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Why is Haiti so poor

1/14/10 in Locker Room   |   Cherrie   |   871 respect

Why Is Haiti So Poor?

By James Williams | Wed Jan 13, 2010 08:08 PM ET
Haiti-historyA market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, appears in the above photo, which was taken between 1909 and 1920.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, which makes the devastation caused by yesterday’s earthquake that much harder on an already struggling nation. As death toll estimates continue to rise and other nations flood in to provide aid, we wondered how this small country came to be so poverty-stricken.

Our answer came from Bryan Page, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Miami.

Professor Page: In the 17th and 18th centuries, Haiti was by far the richest colony in the entire Americas -- including the mineral rich Mexico and Peru. And the reason was it had great agricultural riches. And the other reason was it was essentially a slave meat grinder.

According to Page, French plantation owners in Haiti became extremely wealthy by literally working their slaves to death while growing everything from indigo to sugar cane. Page says the working conditions were so harsh that it was almost inevitable the slaves would revolt.

Professor Page: You then have something that is a totally unique occurrence in the history of the world, actually. There’s never been a people who have thrown off slavery and formed a nation other than Haiti -- a fact that’s not lost on present day Haitians. It’s one of the things that gives them an appealing stubborn streak.

In August of 1791, the Haitian slaves began an violent rebellion that would eventually lead to the nation's full independence in 1804.

Professor Page: After they became independent, they ended up in a situation where – number one – they were considered a threat by the entire rest of the region because the rest of the region, especially the United States, owned slaves. A slave rebellion is not a good thing to have so close to a nation that owned several million slaves of their own.

Page says that post-1804, Haitians were discriminated against by not only the United States, but all the European powers.

Professor Page: That discrimination meant no availability of resources to educate the Haitian population, no significant trade with any polity outside of Haiti. Also, the break up of the plantations into individual land parcels meant there’s no longer a coherent cash crop activity going on within Haiti.

Page says these conditions persisted into the 20th Century, which meant…

Professor Page: You still have a population that was 80-90% illiterate -- a population that didn’t have any industrial skills, a population that wasn’t allowed to trade its products with the rest of the world in any significant way.

What that isolation essentially meant was that Haiti never had a chance to progress alongside the surrounding civilizations in the region. Complicating the picture even more was a series of despotic rulers that added to the country’s struggles.

Professor Page: [Haiti was] seen increasingly as a benighted, terrible place, in part also because of the collective racism of the white-dominated nations that surrounded them, including Cuba, the United States and the Dominican Republic which occupies the other side of Hispanola.

Page says in 1915, the United States -- invoking the Monroe Doctrine -- occupied Haiti in an attempt to install some order. That experiment lasted until 1936, when the U.S. pulled out. Haiti continued its pattern of despots, dictators and army coups -- as did other Latin American countries at the time -- but with one big difference…

Professor Page: [Haiti started from] a point of considerably greater illiteracy and lack of human and natural resources. The other thing that was happening was that those small scale farmers were doing other things. They were using charcoal for heating and cooking and essentially denuding the hills and forests, which now means they have major erosion problems throughout Haiti.

Page says that with no help from the elite class in the country to mitigate the situation, we end up with the conditions seen in Haiti today.

Professor Page: The Haitian population continues to be largely illiterate, continues not to have attractive skills for industry and therefore fails to attract industries that might help ameliorate the situation.

Page says that the Haitian’s high illiteracy rates and lack of marketable skills isn’t for lack of want. He says the roughly 200,000 Haitians living in South Florida are known for being avid utilizers of public education opportunities.

Professor Page: It’s a population that, given some basic resources and furtherance of building 20th century skills and knowledge, they’ll take it. And they run with it. But as of yet they haven’t gotten it... from anybody.

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7/11/10   |   Kenne   |   15948 respect

no money, no skills, no knowledge

That is one of the worst stereotypes I've ever heard, not everybody there has those problems. They have an education system there and most can work, though the pay is minimal.

1/16/10   |   janet011685   |   25875 respect

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian masses suffer some of the most debilitating and depressing misery of any people in the world. Yet, virtually all that misery is human caused, in most cases, by a tiny minority inside and outside Haiti who have the wealth and power to control.

Exactly ... and they have not been able to find a good leader for their nation to help lead them into a better situation.  Too much corruption going on there and, up until this point, nothing seems to work.  I've been saying for awhile now that it's like that one store in the mall that's ALWAYS being changed over to something else ... no matter what they put in there, it just won't work for some reason. 

As terrible as this disaster is, maybe it will shed some light on the rest of the plights the Haitian people are facing and other nations will step up to really help them out with rebuilding and restructuring (physically AND politically/economically).

1/15/10   |   mryrosie   |   37 respect

and one more comment.  I live in Boston..........large haitian population, np with me, they work hard and get ahead.................meanwhile, my son's girlfriend from Canada has to jump through hoops to move down here, will take 9 months to a year.........

1/15/10   |   mryrosie   |   37 respect

ok, hold on............HATE ME IF YA WANT, but we still have Katrina victims in the great US of A..........and how many days did they go without food and water??????  ENOUGH.............our government (meaning me) is helping, and they are yelling on TV???  ok, right...........

1/15/10   |   AnnaLuvsMusic   |   2 respect

I'm thinking about starting a fundraiser with the Red Cross to try and raise money and gather canned and boxed food items to send to Haiti.

1/15/10   |   VIOLET   |   11320 respect

It's so sad what they are living these days, let's support them as we have had support from other countries when we suffer a tragedy (speaking about Mexico, hurricanes, earthquakes too) but I know it's the same in any country. Great article Cherrie

1/15/10   |   LoCaWldKat66   |   1392 respect

well said article Cherrie 

1/15/10   |   raja_starkglass   |   449 respect

(Edited by raja_starkglass)

 Indian sub-continent has had british rule, before that Mughal rule, has seen good and bad of governance by the outsiders, so is  Japan, which was reduced to dust, thanks to world war II, but both htese nations, India and Japan are awakening in to developed nations, thanks mainly to the eduaction and vocational skills imparted to the generation next, after the freedom and rule of laws of democratic way of life.Any land mass has chance to thrive, if the individuals of that society rise above greed and educate its other members of society, impart skills of life, and not wait for AID from developed nations, as this aid always comes with strings attached to dominate, strong who help always expect returns for the "investment" of aid.! Self help is the best, education and skills developed teaches to earn livelihood., not beggary.

1/15/10   |   cuddles127017   |   8133 respect

Great article.   I enjoyed the history lesson.  To better the country, it has to start with education.

1/14/10   |   ohwell_   |   16443 respect

AND when they come over to S Florida on rafts, leaky boats  (which they pay top dollar  to smugglers for,they are immediately arrested and sent back home.  I have many friends who have been granted citizenship, but cannot get the rest of their families here,
children, husbands, wives etc.     But if you're Cuban, you are welcome    I call BS

1/14/10   |   marcus_nyce   |   27232 respect

Great stuff.

1/14/10   |   Cali_Kat   |   15576 respect

Thanks everyone, I went online to make a donation and found this article. I went to Wyclef Jean's YELE.ORG
He is trying to do good things for his people, I admire him very much.

I did the same Cherrie. Thanks for posting this!

1/14/10   |   bigbueh64   |   298 respect

they have no $$$

1/14/10   |   kteacher   |   34390 respect

Thanks for posting this Cherrie!