How Did Haiti Become So Poor?


With the massive earth quake of January 2010 striking the nation of Haiti many news sources have had leading stories about the dire struggle of the Haitian people.  There are heart-wrenching stories of the utter poverty of the nation even before the devastation.  One thing that seems to lack in all this coverage is the FACTS of how Haiti became so poor.  Most stories touch on Haiti's tumultuous political situation, having been under decades, perhaps centuries of dictatorial rule.  But the reports never seem to really get at the heart of the issue.

As the reader may be aware, Haiti is one of two nations occupying an island called Hispaniola. While Haiti is home mainly to French speaking African descendants, the other nation; Dominican Republic is home mainly to Spanish speaking mulattoes of native and Spanish descent. The island is situated in the Caribbean, approximately 550 miles south-east of Miami Florida, with Cuba in between. But my interest and knowledge of this issue is more than passing, as I have been to the Dominican Republic at least 5 times on business and have been able to witness the culture first hand.

Hispaniola is famous for being the first European settlement in the new world by Christopher Columbus. According to research, a large region of the island was originally called "Haiti" (Ayiti) -- Mountain Land -- by the native Taino people.  The Taino eventually were all killed off either via disease or treatment from the Spanish.  This caused the Spanish to import African slave labor.

In the late 1600's as interest in main land American settlement increased much of the island was occupied by pirates, causing the Spanish population to concentrate around the main city, Santo Domingo.  This left an opening for the English and French to settle other parts of the island.  By 1665 the French officially colonized the region which is now Haiti -- thus, why Haiti is mainly French speaking whereas the Dominican Republic is Spanish speaking.  At one point, the western, French side of the island was more prosperous than the eastern, Spanish side -- mainly due to the exploitation of African slave labor.

By the early 1800s a successful slave revolution took place, making Haiti the only nation founded by the revolt of former African slaves. Although the French, including Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to regain control, Haiti officially declared independence in 1804. The years that followed included brutal retribution where the surviving 24,000 white inhabitants were either killed or exiled. By the mid 1800s, the Haitians even controlled the Spanish half of the island.  By 1844, the Dominican Republic once again declared its independence from Haiti.

My point in relating this history is to show that Haiti has not ALWAYS been considered a backward, third world country within the New World.  As I related, at one time it even controlled the entire island.  Whereas reporters typically portray Haiti as a victim of despotic leadership and foreign interference, and while that is to extent true Haiti is also a victim of its geography.  Note the terrain map below.  See how Haiti is mainly rugged, mountains whereas the Dominican Republic side is lowland, tropical marshes suited for agriculture and construction.

View Larger Map

Unless and until the western side of Hispaniola is developed into a more suitable, self-sustaining nation (much as the desert nation of Israel has been), it will continue to struggle no matter how much foreign aid is poured into the nation.

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