Haitians Do It Better Essay



Identification. Haiti, a name that means "mountainous country," is derived from the language of the Taino Indians who inhabited the island before European colonization. After independence in 1804, the name was adopted by the military generals, many of them former slaves, who expelled the French and took possession of the colony then known as Saint Domingue. In 2000, 95 percent of the population was of African descent, and the remaining 5 percent mulatto and white. Some wealthy citizens think of themselves as French, but most residents identify themselves as Haitian and there is a strong sense of nationalism.

Location and Geography. Haiti covers 10,714 square miles (27,750 square kilometers). It is located in the subtropics on the western third of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Caribbean, which it shares with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. The neighboring islands include Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Three-quarters of the terrain is mountainous; the highest peak is the Morne de Selle. The climate is mild, varying with altitude. The mountains are calcareous rather than volcanic and give way to widely varying microclimatic and soil conditions. A tectonic fault line runs through the country, causing occasional and sometimes devastating earthquakes. The island is also located within the Caribbean hurricane belt.

Demography. The population has grown steadily from 431,140 at independence in 1804 to the estimate of 6.9 million to 7.2 million in 2000. Haiti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Until the 1970s, over 80 percent of the population resided in rural areas, and today, over 60 percent continue to live in provincial villages, hamlets, and homesteads scattered across the rural landscape. The capital city is Port-au-Prince, which is five times larger than the next biggest city, Cape Haitian.

Over one million native-born Haitians live overseas; an additional fifty thousand leave the country every year, predominantly for the United States but also to Canada and France. Approximately 80 percent of permanent migrants come from the educated middle and upper classes, but very large numbers of lower-class Haitians temporarily migrate to the Dominican Republic and Nassau Bahamas to work at low-income jobs in the informal economy. An unknown number of lower-income migrants remain abroad.

Linguistic Affiliation. For most of the nation's history the official language has been French. However, the language spoken by the vast majority of the people is kreyol, whose pronunciation and vocabulary are derived largely from French but whose syntax is similar to that of other creoles. With the adoption of a new constitution in 1987, kreyol was given official status as the primary official language. French was relegated to the status of a secondary official language but continues to prevail among the elite and in government, functioning as marker of social class and a barrier to the less educated and the poor. An estimated 5–10 percent of the population speaks fluent French, but in recent decades massive emigration to the United States and the availability of cable television from the United States have helped English replace French as the second language in many sectors of the population.

Symbolism. Residents attach tremendous importance to the expulsion of the French in 1804, an event that made Haiti the first independently black-ruled nation in the world, and only the second country in the Western Hemisphere to achieve independence from imperial Europe. The most noted national symbols are the flag, Henri Christophe's citadel and the statue of the "unknown maroon" ( Maroon inconnu ), a bare-chested revolutionary


trumpeting a conch shell in a call to arms. The presidential palace is also an important national symbol.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of a Nation. Hispaniola was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and was the first island in the New World settled by the Spanish. By 1550, the indigenous culture of the Taino Indians had vanished from the island, and Hispaniola became a neglected backwater of the Spanish Empire. In the mid-1600s, the western third of the island was populated by fortune seekers, castaways, and wayward colonists, predominantly French, who became pirates and buccaneers, hunting wild cattle and pigs unleashed by the earliest European visitors and selling the smoked meat to passing ships. In the mid-1600s, the French used the buccaneers as mercenaries (freebooters) in an unofficial war against the Spanish. In the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697, France forced Spain to cede the western third of Hispaniola. This area became the French colony of Saint Domingue. By 1788, the colony had become the "jewel of the Antilles," the richest colony in the world.

In 1789, revolution in France sparked dissension in the colony, which had a population of half a million slaves (half of all the slaves in the Caribbean); twenty-eight thousand mulattoes and free blacks, many of whom were wealthy landowners; and thirty-six thousand white planters, artisans, slave drivers, and small landholders. In 1791, thirty-five thousand slaves rose in an insurrection, razed a thousand plantations, and took to the hills. Thirteen years of war and pestilence followed. Spanish, English, and French troops were soon battling one another for control of the colony. The imperial powers militarized the slaves, training them in the arts of "modern" warfare. Grands blancs (rich white colonists), petits blancs (small farmers and working-class whites), mulatres (mulattoes), and noirs (free blacks) fought, plotted, and intrigued. Each local interest group exploited its position at every opportunity to achieve its political and economic objectives. From the mayhem emerged some of the greatest black military men in history, including Toussaint Louverture. In 1804, the last European troops were soundly defeated and driven from the island by a coalition of former slaves and mulattoes. In January 1804 the rebel generals declared independence, inaugurating Haiti as the first sovereign "black" country in the modern world and the second colony in the Western Hemisphere to gain independence from imperial Europe.

Since gaining independence, Haiti has had fleeting moments of glory. An early eighteenth century kingdom ruled by Henri Christophe prospered and thrived in the north, and from 1822 to 1844 Haiti ruled the entire island. The late nineteenth century was a period of intense internecine warfare in which ragtag armies backed by urban politicians and conspiring Western businessmen repeatedly sacked Port-au-Prince. By 1915, the year in which U.S. marines began a nineteen year occupation of the country, Haiti was among the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.

National Identity. During the century of relative isolation that followed independence, the peasantry developed distinct traditions in cuisine, music, dance, dress, ritual, and religion. Some elements of African cultures survive, such as specific prayers, a few words, and dozens of spirit entities, but Haitian culture is distinct from African and other New World cultures.

Ethnic Relations. The only ethnic subdivision is that of the syrians , the early twentieth-century Levantine emigrants who have been absorbed into the commercial elite but often self-identify by their ancestral origins. Haitians refer to all outsiders, even dark-skinned outsiders of African ancestry, as blan ("white").

In the neighboring Dominican Republic, despite the presence of over a million Haitian farm workers, servants, and urban laborers, there exists intense prejudice against Haitians. In 1937, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of an estimated fifteen to thirty-five thousand Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

The most famous architectural accomplishments are King Henri Christophe's postindependence San Souci palace, which was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1840s, and his mountaintop fortress, the Citadelle Laferrière, which survives largely intact.

The contemporary rural landscape is dominated by houses that vary in style from one region to another. Most are single-story, two-room shacks, usually with a front porch. In the dry, treeless areas, houses are constructed of rock or wattle and daub with mud or lime exteriors. In other regions, walls are made from the easily hewn native palm; in still other areas, particularly in the south, houses are made of Hispaniola pine and local hardwoods. When the owner can afford it, the outside of a house is painted in an array of pastel colors, mystic symbols are often painted on the walls, and the awnings are fringed with colorful hand-carved trimming.

In cities, early twentieth century bourgeoisie, foreign entrepreneurs, and the Catholic clergy blended French and southern United States Victorian architectural styles and took the rural gingerbread house to its artistic height, building fantastic multicolored brick and timber mansions with tall double doors, steep roofs, turrets, cornices, extensive balconies, and intricately carved trim. These exquisite structures are fast disappearing as a result of neglect and fires. Today one increasingly finds modern block and cement houses in both provincial villages and urban areas. Craftsmen have given these new houses traditional gingerbread qualities by using embedded pebbles, cut stones, preformed cement relief, rows of shaped balusters, concrete turrets, elaborately contoured cement roofing, large balconies, and artistically welded wrought-iron trimming and window bars reminiscent of the carved fringe that adorned classic gingerbread houses.

Haitians in Gonaïves celebrate the deposition of President Jean-Claude Duvalier in February, 1986.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Nutritional deficits are caused not by inadequate knowledge but by poverty. Most residents have a sophisticated understanding of dietary needs, and there is a widely known system of indigenous food categories that closely approximates modern, scientifically informed nutritional categorization. Rural Haitians are not subsistence farmers. Peasant women typically sell much of the family harvest in regional open-air market places and use the money to buy household foods.

Rice and beans are considered the national dish and are the most commonly eaten meal in urban areas. Traditional rural staples are sweet potatoes, manioc, yams, corn, rice, pigeon peas, cowpeas, bread, and coffee. More recently, a wheat-soy blend from the United States has been incorporated into the diet.

Important treats include sugarcane, mangoes, sweetbread, peanut and sesame seed clusters made from melted brown sugar, and candies made from bittermanioc flour. People make a crude but highly nutritious sugar paste called rapadou .

Haitians generally eat two meals a day: a small breakfast of coffee and bread, juice, or an egg and a large afternoon meal dominated by a carbohydrate source such as manioc, sweet potatoes, or rice. The afternoon meal always includes beans or a bean sauce, and there is usually a small amount of poultry, fish, goat, or, less commonly, beef or mutton, typically prepared as a sauce with a tomato paste base. Fruits are prized as between-meal snacks. Non-elite people do not necessarily have community or family meals, and individuals eat wherever they are comfortable. A snack customarily is eaten at night before one goes to sleep.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Festive occasions such as baptismal parties, first communions, and marriages include the mandatory Haitian colas, cake, a spiced concoction of domestic rum ( kleren ), and a thick spiked drink made with condensed milk called kremass . The middle class and the elite mark the same festivities with Western sodas, Haitian rum (Babouncourt), the national beer (Prestige), and imported beers. Pumpkin soup ( bouyon )is eaten on New Year's day.

Basic Economy. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. It is a nation of small farmers, commonly referred to as peasants, who work small private landholdings and depend primarily on their own labor and that of family members. There are no contemporary plantations and few concentrations of land. Although only 30 percent of the land is considered suitable for agriculture, more than 40 percent is worked. Erosion is severe. Real income for the average family has not increased in over twenty years and has declined precipitously in rural areas. In most rural areas, the average family of six earns less than $500 per year.

Since the 1960s, the country has become heavily dependent on food imports—primarily rice, flour, and beans—from abroad, particularly from the United States. Other major imports from the United States are used material goods such as clothes, bicycles, and motor vehicles. The Haitian has become primarily domestic, and production is almost entirely for domestic consumption. A vigorous internal marketing system dominates the economy and includes trade not only in agricultural produce and livestock but also in homemade crafts.

Land Tenure and Property. Land is relatively evenly distributed. Most holdings are small (approximately three acres), and there are very few landless households. Most property is privately held, though there is a category of land known as State Land that, if agriculturally productive, is rented under a long-term lease to individuals or families and is for all practical purposes private. Unoccupied land frequently is taken over by squatters. There is a vigorous land market, as rural households buy and sell land. Sellers of land generally need cash to finance either a life crisis event (healing or burial ritual) or a migratory venture. Land is typically bought, sold, and inherited without official documentation (no government has ever carried out a cadastral survey). Although there are few land titles, there are informal tenure rules that give farmers relative security in their holdings. Until recently, most conflicts over land were between members of the same kin group. With the departure of the Duvalier dynasty and the emergence of political chaos, some conflicts over land have led to bloodshed between members of different communities and social classes.

Commercial Activities. There is a thriving internal market that is characterized at most levels by itinerant female traders who specialize in domestic items such as produce, tobacco, dried fish, used clothing, and livestock.

Major Industries. There are small gold and copper reserves. For a short time the Reynolds Metals Company operated a bauxite mine, but it was closed in 1983 because of conflict with the government. Offshore assembly industries owned principally by U.S. entrepreneurs employed over sixty thousand people in the mid-1980s but declined in the later 1980s and early 1990s as a result of political unrest. There is one cement factory—most of the cement used in the country is imported—and a single flour mill.

Trade. In the 1800s, the country exported wood, sugarcane, cotton and coffee, but by the 1960s, even the production of coffee, long the major export, had been all but strangled through excessive taxation, lack of investment in new trees, and bad roads. Recently, coffee has yielded to mangoes as the primary export. Other exports include cocoa and essential oils for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Haiti has become a major transshipment point for illegal drug trafficking.

Imports come predominantly from the United States and include used clothing, mattresses, automobiles, rice, flour, and beans. Cement is imported from Cuba and South America.

Division of Labor. There is a large degree of informal specialization in both rural and urban areas. At the highest level are craftsmen known as bosses, including carpenters, masons, electricians, welders, mechanics, and tree sawyers. Specialists make most craft items, and there are others who castrate animals and climb coconut trees. Within each trade there are subdivisions of specialists.

Social Stratification

Class and Castes. There has always been a wide economic gulf between the masses and a small, wealthy elite and more recently, a growing middle class. Social status is well marked at all levels of society by the degree of French words and phrases used in speech, Western dress patterns, and the straightening of hair.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The wealthiest people tend to be lighter-skinned or white. Some scholars see this apparent color dichotomy as evidence of racist social division, but it also can be explained by historical circumstances and the immigration and intermarrying of the light-skinned elite with white merchants from Lebanon, Syria, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, other Caribbean countries, and, to a far lesser extent, the United States. Many presidents have been dark-skinned, and dark-skinned individuals have prevailed in the military.

Both music and painting are popular forms of artistic expression in Haiti.

Political Life

Government. Haiti is a republic with a bicameral legislature. It is divided into departments that are subdivided into arrondissments, communes, commune sectionals, and habitations. There have been numerous constitutions. The legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code, which excluded hereditary privileges and aimed to provide equal rights to the population, regardless of religion or status.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political life was dominated between 1957 and 1971 by the initially popular, but subsequently brutal, dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc"). The Duvalier reign ended after popular uprising throughout the country. In 1991, five years and eight interim governments later, a popular leader, Jean Bertrand Aristide, won the presidency with an overwhelming majority of the popular vote. Aristide was deposed seven months later in a military coup. The United Nations then imposed an embargo on all international trade with Haiti. In 1994, threatened with the invasion by United States forces, the military junta relinquished control to an international peacekeeping force. The Aristide government was reestablished, and since 1995 an ally of Aristide, Rene Preval, has ruled a government rendered largely ineffective by political gridlock.

Social Problems and Control. Since independence, vigilante justice has been a conspicuous informal mechanism of the justice system. Mobs have frequently killed criminals and abusive authorities. With the breakdown in state authority that has occurred over the last fourteen years of political chaos, both crime and vigilantism have increased. The security of life and property, particularly in urban areas, has become the most challenging issue facing the people and the government.

Military Activity. The military was disbanded by United Nations forces in 1994 and replaced by the Polis Nasyonal d'Ayiti (PNH).

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The infrastructure is in a very poor condition. International efforts to change this situation have been under way since 1915, but the country may be more underdeveloped today than it was one hundred years ago. International food aid, predominantly from the United States, supplies over ten percent of the country's needs.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Per capita, there are more foreign nongovernmental organizations and religious missions (predominantly U.S.-based) in Haiti than in any other country in the world.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In both rural and urban areas, men monopolize the job market. Only men work as jewelers, construction workers, general laborers, mechanics, and chauffeurs. Most doctors, teachers, and politicians are men, although women have made inroads into the elite professions, particularly medicine. Virtually all pastors are male, as are most school directors. Men also prevail, although not entirely, in the professions of spiritual healer and herbal practitioner. In the domestic sphere, men are primarily responsible for the care of livestock and gardens.

Women are responsible for domestic activities such as cooking, housecleaning and washing clothes by hand. Rural women and children are responsible for securing water and firewood, women help with planting and harvesting. The few wage-earning

Haitians expect to haggle when making a purchase.

opportunities open to women are in health care, in which nursing is exclusively a female occupation, and, to a far lesser extent, teaching. In marketing, women dominate most sectors, particularly in goods such as tobacco, garden produce, and fish. The most economically active women are skillful entrepreneurs on whom other market women heavily depend. Usually specialists in a particular commodity, these marchann travel between rural and urban areas, buying in bulk at one market and redistributing the goods, often on credit, to lower-level female retailers in other markets.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Rural women are commonly thought by outsiders to be severely repressed. Urban middle-class and elite women have a status equivalent to that of women in developed countries, but among the impoverished urban majority, the scarcity of jobs and the low pay for female domestic services have led to widespread promiscuity and the abuse of women. However, rural women play a prominent economic role in the household and family. In most areas, men plant gardens, but women are thought of as the owners of harvests and, because they are marketers, typically control the husband's earnings.

Marriage,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is expected among the elite and the middle classes, but less than forty percent of the non-elite population marries (an increase compared with the past resulting from recent Protestant conversions). However, with or without legal marriage, a union typically is considered complete and gets the respect of the community when a man has built a house for the woman and after the first child has been born. When marriage does occur, it is usually later in a couple's relationship, long after a household has been established and the children have begun to reach adulthood. Couples usually live on property belonging to the man's parents. Living on or near the wife's family's property is common in fishing communities and areas where male migration is very high.

Although it is not legal, at any given time about 10 percent of men have more than a single wife, and these relationships are acknowledged as legitimate by the community. The women live with their children in separate homesteads that are provided for by the man.

Extra residential mating relationships that do not involve the establishment of independent households are common among wealthy rural and urban men and less fortunate women. Incest restrictions extend to first cousins. There is no brideprice or dowry, although women generally are expected to bring certain domestic items into the union and men must provide a house and garden plots.

Domestic Unit. Households typically are made up of nuclear family members and adopted children or young relatives. Elderly widows and widowers may live with their children and grandchildren. The husband is thought of as the owner of the house and must plant gardens and tend livestock. However, the house typically is associated with the woman, and a sexually faithful woman cannot be expelled from a household and is thought of as the manager of the property and the decision maker regarding use of funds from the sale of garden produce and household animals.

Inheritance. Men and women inherit equally from both parents. Upon the death of a landowner, land is divided in equal portions among the surviving children. In practice, land often is ceded to specific children in the form of a sales transaction before a parent dies.

Kin Groups. Kinship is based on bilateral affiliation: One is equally a member of one's father's and mother's kin groups. Kinship organization differs from that of the industrial world with regard to ancestors and godparentage. Ancestors are given ritual attention by the large subset of people who serve the lwa . They are believed to have the power to influence the lives of the living, and there are certain ritual obligations that must be satisfied to appease them. Godparentage is ubiquitous and derives from Catholic tradition. The parents invite a friend or acquaintance to sponsor a child's baptism. This sponsorship creates a relationship not only between the child and the godparents but also between the child's parents and the godparents. These individuals have ritual obligations toward one another and address each other with the gender-specific terms konpè (if the person addressed is male) and komè ,or makomè (if the person addressed is female), meaning "my coparent."


Infant Care. In some areas infants are given purgatives immediately after birth, and in some regions the breast is withheld from newborns for the first twelve to forty-eight hours, a practice that has been linked to instruction from misinformed Western-trained nurses. Liquid supplements usually are introduced within the first two weeks of life, and food supplements often are begun thirty days after birth and sometimes earlier. Infants are fully weaned at eighteen months.

Child Rearing and Education. Very young children are indulged, but by the age of seven or eight most rural children engage in serious work. Children are important in retrieving household water and firewood and helping to cook and clean around the house. Children look after livestock, help their parents in the garden, and run errands. Parents and guardians are often harsh disciplinarians, and working-age children may be whipped severely. Children are expected to be respectful to adults and obedient to family members, even to siblings only a few years older than themselves. They are not allowed to talk back or stare at adults when being scolded. They are expected to say thank you and please. If a child is given a piece of fruit or bread, he or she must immediately begin breaking the food and distributing it to other children. The offspring of elite families are notoriously spoiled and are reared from an early age to lord it over their less fortunate compatriots.

Tremendous importance and prestige are attached to education. Most rural parents try to send their children at least to primary school, and a child who excels and whose parents can afford the costs is quickly exempted from the work demands levied on other children.

Fosterage ( restavek ) is a system in which children are given to other individuals or families for the purpose of performing domestic services. There is an expectation that the child will be sent to school and that the fostering will benefit the child. The most important ritual events in the life of a child are baptism and the first communion, which is more common among the middle class and the elite. Both events are marked by a celebration including Haitian colas, a cake or sweetened bread rolls, sweetened rum beverages, and, if the family can afford it, a hot meal that includes meat.

Higher Education. Traditionally, there has been a very small, educated urban-based elite, but in the last thirty years a large and rapidly increasing number of educated citizens have come from relatively humble rural origins, although seldom from the poorest social strata. These people attend medical and engineering schools, and may study at overseas universities.

There is a private university and a small state university in Port-au-Prince, including a medical school. Both have enrollments of only a few thousand students. Many offspring of middle-class and

The carnival that precedes Lent is the most popular Haitian festival.

elite families attend universities in the United States, Mexico City, Montreal, the Dominican Republic, and, to a much lesser extent, France and Germany.


When entering a yard Haitians shout out onè ("honor"), and the host is expected to reply respè ("respect"). Visitors to a household never leave empty-handed or without drinking coffee, or at least not without an apology. Failure to announce a departure, is considered rude.

People feel very strongly about greetings, whose importance is particularly strong in rural areas, where people who meet along a path or in a village often say hello several times before engaging in further conversation or continuing on their way. Men shake hands on meeting and departing, men and women kiss on the cheek when greeting, women kiss each other on the cheek, and rural women kiss female friends on the lips as a display of friendship.

Young women do not smoke or drink alcohol of any kind except on festive occasions. Men typically smoke and drink at cockfights, funerals, and festivities but are not excessive in the consumption of alcohol. As women age and become involved in itinerant marketing, they often begin to drink kleren (rum) and use snuff and/or smoke tobacco in a pipe or cigar. Men are more prone to smoke tobacco, particularly cigarettes, than to use snuff.

Men and especially women are expected to sit in modest postures. Even people who are intimate with one another consider it extremely rude to pass gas in the presence of others. Haitians say excuse me ( eskize-m ) when entering another person's space. Brushing the teeth is a universal practice. People also go to great lengths to bathe before boarding public buses, and it is considered proper to bathe before making a journey, even if this is to be made in the hot sun.

Women and especially men commonly hold hands in public as a display of friendship; this is commonly mistaken by outsiders as homosexuality. Women and men seldom show public affection toward the opposite sex but are affectionate in private.

People haggle over anything that has to do with money, even if money is not a problem and the price has already been decided or is known. A mercurial demeanor is considered normal, and arguments are common, animated, and loud. People of higher class or means are expected to treat those beneath them with a degree of impatience and contempt. In interacting with individuals of lower status or even equal social rank, people tend to be candid in referring to appearance, shortcomings, or handicaps. Violence is rare but once started often escalates quickly to bloodshed and serious injury.


Religious Beliefs. The official state religion is Catholicism, but over the last four decades Protestant missionary activity has reduced the proportion of people who identify themselves as Catholic from over 90 percent in 1960 to less than 70 percent in 2000.

Haiti is famous for its popular religion, known to its practitioners as "serving the lwa " but referred to by the literature and the outside world as voodoo ( vodoun ). This religious complex is a syncretic mixture of African and Catholic beliefs, rituals, and religious specialists, and its practitioners ( sèvitè ) continue to be members of a Catholic parish. Long stereotyped by the outside world as "black magic," vodoun is actually a religion whose specialists derive most of their income from healing the sick rather than from attacking targeted victims.

Many people have rejected voodoo, becoming instead katolik fran ("unmixed Catholics" who do not combine Catholicism with service to the lwa ) or levanjil , (Protestants). The common claim that all Haitians secretly practice voodoo is inaccurate. Catholics and Protestants generally believe in the existence of lwa, but consider them demons to be avoided rather than family spirits to be served. The percentage of those who explicitly serve the family lwa is unknown but probably high.

Religious Practitioners. Aside from the priests of the Catholic Church and thousands of Protestant ministers, many of them trained and supported by evangelical missions from the United States, informal religious specialists proliferate. Most notable are the voodoo specialists known by various names in different regions ( houngan, bokò, gangan ) and referred to as manbo in the case of female specialists. (Females are viewed as having the same spiritual powers as males, though in practice there are more houngan than manbo .) There are also bush priests ( pè savann ) who read specific Catholic prayers at funerals and other ceremonial occasions, and hounsi , initiated females who serve as ceremonial assistants to the houngan or manbo .

Rituals and Holy Places. People make pilgrimages to a series of holy sites. Those sites became popular in association with manifestations of particular saints and are marked by unusual geographic features such as the waterfall at Saut d'Eau, the most famous of sacred sites. Waterfalls and certain species of large trees are especially sacred because they are believed to be the homes of spirits and the conduits through which spirits enter the world of living humans.

Death and the Afterlife. Beliefs concerning the afterlife depend on the religion of the individual. Strict Catholics and Protestants believe in the existence of reward or punishment after death. Practitioners of voodoo assume that the souls of all the deceased go to an abode "beneath the waters," that is often associated with lafrik gine ("L'Afrique Guinée," or Africa). Concepts of reward and punishment in the afterlife are alien to vodoun .

The moment of death is marked by ritual wailing among family members, friends, and neighbors. Funerals are important social events and involve several days of social interaction, including feasting and the consumption of rum. Family members come from far away to sleep at the house, and friends and neighbors congregate in the yard. Men play dominoes while the women cook. Usually within the week but sometimes several years later, funerals are followed by the priè, nine nights of socializing and ritual. Burial monuments and other mortuary rituals are often costly and elaborate. People are increasingly reluctant to be buried underground, preferring to be interred above ground in a kav , an elaborate multi chambered tomb that may cost more than the house in which the individual lived while alive. Expenditures on mortuary ritual have been increasing and have been interpreted as a leveling mechanism that redistributes resources in the rural economy.

Medicine and Health Care

Malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, intestinal parasites, and sexually transmitted diseases take a toll on the population. Estimates of HIV among those ages twenty-two to forty-four years are as high as 11 percent, and estimates among prostitutes in the capital are as high as 80 percent. There is less than one doctor per eight-thousand people. Medical facilities are poorly funded and understaffed, and most health care workers are incompetent. Life expectancy in 1999 was under fifty-one years.

In the absence of modern medical care, an elaborate system of indigenous healers has evolved, including

Women are typically responsible for household maintenance and marketing garden produce.

herbal specialists know as leaf doctors ( medsin fey ), granny midwives ( fam saj ), masseuses ( manyè ), injection specialists ( charlatan ), and spiritual healers. People have tremendous faith in informal healing procedures and commonly believe that HIV can be cured. With the spread of Pentecostal evangelicalism, Christian faith healing has spread rapidly.

Secular Celebrations

Associated with the beginning of the religious season of Lent, Carnival is the most popular and active festival, featuring secular music, parades, dancing in the streets, and abundant consumption of alcohol. Carnival is preceded by several days of rara bands, traditional ensembles featuring large groups of specially dressed people who dance to the music of vaccines (bamboo trumpets) and drums under the leadership of a director who blows a whistle and wields a whip. Other festivals include Independence Day (1 January), Bois Cayman Day (14 August, celebrating a legendary ceremony at which slaves plotted the revolution in 1791), Flag Day (18 May), and the assassination of Dessalines, the first ruler of independent Haiti (17 October).

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The bankrupt government provides occasional token support for the arts, typically for dance troupes.

Literature. Haitian literature is written primarily in French. The elite has produced several writers of international renown, including Jean Price-Mars, Jacques Roumain, and Jacques-Stephen Alexis.

Graphic Arts. Haitians have a predilection for decoration and bright colors. Wood boats called kantè , second hand U.S. school buses called kamion , and small enclosed pickup trucks called taptap are decorated with brightly colored mosaics and given personal names such as kris kapab (Christ Capable) and gras a dieu (Thank God). Haitian painting became popular in the 1940s when a school of "primitive" artists encouraged by the Episcopal Church began in Port-au-Prince. Since that time a steady flow of talented painters has emerged from the lower middle class. However, elite university-schooled painters and gallery owners have profited the most from international recognition. There is also a thriving industry of low-quality paintings, tapestries, and wood, stone, and metal handicrafts that supplies much of the artwork sold to tourists on other Caribbean islands.

Performance Arts. There is a rich tradition of music and dance, but few performances are publicly funded.


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Lundahl, Mats. The Haitian Economy: Man, Land, and Markets, 1983.

Metraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti, translated by Hugo Charteris, 1959,1972.

Metraux, Rhoda. "Kith and Kin: A Study of Creole Social Structure in Marbial, Haiti." Ph.D. dissertation: Columbia University, New York, 1951.

Moral, Paul. Le Paysan Haitien, 1961.

Moreau, St. Mery. Description de la Partie Francaise de Saint-Domingue, 1797, 1958.

Murray, Gerald F. "The Evolution of Haitian Peasant Land Tenure: Agrarian Adaptation to Population Growth." Ph.D. dissertation. Columbia University, 1977.

Nicholls, David. From Dessalines to Duvalier, 1974.

Rotberg, Robert I., with Christopher A. Clague. Haiti: The Politics of Squalor, 1971.

Rouse, Irving. The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus, 1992.

Schwartz, Timothy T. "Children Are the Wealth of the Poor": High Fertility and the Rural Economy of Jean Rabel, Haiti." Ph.D. dissertation. University of Florida, Gainesville, 2000.

Simpson, George Eaton. "Sexual and Family Institutions in Northern Haiti." American Anthropologist, 44: 655–674, 1942.

Smucker, Glenn Richard. "Peasants and Development Politics: A Study in Class and Culture." Ph.D. dissertation. New School for Social Research, 1983.


Also read article about Haiti from Wikipedia


Since 1990, the Haitian government has transformed—with laborious displays of violence—19 times.[1] The trend is part of a cycle of sustained political instability that has pervaded the nation’s history since its inception and has prevented it from harnessing much of its potential human capital and natural resources. Given the instability and low standard of living in Haiti relative to other proximate countries, a critical mass of contemporary Haitians—disproportionately those who are educated—have chosen to exit Haiti in what has been termed the “Haitian diaspora,” roughly beginning in the 1960s and enduring today.

The diaspora has created a community of expatriate Haitians abroad with singular and remarkable characteristics who represent a large portion of the potential human and working capital, which is now absent in Haiti. Their investment and interest would lend a significant amount of capacity and resources—whether monetary contributions from abroad or talents physically returned to within Haitian borders—to the development of the nation.

The cycle is dangerously self-perpetuating: political capriciousness leads to exodus, which causes a sapping of resources that can only further instability. This paper examines the historical roots of the Haitian diaspora, the push factors of which still persist today, and the 2010 earthquake’s exacerbation of social and economic disparities in Haiti.


Definition of a Diaspora

διασπείρω (pronounced “diaspeirō”) is a Greek noun formed by adding the preposition διά, meaning “across” to the verb σπείρω, “to scatter.”[2] The term was first employed to refer to the settling of citizens of an Ancient Greek city-state in a conquered land.[3] In English, the capitalized Diaspora signifies the dispersal of colonies of Jews following the Babylonian exile from the Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BC; the use of the term rose to prominence to describe the Jewish exile following the Hebrew Bible’s translation into Greek.[4]

Since then, the term has undergone significant etymological expansion to encompass any general transplantation (voluntary or forced) of a group of people from a homeland that they or their ancestors have traditionally inhabited. In literature and social sciences, academics have used the term loosely to refer to any magnitude and type of dispersal of peoples. In 1991, American political scientist William Safran ascribed five other criteria outside the strict definition to qualify a people as members of a diaspora: 1) the retention of a collective awareness of the homeland; 2) the lack of complete assimilation to the host society; 3) the belief that the ancestral home is a destination of eventual return; 4) the collective feeling of responsibility to maintaining the homeland; and 5) the existence of an “ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity” in the diaspora population thriving in a host society.[5] Safran asserts that this definition encompasses “the Armenian, Maghrebi, Turkish, Palestinian, Cuban, Greek, and perhaps Chinese diasporas at present [and the] Polish diaspora of the past.”[6] However, his qualifications are somewhat too narrow and exclude widely-accepted exoduses of peoples, such as the African diaspora, which was largely forced by the slave trade. For that diaspora, the third and fourth of Safran’s conditions (the desire to return to the homeland and the feeling of responsibility to maintaining the ancestral land) may be mostly eroded. Therefore, in this paper, Safran’s qualifications will be treated as the ideal conditions of a theoretical, perfect diaspora but will not be considered the exclusive terms under which a diaspora can flourish in actual practice.

Classification of the Haitian Diaspora and its Push Factors

There does not exist consensus to address the ambiguity of the term “diaspora” in academic circles; the nebulousness of the word pervades the discussion of the Haitian migration. According to the Millennium – Journal of International Studies, the Haitian perception of their diaspora is as follows:

When a Haitian refers to someone as “diaspora,” he or she means one of two different things: either someone residing abroad or a returnee. It must be stressed that in the local parlance the returnees are also called diaspora. This simply means that the category diaspora is resilient because it outlives the conditions that once exclusively defined it. [7]

In other words, the prevailing Haitian sentiment is that there exists a divide—cultural, economic, or social—between returned diaspora members and Haitians who never left their country. In this paper, references to harnessing the power of the diaspora will include individuals of historical Haitian roots who have spent an extensive amount of time abroad and who have potential talent and resources that Haiti can use to further its development. This qualification encompasses not only returnee Haitians but also the second and third generations of the diaspora. These consist of the children and grandchildren of original migrants who may or may not have ever traveled to Haiti but who still possess a more than purely objective, outsider interest in Haiti. However, references to the Haitian diaspora in terms of hard statistics will include only those Haitians who have physically transplanted themselves abroad and still currently reside in another country. This distinction must be made because institutions that track rates of diasporic activities discount returnees and the second and third generations of the diaspora from their statistics.

Haiti’s 2013 net migration statistic is −5.5 migrants per 1000 people in the population,[8] meaning that the outflow of individuals exceeds inflow. The Haitian diaspora has established the largest ethnocommunal enclaves in primarily the Dominican Republic, Canada, and especially the United States, among other regions of the world.[9] The receiving countries of the diaspora are significant because they share two common characteristics. Firstly, they were and are all more developed and politically stable than Haiti, thus representing safe havens for immigrating Haitians. Secondly, they are in close geographic proximity to Haiti that facilitates en masse transplantation of the diasporic community.

In this paper, unless otherwise specified, the use of the phrase “the diaspora” refers to the Haitian disapora with the following parameters: there are three generally accepted waves of diasporic migration, the first being in the 1960s, the second in the 1980s, and the most recent in the 1990s.[10] While different specific circumstances fostered environments in which migration was desirable, all waves of migration are tied together by the common push factor of political turmoil and instability in Haiti, which prompted diaspora members to believe their standards of living could be improved elsewhere.

This paper will also examine the Haitian diaspora through the lens of its dispersal to the US and its effects on US-Haitian relations. The US is an appropriate case study because it possesses the largest population of Haitian diaspora members (approximately one million members, or around 43 percent of all diasporic activity[11]) and because the US, in many ways, spearheads current international efforts to engage and reconstruct the Republic of Haiti.

The First Wave of the Haitian diaspora: 1960s

Between (nominal) Haitian independence in 1804 and the 1960s, there had been little classifiable Haitian migration other than the nation’s participation in the exchange of laborers among other islands in the Caribbean.[12] Haiti’s “brain drain” phenomenon—the movement of human capital away from the less developed Haiti to a more developed country (MDC)—was negligible before the 1960s, largely because of racial discrimination in MDCs.[13] From 1900 to 1950, the US received fewer than 2,000 legal Haitian immigrants.[14]

In 1957, Francois Duvalier consolidated control over the Haitian government and instituted a dictatorial regime with the radical vision of promoting noiriste ideology; a “black power” movement that called for the replacement of the educated and professional class with a new black aristocracy.[15] Through the violent channels of massacre and property destruction, the Duvalier regime targeted communists and the upper class.[16] The private property and businesses these citizens abandoned as they fled or were killed were expropriated and nationalized.[17]

This persecution brought upper-middle class and educated Haitians in large numbers to the US, France (and, less significantly, other parts of Europe), and the French portions of Canada and Africa.[18] The magnitude of the migration to French-speaking parts of the world can be attributed to French colonial rule of Haiti prior to its independence and the incorporation even in the contemporary Haitian republic of certain exported aspects of French culture.

The 1960s exodus marked the beginning of the “brain drain” phenomenon in Haiti. Not exclusively observable in Haiti, episodes of brain drain have occurred and persist in less developed countries, where migrating members consider the homeland to be unfit to nurture the living conditions or development of human talent that they desire. The distinction between “brain drain” and any sort of diaspora lies in the fact that while members of a diaspora are simply part of a large human movement, participants in the “brain drain” represent the sapping of human capital away from the homeland to a receiving country that is perceived to have a greater ability to employ the migrants’ talents.

Duvalier, during the 1960s, actively encouraged certain forms of “brain drain” to Francophone Africa.[19] During this decade, the parts of Africa that had been under French rule had just been newly liberated, and Duvalier’s government promoted the emigration of Haitian professionals and technicians who were not seen as current political threats to these parts of the world.[20] In doing so, Duvalier intelligently gambled to decrease the risk of future political opposition from the skilled class but also set in motion the depletion of human talents that would continue to haunt Haiti to this day.

Duvalier also tried to rid skilled Haitians by exporting them to the US. While racial tensions did not cease in the US in the 1960s, significant improvements in immigration and civil rights laws facilitated the Haitian diaspora to the US. While not all Haitian immigration to the US was legal during this time, US presidents in the period from the 1960s to the end of 1970s were primarily concerned with fighting a Cold War and its associated proxy wars. The implication of the Cold War for Haiti was that Washington, D.C. looked favorably on Duvalier in comparison to the neighboring, communist Cuba, which was under the rule of Fidel Castro. Therefore, the US made no efforts to stem legal or illegal Haitian immigration.[21] The number of Haitian immigrants to the US consequently leapt from the mid-1950s statistic of 3,000 annually to 25,000 annually by 1970.[22] Not until the 1980s did the US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) tighten its campaign against those who did not hold valid immigration visas.[23]


The Second Wave of the Haitian Diaspora: 1980s

In 1971, Duvalier passed away and transferred power to his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier.[24] Under the younger Duvalier, standards of living continued to deteriorate for Haitian people, but human rights violations lessened in intensity.[25] A heavier influx of Haitians than the first wave of migration began arriving in the US in the 1980s, once again because of political instability. In fact, over 75 percent of the aggregate amount of Haitians currently residing in the US entered the country after 1980, with the largest recorded mass of legal Haitian immigrants within a timespan of one year occurring in 1980–1981, when 44,570 total Haitians arrived.[26] During the same time period, a record amount of Haitian refugees (25,000 in 1980 and 8,000 in 1981) also arrived in southern Florida via water.[27] The exodus by boat of Haitians to Florida was characteristic of the younger Duvalier’s regime until its end in 1986. However, following 1981, the average amount of annual refugees who arrived in this manner stabilized at around 500.[28]

The Third Wave of the Haitian Diaspora: 1990s

Another burst of diasporic activity (both legal and illegal) to the US began at the start of the 1990s.[29] Between January and the end of August 1991, around 38,000 Haitians fled the country (although not exclusively to the US).[30] Once again, political unrest was the impetus of the migration: the Haitian military had spent the year staging a coup d’état against the democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was realized on September 29, 1991.[31] That same year, over 10,000 Haitians traveled by boat to US-administered Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to seek asylum.[32] Approximately 30 percent were granted access to the US, and the US made active efforts to reunify these refugees with their families (as provisioned by US immigration law).[33] While military rule lasted until Aristide’s return in 1994, refugees also sought safety in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.[34]

In 1995, the US tightened requirements for reunifying Haitian families, and consequently, barriers to legal migration intensified.[35] The US Coast Guard launched a campaign to more actively detract illegal immigrants from south Florida.[36] Notwithstanding, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates that since 1990, Haitians have continued legal immigration at a steady 15,000 arrivals per year.[37] In addition, because of US bureaucratic inefficiency in handling the influx of Haitian immigrants, beginning in the 1990s, some of the official annual number for legal Haitian immigration into the US is accounted for by Haitians previously residing in the US whose legalization only recently occurred and who therefore count as “immigrants” in the year they achieved legal residency and not the year of their migration.[38]

Current Diaspora Statistics Following the 2010 Earthquake

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti approximately 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, most populous city, and center of economic activity.[39] Following the earthquake, the US granted temporary protected status (TPS) to approximately 200,000 Haitians who had already been residing in the US, but who did not have legal documentation.[40] The legal implication of this policy change was that these immigrants were now permitted to work legally within the US. Another consequence of the earthquake was that the segment of Haiti’s population that was comprised of US citizens of Haitian descent who had returned to Haiti before the earthquake (mostly students and retirees) was now compelled to move back to the US.[41] The American University of Cairo’s Cairo Review of Global Affairs presents the following numerical data of Haitian immigration to the US:

The 1990 US Census reported 306,000 persons in the US who identified their primary ancestry as Haitian. By 2000, the recorded number nearly doubled, and had reached 548,000. In 2010, the US Census reported 907,790 Haitians (foreign and native-born) in the United States. [42]

Current statistics estimate that over one million people of Haitian descent now live in the US.[43] The number of ethnically Haitian persons in the US comprises, by a rough count, around 15 percent of the current population of Haiti.[44] (Organizations that have measured this statistic cite significant underrepresentation of Haitians in the US Census as the reason their count differs from that of the US government.[45]) If up to 80 percent of university degree-holding Haitians and their progeny live outside of the national boundaries of Haiti, and if around 43 percent of diaspora members are in the US (the second greatest population of Haitian diaspora members thrives in the Dominican Republic),[46] then a sizable portion of any talent that could be useful to Haiti in reconstruction following the earthquake does not currently reside in the republic.

In the current time, political stability under President Michel Martelly (in office since 2011) has been established in Haiti to a greater extent than in decades previous. Here, “politically stability” is being loosely defined as the absence of any immediate threat of political turmoil, of forceful and violent ousting of the incumbent government, or of governmental violence against citizens, but should not be confused with infrastructural or social equality. Therefore, the immediately relevant source of current Haitian migration stems not from a threat of violence but from economic, environmental, and social factors, most profoundly embodied by the 40.6 percent official unemployment rate in the country, which significantly undercounts the nearly three-quarters of the population that is actually unemployed or is attempting to make headway in the informal sector.[47] Frantz Duval, editor of Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s leading newspaper, commented that the nation has “gone from being the Republic of NGOs to the Republic of Unemployment.”[48] In the present day, the phenomenon of chain migration also greatly facilitates the movement of Haitians to the US; other migrants from LDCs tend to follow a first batch of migrants from their home country that has successfully obtained legal and socioeconomic status in a receiving country.


The Characteristics of Haitian Diaspora Members in the US

Socioeconomic Status of Haitian Diaspora Members

In general, the members of the Haitian diaspora in North America hold higher educational degrees and more upper-level professional careers than their counterparts in parts of the Caribbean.[49] The trend is a product of the amount of opportunities for education and professional development available to immigrants in the receiving country­. For example, Haitians who have moved to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic (DO), among other Caribbean islands, are constrained by the labor opportunities available—generally “agriculture, service, tourism, construction sectors, [and] petty commerce.”[50]

Another determinant of socioeconomic status following a move to the receiving country is the degree of prior education before participation in the diaspora. Diasporic members who displace themselves to other Caribbean islands tend to have been involved in peasant labor and petty commerce before their move; their migration to neighboring islands—many of which have mass deportation programs for Haitians—is often illegal.[51] However, there exists an increasing amount of skilled workers from Haiti (especially in primary and secondary sectors of production—agriculture, construction, and agro-processing) in the DO.[52] The DO has also witnessed growing numbers of migrant Haitian university graduates and former Haitian political elites, all of whom had their legal immigration statuses thrown into political limbo in October 2013.[53]

While this paper primarily focuses on the dynamic created between the US and Haiti as a result of the diaspora, a generalizable observation about the socioeconomic statuses of diaspora members in receiving societies can be observed in the DO Constitutional Court’s October 2013 decision to revoke the citizenship of any persons of foreign descent in the country—regardless of whether they were born in the DO—if their birthdate falls after 1929.[54] The United Nations (UN) estimates roughly 210,000 Haitian-descended, Dominican-born people—a large chunk of the 244,000 total people of foreign descent that the policy affects—will now be without Dominican citizenship.[55] While the implications of the policy are not clear given its newness, attorney Wade McMullen of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights claims that now that the Dominican government has excluded this segment of the population from citizenship, these stateless persons will be compelled “to leave and effectively go to Haiti, where they are also not citizens.”[56] Meanwhile, Dominican Immigration Director Jose Ricardo Taveras, long-time dissident of the “Haitianization” of his country, insists that the court ruling endows the stateless persons for the first time with clearly delineated identities that will aid future navigation of any national legalization plan that the DO might implement.[57] In terms of this paper, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the DO’s revocation of citizenship is that the disparities in treatment of diaspora members across different receiving countries constrains the upward socioeconomic mobility of the migrant community.

Members of the Haitian diaspora who engage in entrepreneurship in the US tend to do so on a small-scale level, through micro-enterprises and informal economic activities of which there are no formal records. These businesses tend to cater to a market that is almost completely comprised of Haitians, both in Haiti and in the US.[58] These examples of enterprise exist mostly in the industries of “money transfers, travel agencies, and food preparation” and of “bakeries, shipping, restaurants, translation services, music shops, and small grocery stores.”[59]

The Cairo Review of Global Affairs provides reasoning for the lackluster quality of Haitian diasporic businesses:

These businesses tend to have little potential for growth or to create any significant wealth since they cater to a limited market and very few employ more than the owner…The informality and small size of Haitian expatriate enterprises stem not only from their own lack of sophisticated entrepreneurial skills, but also from low production, low standards, and the low diversity of goods to be had from Haiti…The Haitian diaspora in the US and elsewhere is largely a community of wage earners, focusing more on climbing professional occupational ladders and increasing incomes from their jobs….In 2010, the US Census reports a mere 3.5 percent of Haitians remain in [the] category [of self-employed Haitians who are aged 16 or older]. [60]

There is a sharp contrast between Haitian diasporic members and members of the Lebanese, Iranian, and Chinese diasporas, who have engaged in trade activities on a multi-national level through establishing niches in large-scale manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, and distributing.[61]

Community Sentiment Among Haitian Diaspora Members

Social science posits that most immigrants cannot immediately assimilate into a receiving and foreign culture due to both cultural differences as well as discrimination on the part of the receiving country’s people. This effect is patently manifest in communities of Haitian diaspora members, to whom academics often refer as “migrants in isolation.”[62] Notwithstanding, Haitian communities have largely managed to retain a strong sense of ethnic identity in the US. Haitian businesses cater specifically and almost exclusively to that ethnic group, and there exist hundreds of Haitian associations in the US whose agendas range on the spectrum from political activism to the promotion of arts, charitable causes, and professional development.[63] The significance of these organizations is they are created overwhelmingly to address issues in Haiti, the ancestral home, rather than Haitian-American issues in the US. Although groups to promote Haitian-American interests in the US thrive as well, tragic disasters (the 2010 earthquake, cholera outbreaks, etc.) and poor conditions in Haiti tend to funnel diaspora efforts on charity to Haiti.[64]

Economic Consequences of the Diaspora on Haiti

The working capital and human capital drain on Haiti from diasporic migration is significant. The most acute per capita “brain drain” in the world occurs in Haiti.[65] 80 percent of university degree-holding Haitians have left the country.[66] Two million Haitians reside abroad (with approximately half that number in the US).[67]

Reliance by Haitians on remittances from the diasporic movement stems from the damp employment prospects in the nation. By the harshest estimates in 2011, only ten percent of residents of Haiti were formally employed following the earthquake.[68] Aggregate annual remittances from diaspora members were as large as $1.9 billion in 2010, which constituted around 30 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product (GDP).[69] In perspective, money channeled into Haiti by other outside players and labeled as “official development assistance” (ODA) only made up ten percent of GDP, a third of diasporic contributions.[70] The economic impact of the Haitian diaspora is twofold: while it has undoubtedly drained funds away from nation, it also currently props up a large portion of the informal Haitian economy. However, aggregate statistics fail to show that not every individual diaspora member is the same; while some are regularly sending large remittances to the country, there are those who feel they have no ties to Haiti or for other reasons do not participate in unilateral transfers. To draw diasporic contributions to the country, there must be a base understanding that sentiments across the diaspora community range and therefore methods of attracting diasporic investment must vary.

Consequences of the Diaspora on US-Haitian relations

In 2010, the U.S consumed nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s $530 million export industry.[71] The US is Haiti’s largest trading partner;[72] therefore, there is mutual economic interest in preserving strong diplomatic relations. The Department of State’s official platform on “US Relations with Haiti” explicitly and optimistically states that members of the diaspora with legal status in the US could function as “a potentially powerful ally in the effort to strengthen US policy initiatives in Haiti,”[73] possibly because the US government assumes diaspora members have cultural understanding of Haiti but have resided in the US long enough to be willing to promote an agenda that is bilaterally beneficial.

Such hope is tempered by trepidation at illegal immigrants from Haiti. The “flow of illegal migrants” from Haiti that the US Department of State perceives includes “100,000 undocumented Haitian migrants…intercepted at sea by the US Coast Guard in the past two decades.”[74] However, emphasis should be placed on the fact that the bulk of these interceptions were made during Bill Clinton’s 1991-1994 term, when illegitimate military rule (which had ousted Aristide from Haiti) existed in Haiti. During that time, more than 67,000 illegal migrants to the US were interdicted.[75] Currently, the US Department of State reports an average of “fewer than 1,500 [annual]” interdictions for such offenses. However, it warns that “the prospect remains…for the renewal of higher flows of illegal migrants, particularly under conditions of political unrest or further economic downturn.”[76]

The week before President Martelly was sworn in as Haiti’s president in 2011, the Haitian legislature altered the country’s constitution to extend dual citizenship to Haitians abroad in an effort to compel Haitian-American diaspora members to become more vested in Haiti’s developmental trajectory.[77] While the instability of Haiti, which drives illegal diaspora migration, strains US-Haitian relations both developmentally and politically, the US recognizes legitimate migrants of the diaspora as powerful tools for furthering development of Haiti.

Importance of Diaspora in Rebuilding Haiti

Even prior to the 2010 earthquake, almost every development index consistently ranked Haiti near the bottom of its measurements.[78] The task ahead is difficult: Haiti must remedy both the deep-seated, structural inefficiencies that existed even before the earthquake and also address the devastation that the earthquake wreaked. The diaspora presents largely untapped human and capital resources for carrying out this twofold goal. This paper argues that the two types of development most capable of improving standards of living in Haiti are social and economic improvements, both of which the diaspora can contribute to significantly.


Diasporic Contributions to Economic Development

Traditionally, Haiti’s niche in the global economy has been agriculture and manufacturing, primary and secondary sector activities.[79] While Haiti could theoretically attempt to supersede its historic formula for economic success—economists widely accept that the tertiary and quaternary sectors are more lucrative, mostly because they deal with services and information in an increasingly technology-oriented world—other MDCs have largely captured the market in these sectors.[80] While 50.4 percent of the small segment of Haiti that is employed is actually occupied in providing services,[81] competition with more formally-educated populations of MDCs may be too stiff for unskilled Haitians – especially if the goal is job creation for the many unskilled, unemployed persons in Haiti. This paper therefore argues that Haiti’s best bet for economic stimulation is to revitalize its lackluster agricultural and manufacturing sectors and also capitalize on a renewed, potentially lucrative tourism industry.

The potency of agricultural reinvigoration is large. Coca-Cola is partnering with TechnoServe to engage in foreign direct investment in Haiti by developing more efficient methods to grow crops (specifically mangos) for Odwalla’s beverage, “Mango Tango,” sold in foreign markets.[82] The US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, among other organizations, are subsidizing the project.[83] While still in the works, estimates project that 25,000 farmers in Haiti will see a 100 percent increase in income as a result of the project’s job creation efforts between 2011 and 2016.[84] To succeed, the project needs strengthened infrastructure to export mangos, so Coca-Cola and its investors will also have to open new supply lines, thereby improving channels of transportation within the country for other types of economic activity.

The manufacturing of textiles and other goods is far from as robust as it used to be in Haiti. However, a hefty portion—19.4 percent[85]—of the Haitian economy is propped up by the manufacturing industry. US legislation such as HOPE I and II and the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act give Haitian textiles duty-free access to American markets coupled with US foreign direct investment in the form of the Caracol Industrial Park outside of Caracol, Haiti, which currently employs 1,600 Haitians, and other smaller forms of investment in order to stimulate textile production.[86] Sae-A Trading, a South Korean firm that produces apparel for Gap, Target, Wal-Mart, and other clothing stores, is the largest employer in Caracol park.[87] A byproduct of this industrial park is that in order to function with efficacy, it, like with Coca-Cola, must strengthen national infrastructure, of which other portions of the economy can take advantage. Continued expansion of secondary sector activity via diasporic contributions can lower the unemployment rate in Haiti, increase GDP, and result in a multiplier effect and a more robust economy that attracts more capital into the country.

The last underdeveloped portion of the Haitian economy is tourism. If the state can successfully sell Haiti as a country with rich cultural background and unique sightseeing destinations (which will involve actively funneling money—potentially from the diaspora—into preserving Haiti’s natural wonders), it could direct a large amount of foreign money to local Haitian businesses.


Diasporic Contributions to Social Development

Outside of economic improvements, the second target of the Haitian government, if it is serious about raising the standard of living of citizens, must be social improvements. A case study of positive social development that engages the diaspora (although not directly) is President Martelly’s taxing of international phone calls to and from Haiti at five cents per minute and of international money transfers at $1.50 each, which he pushed through in 2011 (without legislative approval).[88] He had ambitiously declared the tax money would be used to finance state education programs, which the government—for lack of resources and efficiency—has largely until recently left up to NGOs.[89] Martelly announced in March 2013 that $100 million had been collected to fund the education of 1,021,144 children (statistics on which his government has been vacillating greatly since the project’s inception and which the organization Haiti Grassroots Watch disputes to be 165,000 impacted children).[90] His own lack of accountability with the money notwithstanding, if Martelly can garner widespread support for the tax rather than sow resent over it in the diaspora community – which appears to be the prevailing sentiment at the moment[91] – he can use the ongoing stream of taxed money to fund any number of social reform programs, including state-sponsored hospitals and other welfare programs. To do so, Martelly will have to convince the Haitian diaspora community that they have a stake in the country’s development and also prove to them that he is not in fact misappropriating the funds they contribute.


Conclusion: The Problems With Current Engagment with the Haitian Diaspora

While Haiti’s proximity to the US and other international economic powerhouses and its retention of the structural skeleton of a multi-sector economy (from past activities) are optimistic signs that growth in the country is possible, issues hindering successful development include both intrinsic and already pervasive issues in the country as well as disconnects between the diaspora and the nation.


Internal Issues in Haiti that May Hinder Development

Firstly, the infrastructure of the country is weak. Channels of communication and transportation are not up-to-date, and therefore resources are either not shared or their distribution not coordinated efficiently enough, both spatially and across diverse portions of the economy. The problem is self-perpetuating: poor infrastructure leads to little economic development, which results in little motivation for investment in infrastructural improvements. In addition, economic activity is overwhelmingly concentrated in a few poles, including Port-au-Prince (with 2.1 million of the 10.1 million people in the country), Cap-Haïtien, and Les Cayes.[92]

Haiti, without the monetary capital to invest in itself, is also largely dependent on foreign aid, which comes in the form of a plethora of NGOs and foreign government aid, which does not function as a cohesive unit and which is attached to myriad different agendas. Foreign aid, while undeniably necessary for the country, ushers into the country the problem of outside players’ not understanding Haiti’s cultural or environmental background well enough to necessarily decide the best course of action for the country. For example, in 1994, Bill Clinton’s administration and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pressured Haiti to liberalize trade.[93] Annual US domestic subsidies to its rice farmers figure around $434 million (far higher than the $353 million it contributes to Haitian aid),[94] allowing the US to export what local Haitians call “Miami Rice” to Haiti at a lower price than that at which local Haitian farmers can sell their product. In 1980, Haiti was self-sufficient in terms of rice production. However, as a result of US action, roughly 90 percent of Haiti’s rice now comes from the US,[95] and 60 percent of its aggregate food from abroad.[96] These local farmers, no longer able to support themselves, were forced to migrate by the thousands to cities like Port-au-Prince, where they lived on the margins because of a plan Clinton now admits “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but [has] not worked.”[97]

In addition, NGOs and foreign governments are often pressured by their donors and taxpayers respectively to turn out quick results. Haiti’s issues are in most cases too deep-rooted to have quick fixes. Bill Clinton’s Caracol Industrial Park, for example, while a staggering and concrete example of foreign direct investment doing good in Haiti, is 1) of dubious environmental sustainability, having eroded levies in a portion of Haiti’s shores;[98] 2) not a comprehensive, overarching fix of all of Haiti so much as one example of how to stimulate its economy—in essence, for Haiti’s economy to truly turn around, several iterations of industrial park construction would have to take place; and 3) less of the paragon of ideal employment for Haitians than a means for Haitians to eke out an existence—given the marginal wages of its workers and subpar working conditions.[99]

Lastly, while the Haitian government is currently peaceful, any future instability could undermine present reconstruction efforts and deter international interest in providing aid.


Disconnect in Vesting the Haitian Diaspora in Haiti’s Development           

The diaspora and the Haitian government have historically had tense relations. Acute corruption in Haiti has discouraged diaspora members from channeling their talents into the country, which must ease its barriers to enterprise if it wishes to draw diasporic investment.[100] Currently, appeals to nationalism and “diaspora consciousness” have been regarded as enough to lure diasporic contributions to the ancestral home. Assumptions about the homogeneity of diaspora members (in terms of their affiliation with Haiti) ignore the nuances and multi-faceted quality of the diasporic individual’s circumstances. Until Haiti and other outside players interested in Haiti’s development can come to a comprehensive understanding of the diverse attributes of the diaspora community, they cannot maximize enlistment of diaspora members in Haiti’s growth.

In addition, while the multitude of charitable organizations founded by Haitian-Americans to alleviate poor conditions in Haiti have the power to effect positive change in the Caribbean country, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs notes that:

The bulk of Haitian voluntary organizations in the US center around regional associations that are named for the specific region, town, or village in Haiti within which they conduct their charitable work. Haitian institutions in the US largely mirror those in Haiti in that they are weak or barely functioning, are plagued with capacity and financial resource deficiencies, are inappropriate due to parallel purposes, and are extremely informal.[101]

The criticism is significant because the dearth of coordinated efforts and lack of organization on the part of these NGOs erodes their efficacy not only in bettering Haiti but also in gaining support from the American and international public.

Prime Minister Daniel Gėrard Rouzier famously declared in 2011 that “Haiti is open for business.”[102] Delivering on such a statement is a tall order: expansive efforts to aggressively develop Port-au-Prince and a few other economic centers economically might be in the works, but those cities are only a few economic poles of Haiti (albeit the most populous ones). For all of Haiti to truly be open for business, Rouzier must invest in development across the whole country. Diaspora engagement, while imperfectly employed at the moment, is one of his potential assets in doing so.

Katherine Fang (’17) is a Global Affairs major in Trumbull College. 

Works Cited

Agunias, Dovelyn Rannveig, and Kathleen Newland. “Developing a Road Map for Engaging Diasporas in Development: A Handbook for Policymakers and Practitioners in Home and Host Countries.” International Organization for Migration (2012). <http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/thediasporahandbook.pdf>.

Central Intelligence Agency. “Haiti.” The World Factbook. 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html>.

Charles, Jacqueline, and Nadege Green. “Martelly to Haitians in South Florida: ‘Haiti has changed a lot’.” Miami Herald, December 10, 2012. <http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/10/3135560/haiti-chief-martelly-to-give.html>.

Doyle, Mark. “US urged to stop Haiti rice subsidies.” BBC New,s October 4, 2010. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11472874>.

The Economist. “Haiti: Still waiting for recovery.” TheEconomist, January 5, 2013. <http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21569026-three-years-after-devastating-earthquake-republic-ngos-has-become-country>.

Ember, Carol R., Melvin Ember, and Ian Skoggard. “Jewish Diaspora in the Ancient World, Africa, and Asia.” In Encyclopedia of Diasporas. New York: Springer, 2005.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Jean-Claude Duvalier.” 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/174720/Jean-Claude-Duvalier>.

Fiering, Norman. The World of the Haitian Revolution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Forman, Johanna Mendelson, Hardin Lang, and Ashley Chandler. “The Role of the Haitian Diaspora in Building Haiti Back Better.” Center for Strategic & International Studies. (2011). <http://csis.org/publication/role-haitian-diaspora-building-haiti-back-better>.

Haiti Grassroots Watch. “Haiti – Open for Business.” Haiti Grassroots Watch, November 29, 2013. <http://haitigrassrootswatch.squarespace.com/haiti-grassroots-watch-engli/2011/11/29/haiti-open-for-business.html>.

History of the Haitian Diaspora. Haitian Diaspora Federation. <http://www.myhdf.org/History-of-the-Haitian-Diaspora-Federation.htm>.

Jackson, Regine O. Geographies of the Haitian diaspora. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Laguerre, Michel S. “State, Diaspora, and Transnational Politics: Haiti Reconceptualised.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies. (1999): 633-651.

Largey, Michael. Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. “Diaspora.” A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: 1940. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057:entry=diaspora/>

McCallister, Jared. “A court ruling to deny citizenship to Dominican Republic-born Haitians will be challenged by demonstrators outside the Caribbean nation’s consulate in midtown this week.” NY Daily News, October 13, 2013. <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/haitians-protest-article-1.1483963>.

Merriam-Webster. “Diaspora.” <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diaspora>.

Ross, Travis. “Michel Martelly’s education plan in Haiti marked by mismanagement and inflated claims.” Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, April 9, 2013. <http://www.ijdh.org/2013/04/topics/education-topics/michel-martellys-education-plan-in-haiti-marked-by-mismanagement-and-inflated-claims/>.

Safran, William. “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies. 1.1 (1991): 83-99.

US Department of State. “US Relations With Haiti.” Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2013. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1982.htm>.

United States Geological Survey. “Magnitude 7.0 – Haiti Region.” Earthquake Hazards Program, 2013. <http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2010/us2010rja6/>.

Wah, Tatiana. “Engaging the Haitian Diaspora.” Cairo Review of Global Affairs, 2013. <http://www.aucegypt.edu/gapp/cairoreview/pages/articleDetails.aspx?aid=333>.

Watkins, Tate. “How Haiti’s Future Depends on American Markets.” TheAtlantic, May 8, 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/how-haitis-future-depends-on-american-markets/275682/>.

Zacaïr, Philippe. Haiti and the Haitian diaspora in the wider Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010.



[1] Tatiana Wah, “Engaging the Haitian Diaspora,” Cairo Review of Global Affairs. <http://www.aucegypt.edu/gapp/cairoreview/pages/articleDetails.aspx?aid=333>.

[2] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “Diaspora,” A Greek-English Lexicon, 1940, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057:entry=diaspora/>.

[3] Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, and Ian Skoggard, “Jewish Diaspora in the Ancient World, Africa, and Asia,” in Encyclopedia of Diasporas (New York: Springer, 2005).

[4] Ibid.

[5] William Safran, “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1:1 (1991): 83-99.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Michel S Laguerre, “State, Diaspora, and Transnational Politics: Haiti Reconceptualised,” Millennium – Journal of International Studies (1999): 633-651.

[8] Central Intelligence Agency, “Haiti,” The World Factbook, 2013, <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html>.

[9] Wah.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Michael Largey, Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006), 190-192.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Wah.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Jean-Claude Duvalier,” Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/174720/Jean-Claude-Duvalier>.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Wah.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] United States Geological Survey, “Magnitude 7.0 – Haiti Region,” Earthquake Hazards Program, last modified 2013, <http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2010/us2010rja6/>.

[40] Wah.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “Haiti: Still waiting for recovery.” The Economist, January 5, 2013, <http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21569026-three-years-after-devastating-earthquake-republic-ngos-has-become-country>.

[48] Ibid..

[49] Wah.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Jared McCallister, “A court ruling to deny citizenship to Dominican Republic-born Haitians will be challenged by demonstrators outside the Caribbean nation’s consulate in midtown this week,” NY Daily News, October 13, 2013, <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/haitians-protest-article-1.1483963>.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Johanna Mendelson Forman, Hardin Lang, and Ashley Chandler, “The Role of the Haitian Diaspora in Building Haiti Back Better,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2011, <http://csis.org/publication/role-haitian-diaspora-building-haiti-back-better>.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] US Department of State, “US Relations With Haiti,” Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (2013), <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1982.htm>.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Central Intelligence Agency.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Central Intelligence Agency.

[86] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Travis Ross, “Michel Martelly’s education plan in Haiti marked by mismanagement and inflated claims,” Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, April 9, 2013, <http://www.ijdh.org/2013/04/topics/education-topics/michel-martellys-education-plan-in-haiti-marked-by-mismanagement-and-inflated-claims/>.

[89] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[90] Ross.

[91] Jacqueline Charles and Nadege Green, “Martelly to Haitians in South Florida: ‘Haiti has changed a lot’,” Miami Herald, December 10, 2012, <http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/10/3135560/haiti-chief-martelly-to-give.html>.

[92] Central Intelligence Agency.

[93] Mark Doyle, “US urged to stop Haiti rice subsidies,” BBC News, October 4, 2010, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11472874>.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Jim Guinn, “USA Rice Efforts Result in Rice Food-Aid for Haiti,” USA Rice Federation, Jan. 10, 2010, <http://www.usarice.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=957:usa-rice-efforts-result-in-rice-food-aid-for-haiti-&catid=84:usarice-newsroom&Itemid=327>.

[96] Doyle.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Tate Watkins, “How Haiti’s Future Depends on American Markets,” The Atlantic, May 8, 2013, <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/how-haitis-future-depends-on-american-markets/275682/>.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[101] Wah.

[102] “Haiti – Open for Business,” Haiti Grassroots Watch, November 29, 2011, <http://haitigrassrootswatch.squarespace.com/haiti-grassroots-watch-engli/2011/11/29/haiti-open-for-business.html>.


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