Posted by Mike
Although any country in the Western hemisphere would have been ill equipped to cope with the kind of humanitarian and infrastructure crisis Haiti is now experiencing, Haiti is the poorest country and least equipped to deal with such a catastrophe. To obtain a shorthand review of Haiti’s plight historically, and to get some idea of the magnitude of the country’s deficiencies even before the earthquake, you might read the chapter on Haiti and the Dominican Republic in Jared Diamond’s 2005 review of what makes societies prosper and what makes them falter and deteriorate, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Although he provides a more extensive review of the Dominican Republic’s history than that of Haiti, Diamond clearly describes the cultural, economic, and political causes in Haiti that have led to the plight of extreme poverty, lack of social services, educational resources, and public infrastructure, the island’s deforestation, and the continuance of a subsistence economy devoid of significant exports.
Dr. Diamond contrasts his descriptions of Haiti with those of the Dominican Republic. Interestingly, despite both countries having had despotic rulers during most of the 20th century, those who ruled the Dominicans were more far-sighted and protective of the environment than the Haitian leaders. For example, at present over 20 percent of the Dominican Republic is within protected zones in which development is prohibited, whereas protected public land in Haiti is negligible. Despite his praise of the Dominicans’ environmental accomplishments, they do not get off scot-free. Diamond reports that during his visit in 2003, he saw significant continued pollution of streams and rivers, of the countryside, and the atmosphere, environmental concerns that would only worsen if not addressed.
Regarding the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Diamond reports on the long history of distrust between the two countries, compounded by significant differences in race, language, and culture. However, he notes that at the time of his writing (2003), 12 percent of the population of the Dominican Republic consisted of Haitians, mostly illegal immigrants, who provided much of the low-cost labor of the country.
For nearly a century Haiti has been ruled either by corrupt and ruthless dictators or privileged elites incapable of understanding the needs of the population in general and of providing the direction and structure that the country needed. I suspect that that only solution to the country’s immediate crisis and long term needs that has any merit is a long term protectorate, possibly managed by the United Nations. Those who have led Haiti in the past have allowed the country to exhaust its natural resources and its people to remain victims of the selfishness of the leadership. Although Haiti and the Dominican Republic have a long history of ill-will and distrust of each other, the present crisis may help to facilitate the rapprochement that will be necessary if this idyllic island is to provide adequately for its citizens in the future.
“If the lot of Haiti is to improve at all, I don’t see how that could happen without more involvement on the part of the Dominican Republic….While the Republic’s own resources are scarce…it could assume a larger role as a bridge…between the outside world and Haiti.” – from Collapse, by Jared Diamond