why the country is in such terrible shape if you ignore the French and American roles in beggaring the country.

So here are a couple of suggested reading items: First, this post by Barbara Miller, a specialist in the anthropology of international development, who asks the exact same question posed by Marginal Revolution, and comes up with quite a different set of answers:

Colonial plantation owners grew fabulously rich from this island. It produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. Why is Haiti so poor now?

Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests.
After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.

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