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Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic (noahpinion.substack.com)
43 points by TeresaaChristie 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments



As an American expat who has lives on Hispaniola for more than a decade, I have a pretty strong opinion on this.

I can’t be sure how much of this is casual and how much is symptomatic, but I I strongly believe that the main driver of the -current outlook- is culture.

Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic are majority slave- descendants.

Spanish were inclusive with their culture, tending to extend it to slaves, and Dominicans largely see themselves as descendants of Spanish colonists. They idolize the Spanish royalty, and fully embrace Spanish culture and language.

In contrast, the French were exclusive. As a result, harían culture is not particularly French, is much less cohesive, and shows deep cracks from the shattering of culture that was the circumstances of most of its early people.

Hatian farming practices tend towards being consumptive and destructive, lacking the benefit of science and long term thinking.

Often, land farmed by Haitian immigrants where I live is utterly barren within 5 years from extensive herbicide and pesticide use, local water sources contaminated and irrigation systems filled with mud from soil erosion.

Land tended by Dominicans, under the advice of agronimos, flourishes alongside, with less chemical intervention.

Clearly this is a matter of education, but also a result of a cultural resistance to education.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have tried to caution hatian workers dripping with pesticides that they need to be careful, that those chemicals will harm them, only to be told that “Haitians are immune to pesticides” or that they are not dangerous because they do not feel sick, and the advice is utterly ignored. Same for soil conservation techniques, even though they can clearly see that the technique is working for a farm 50 meters from where they are standing.

Harinas tend to see themselves as descendants of slaves rather than colonists, and deeply distrust any information not from “traditional” sources (ie magic, religion, their parents)

Obviously these sweeping generalizations and are far from universal, but nonetheless there is enough of this that it is hard to imagine a prosperous future for Haiti. The hope I do have comes from the very bright Haitians I have met that are on the complete opposite side of the fence, educated, progressive, and mostly utterly without hope for their country.


Bingo! I'm Dominican and completely agree with your points. Just to add one important difference as well is that Spaniards converted their slaves into Christianity or Catholicism religion where the French never bothered with institutionalizing their religion to theirs. One of the many reason why Haitians culture gravitates more towards Afro descendant rituals and traditions.


It didn't seem to be for the lack of French missionaries. But for some reason it didn't stick as well. Maybe there was more buy-in from the civil authorities on the Spanish side, thanks to people like Bartolomé de las Casas.

I've never been to either side of Hispaniola, but I have been to Vanuatu and have made the same observation about French colonial culture. I fully expect New Caledonia to go down the same path if it finally gets a yes on the next independence referendum.


Good luck for is survival of it becomes independent.

20% of its budget is cash from France. Its main income is from mining which is in deficit and heavily subventionned by France.

They would need to make the socual security, police etc.

100000 people are expected to leave to France.

A yes would be suicidal.


I think many people would take issue with the first two points raised:

1. External debt

Sure Haiti finished paying France a decade before its economy began to diverge with the Dominican Republic. But what could it have been spending this on for the over a hundred years it was repaying this sum? If the Dominican Republic didn't have such a (frankly ridiculously unfair) debt, is it possible it was able to make some investments in infrastructure, for example, that Haiti wouldn't have been?

2. Land mismanagement

The idea that Haitians deforested their part of the island, causing themselves environmental (and therefore economic) problems is is a fairly common myth. It seems that overall the forests are relatively sustainably managed and Haiti has a level of forestation you'd expect: https://www.vice.com/en/article/43qy9n/one-of-the-most-repea...


This is kind of ignoring the elephant in the room, which is that Haiti was born from a successful slave revolt and and one of the first things it did as an independent country was to expel or kill virtually all the whites, expropriate their property and destroy all the institutions associated with them. Both culturally and genetically (95.5% per Wikipedia), Haiti thus has a lot in common with sub-Saharan Africa, another notably poor part of the world, while the DR largely inherited the culture of their Spanish conquerors and rulers and genetics of both the Spanish and the indigenous inhabitants (well over half the country are mixed native/white, only 15%-ish black).

Connecting the dots from this to their present sad state of affairs is obviously pretty controversial, but I need to note that aside from the obvious racist inferences, there are also many indirect paths. For example, Haiti being both linguistically and culturally "the odd one out" in the neighborhood, they lack an obvious pool of culturally related investors to tap into, face racism from non-Haitians (relations between Haiti and DR in particular are very bad) and struggle to attract investment from the outside.


Seconds elephant in the room not mentioned: Haiti was by far the most productive colony in all of the Americas. The French sold territory from Louisiana to the Rocky Mountains just so they could focus their efforts on keeping Haiti.

This is to say that the drop in trade was ENORMOUS because no other nation at the time wanted to consider what a successful slave revolt might mean for them.

Dominican Republic (and I am Dominican) was a largely abandoned island with no real economic attractions. People fled after one pirate raid. And for a hundred or so years it was largely empty.

One minir nit;

You are very right in pointing out the animosity between the former slaves and their enslavers. It is importa however to note that the leader of the revolution, Touissant was actually a bit more compassionate than the average Haitian at the time. Moreover, he was much more interested and capable of management than almost everyone else. Everyone else was uneducated and more importantly deprived of basic culture.


There is LOTS of context missing before we get to the 1804 massacre of the remaining whites in Haiti.

Thirteen years of conflict and war took place before this happened. Why? Enslaved people wanted what the French Declaration of the Rights of Man guaranteed, that "all men free and equal."

In struggling for this Haitians were bounced around like a football, between the great powers of France, Spain, and Britain.

Every attempt at autonomy or freedom was met with outright force or duplicity aimed at returning Haiti to the status quo of one of the most brutal forms of slavery in history.

What's the saying? Fool me once...

Dessalines, who ordered the 1804 massacre, had seen all of this, topped off by the French just a few years before taking out Toussaint Louverture, who was forgiving of whites.

He had also seen brutality the likes of which we cannot imagine

the French staged mass executions via firing squads, hanging, and drowning Haitians in bags

Rochambeau invented a new means of mass execution, which he called "fumigational-sulphurous baths": killing hundreds of Haitians in the holds of ships by burning sulphur to make sulphur dioxide to gas them.

Should you still think the Haitians more brutal than others, do read up on the British and French exploits in continental Europe during the Peninsular Wars. God help you should you find yourself a non-combatant in a place just taken by siege.

Haiti was born in brutal slavery. It has been meddled with incessantly throughout its history by greater powers. If we want to trace a line back, those are the dots to look at connecting.


>He had also seen brutality the likes of which we cannot imagine

We don't need to imagine because ISIS filmed it in 1080p for us.

Of if you want something a little less cultural exotic there's plenty of examples from the Balkans.


Exactly this. To discuss Toussaint and 1804 and not discuss the French commander Rochambeau is extremely misleading. He brought gas chambers to Haiti via and was systematically massacring blacks. The entire war turned brutal.

Haiti knew trade was key as they were the wealthiest colony in the west. Toussaint actually negotiated treaties with John Adams and welcomed American investment and trade deals along with other nations. What happened (and again Haiti perspectives comes in to play of who was writing history and what gets emphasized), was a nation of slave gaining independence and defeating Napoleon in military combat. That absolutely shocked the European powers. They were all slave holding counties and their immediate acts was to stop Haiti from succeeding at all costs.

In the US Thomas Jefferson took over, and being a southern pro-plavery president he immediately blocked all trade with Haiti knowing that the colony depended on trade to survive financially. France as well planned to essentially starve the country economically and take it back over later. The entire western powers effectively put the country under embargo. They were deathly afraid it would inspire other slave areas to want freedom (lots of texts written about this) and the way they decided to stop it was to ensure Haiti fails as a country.

The fighting in that war for independence was brutal and ugly on all sides. Toussaint was a brilliant leader and likely would've taken the country to success. He beat what were considered to European armies is the time. Final after winning again against the French, they invited him to "parley" and when he came for the discussion they captured him and threw him in a prison where he died. They could not beat him and finally that was his they stopped him. For diplomatic negotiation and the capture. And that was maybe the third back stab by the European powers at the time. He was the father of Haiti, their George Washington.

His replacement is the one who never forgave that and who militarily was against Rochembeau and who was after this betrayal we no longer want any Europeans here. Previously the British betrayed them, said they'd fight with with against France to end slavery. They agreed - allied with the British and then a the hatians they took all the militarily losses and handed territory to the British to be British free colonies the British came in and started enslaving the Haitians again.

The period of that time is insanely complex. All of a sudden I've seen the narrative of OP being pushed everywhere. Because it's "easy" and people can think of Zimbabwe as an easy analogy - that's wrong. And frequently people pushing it then turn it into discussions of current US politics. [And that's where I'll stop because I don't want this to start down that trail]. What went on in Haiti is way more complex than that simplistic narrative.


>...expel or kill virtually all the whites, expropriate their property and destroy all the institutions associated with them.

You could have written that about Zimbabwe and it would be just as relevant. There are also a lot of people in SA who are trying to go the same route as fast as they can. I fully understand the anger and resentment these people feel towards ethnic Europeans, but revenge never comes without it's own price.


Yeah, history shows that revolutions which consist killing or expelling all the educated, well-off citizen typically end up having pretty bad results for everybody. Even if you successfully capture their wealth, the future will be poor when there's nobody competent enough left to manage administration, education, farms, industry, infrastructure and so on. And once things go downhill like that, it's not easy to turn things around.

I also think there's a cultural factor at play. In addition to wealth and education, more well-off families may also have cultural capital which encourages things like entrepreneurship, long-term thinking and higher self-esteem. Even if these are secondary to wealth, they may still have an impact. I think the impact of culture in general is underestimated as it very much influences human behaviour and outcomes, not just politics, geography etc.


This happens in revolutions where race is not an immediate factor such as Venezuela. All the experts leave (including native experts) so the infrastructure which propped up the country slowly deteriorates without anyone being able to fix and maintain things properly and productivity and output go down…


It's fairly easy to take the racial pieces out of this and talk about it in abstract.

What you're losing when you kill / expel the wealthy (whomever they are) and expropriate / redistribute property is cultural investment in institutions.

In that people may feel the previous system was unjust, but they nevertheless believed in it. That belief (aka trust) takes generations to build.

Revolutions which violently dislocate institutions don't replace them with alternatives: they start from zero.

This has profound growth consequences when, for example, it takes four+ decades for people to trust the legal system again. Or banking. Or anything.


another point I remember being made on the aftermath of successful revolutions was how revolutions tend to select leaders which are ill-suited to rebuild the institutions after they have won


To some degree, revolutions feel like the primary / general election distinction.

In that the things you have to say and positions you have to hold to inspire people to revolution, are ill suited to post-revolution rebuilding.

Which is probably why it's rare: you'd need someone who's self-aware enough to hold both views, talented enough to have both skillsets, and politically astute enough to navigate that pivot with their colleagues and constituents.


Well, for 150 years they were similar in per capita income (and everything else really) and they started diverging in the 60s and 70s. And you also have another non-Hispanic country in Jamaica that has taken a different path compared to Haiti in the same period: https://countryeconomy.com/countries/compare/haiti/jamaica?s...


You'd expect per capita income to lag though, right? If a country is investing in modernization (especially, in it's people via education, etc), that's a 30+ year payoff from start.

Granted, 150 is a lot, but you'd expect some convergence before divergence.

I was looking at generation size and life expectancy per country to tease that out further, and there's a surprising gap between Haiti [0] and the DR [1], going back to 1950, that has persisted. Couldn't find earlier.

Both are increasing, but using life expectancy as a proxy for economic power (people spend on it as a priority, etc), Haiti appears to have started from a much lower base.

[0] https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/HTI/haiti/life-expecta...

[1] https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/DOM/dominican-republic...


There's another thing that is missing, the article says "Haiti and the D.R. share the same geography" but that is quite wrong, as Haiti was actually the undesirable part of the island, an unexploited part that was opportunistically colonised by France because Spain didn't use it.

They don't share the same geography or natural resources at all, most of the settled, economically important places both in Haiti and DR are in the plains but DR has more plains than the whole area of Haiti, while Haiti's few plains are mostly salt marshes with cities in the more hospitable areas.


The article claims the opposite:

> Haiti [...] is steadily losing arable land. But it still has more arable land than the entire Dominican Republic, despite being only about half as large in terms of territory! So the D.R. actually had — and has — less opportunity to farm.

Seems almost the opposite of your argument, if we substitute "plains that are not salt marshes" for "arable land". I don't know which is true or whether you're actually measuring something substantially different.


Weird, but Wikipedia does say of the DR that almost 80% of the total land area [is] suitable for crop production and that the main exports are fruits such as avocado, papaya, bananas, cocoa, etc, which don't grow on arable land anyway. In 1998, arable land totaled 1,020,000 hectares; with land under permanent crops at 480,000 hectares.[0]

While on Haiti, it says that of the total arable land of 550,000 hectares, 125,000 hectares are suited for irrigation, and of those only 75,000 hectares actually have been improved with irrigation.[1]

So while I'm sure Haiti could do better than what they are doing now, it seems curious to say that it is more suited for farming than the Dominican Republic. I think the author might have misread numbers.

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_Dominican_Repub...

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Haiti#Agriculture,_...


expropriate their property and destroy all the institutions associated with them

An odd phrasing considering that their own bodies were considered their property and slavery was among the institutions. Government was the primary institution and one which the freed slaves did not abolish.


Government and the economy are just people, they're not actually a 'thing'. If you kill off the people who have experience running the economy, government, education system (I know, Haiti's was likely tiny and only for the ruling class and likely consisted of a few private tutors), then there's no one to teach the next generation and you have no government or economy.

Instead of killing off the slavers, pressing them into forced restitution as advisors and educators would have been better for Haitians, more satisfying, and just.

Why kill the governor who knows not only how to builds roads but where and when they should be built, and instead force him to continue doing his job, only his payment is now a stay of execution?


> This is kind of ignoring the elephant in the room, which is that Haiti was born from a successful slave revolt and and one of the first things it did as an independent country was to expel or kill virtually all the whites, expropriate their property and destroy all the institutions associated with them. Both culturally and genetically (95.5% per Wikipedia), Haiti thus has a lot in common with sub-Saharan Africa,

So they were a society of uneducated ex-slaves with no institutions. That's likely enough to explain the difference by itself?


What exactly do you think is the significance of the “genetic similarity to sub-Saharan Africa”

Please be very, very specific


For one, it might be harder to attract investments from Europe or the US?

People generally invest and hire people that looks similar to them. It shouldn't be like this, but that's a very common thing to see.

-- From Wikipedia: "Race is another defining factor of Dominican–Haitian relations. The ethnic composition of the Dominican population is 73% mixed race, 16% white, and 11% black; while 95% of the Haitian population is black."


That's the elephant in the room? Ok ...


I responded to a now flagged comment. The gist of that comment is that it's worth knowing Haiti's history.

> There is LOTS of context missing before we get to the 1804 massacre of the remaining whites in Haiti.

Thirteen years of conflict and war took place before this happened. Why? Enslaved people wanted what the French Declaration of the Rights of Man guaranteed, that "all men free and equal."

In struggling for this Haitians were bounced around like a football, between the great powers of France, Spain, and Britain.

Every attempt at autonomy or freedom was met with outright force or duplicity aimed at returning Haiti to the status quo of one of the most brutal forms of slavery in history.

What's the saying? Fool me once...

Dessalines, who ordered the 1804 massacre, had seen all of this, topped off by the French just a few years before taking out Toussaint Louverture, who was forgiving of whites.

He had also seen brutality the likes of which we cannot imagine:

"the French staged mass executions via firing squads, hanging, and drowning Haitians in bags:

"Rochambeau invented a new means of mass execution, which he called "fumigational-sulphurous baths": killing hundreds of Haitians in the holds of ships by burning sulphur to make sulphur dioxide to gas them."

Should you still think the Haitians more brutal than others, do read up on the British and French exploits in continental Europe during the Peninsular Wars. God help you should you find yourself a non-combatant in a place just taken by siege.

Haiti was born in brutal slavery. It has been meddled with incessantly throughout its history by greater powers. If we want to trace a line back, those are the dots to look at connecting.


BoiledCabbage also had a now buried reply with more context:

> Exactly this. To discuss Toussaint and 1804 and not discuss the French commander Rochambeau is extremely misleading. He brought gas chambers to Haiti via and was systematically massacring blacks. The entire war turned brutal.

Haiti knew trade was key as they were the wealthiest colony in the west. Toussaint actually negotiated treaties with John Adams and welcomed American investment and trade deals along with other nations. What happened (and again Haiti perspectives comes in to play of who was writing history and what gets emphasized), was a nation of slave gaining independence and defeating Napoleon in military combat. That absolutely shocked the European powers. They were all slave holding counties and their immediate acts was to stop Haiti from succeeding at all costs.

In the US Thomas Jefferson took over, and being a southern pro-plavery president he immediately blocked all trade with Haiti knowing that the colony depended on trade to survive financially. France as well planned to essentially starve the country economically and take it back over later. The entire western powers effectively put the country under embargo. They were deathly afraid it would inspire other slave areas to want freedom (lots of texts written about this) and the way they decided to stop it was to ensure Haiti fails as a country.

The fighting in that war for independence was brutal and ugly on all sides. Toussaint was a brilliant leader and likely would've taken the country to success. He beat what were considered to European armies is the time. Final after winning again against the French, they invited him to "parley" and when he came for the discussion they captured him and threw him in a prison where he died. They could not beat him and finally that was his they stopped him. For diplomatic negotiation and the capture. And that was maybe the third back stab by the European powers at the time. He was the father of Haiti, their George Washington.

His replacement is the one who never forgave that and who militarily was against Rochembeau and who was after this betrayal we no longer want any Europeans here. Previously the British betrayed them, said they'd fight with with against France to end slavery. They agreed - allied with the British and then a the hatians they took all the militarily losses and handed territory to the British to be British free colonies the British came in and started enslaving the Haitians again.

The period of that time is insanely complex. All of a sudden I've seen the narrative of OP being pushed everywhere. Because it's "easy" and people can think of Zimbabwe as an easy analogy - that's wrong. And frequently people pushing it then turn it into discussions of current US politics. [And that's where I'll stop because I don't want this to start down that trail]. What went on in Haiti is way more complex than that simplistic narrative.


I don't see how lack of infrastructure isn't caused by the debt they had to pay off. Infrastructure takes extremely long to build up and lasts usually pretty long.

Also I find it peculiar how the damage incurred by the Duvalier family was not mentioned directly in the article.


Also, both Haiti and the DR are frequently (~every 5 years?) hit by hurricanes, with earthquakes and flooding also mixed in.

Consequently, if there's a difference in the rate at which infrastructure is built, it's going to more heavily affect Haiti.

Or, to put it another way: a hurricane knocks out a power line that took Haiti 5 years to get in place, vs DR 3. Haiti loses 10 years of infrastructure (initial + rebuild) while the DR only loses 6. To say nothing of the lost economic activity while replacing.


It's a marshmallow test on a national scale.

You're a public institution and the taxpayer gives you a marshmallow with the expectation of using it to create some public good. You can eat the whole marshmallow yourself and feel pretty good for a while, but after that you'll have nothing but a heap of dirt (and soon that heap will be washed into the sea).

You can take a bite for yourself and get a dysfunctional society, but at least you and your countrymen get some kind of half decent jobs, food on the table, education and healthcare.

You can just nibble a little on the edge, and you get western society.

What happens if you save the whole marshmallow? Who knows.


Wait, who is eating the marshmallow ... and what is the marshmallow in this analogy?


I presume marshmallow = taxes/wealth. Eating it = corrupt politicians pocketing it/corrupt usage of it.


> what is the marshmallow in this analogy?

The surplus of resources, I guess. The disposable income of a nation.


If Haiti had, say, vast oil wealth but wasted the proceeds and you compared it specifically to Norway (who have, all things considered, responsibly handled their oil wealth) then sure. But I cannot see what resources or wealth representing the "marshmallow" that they are supposed to have foolishly, greedily gobbled up.

It doesn't make sense, it's just someone painting the Haitians as a short-sighted and reckless people (which I believe is untrue) without giving any reasons why they believe this.


>But I cannot see what resources or wealth representing the "marshmallow" that they are supposed to have foolishly, greedily gobbled up.

The entire reason they were a colony was due to having vast amounts of arable land where coffee and sugar cane was grown. That's ignoring the natural beauty of the country that would be ripe for tourism if they had corruption and crime under control.

It doesn't make sense to act as if Haiti is a barren wasteland with no possible way to generate wealth. The "marshmallow" is quite literally the wealth the country as a whole can generate. They are one of the worst countries in the entire world when it comes to corruption index:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_Perceptions_Index


> It doesn't make sense, it's just someone painting the Haitians as a short-sighted and reckless people

Who did that?


The public institutions are eating the marshmallow and the marshmallow is the public funding available to them, whether it's from taxes, foreign aid or bribes extracted from ordinary people. Eating it is taking the public funding for their own personal use, or offering tenders to friends who have no intention of actually doing the job.

Here's the first result that comes up when I do a web search for "how corruption works", it's pretty informative for those who are unfamiliar with the concept: https://www.transparency.org/en/what-is-corruption


Thanks, HN. Now I'll have Sir Daniel Day-Lewis saying "I eat your marshmallow" in my head all day.


> You can just nibble a little on the edge, and you get western society.

That would be Singapore.

Western societies are really great at consuming unconstrained amount of taxes without efficiently generating returns.


> Western societies are really great at consuming unconstrained amount of taxes without efficiently generating returns.

Your personal observation, scientific fact or last nights night club small talk?


Seems like every week there's a "why does the west have to drop a billion bucks over a decade on X when Asia can do it for a cool ten mil in a year?" article on the front page of HN. This is pretty well researched and written about stuff, at least on the govenrment and public works side of things.


>What happens if you save the whole marshmallow?

Given the heat over there, I'm guessing a puddle of sticky goo.


If you nibble a little on the edge, while eating everyone else who have saved it around the table, you get the western society. Haiti and DR got theirs eaten by France and Spain.


Exploitative colonialism and multinational corporations are definitely things that exist, but countries that do neither still manage to produce a high standard of living by having low levels of corruption. This is what all countries with high standard of living has in common, not stealing from other countries.

Besides, such exploitation doesn't even help the standard of living in the home countries anyway, since the profits are more likely to be stashed in offshore accounts or reinvested in more of the same shenanigans, rather than be invested in the home economy.


[flagged]


The thoughts of someone who thinks "Western society" is where it is by being conscientious of how they consume and preserve resources for future generations, and is apparently unaware of "Western society" eating other societies' marshmallows.

Another option is they are intentionally ignoring "Western society" consuming other society's marshmallows to make them seem more deserving of their spoils, and others more deserving of their lack of spoils.


No, even countries where exploitative multinationals contribute an insignificant portion to the economy can be prosperous if and only if they have low levels of corruption. Even if they have no natural resources, they still have people who can produce value that can be exported. But only if government officials don't steal all of it first. In a lot of places you can't start a company of any kind without paying tons of bribes.



I didn't see it mentioned but I had heard that the Haitians deforested most of their more mountainous side of Hispaniola so what little top soil was there was washed away. This is also why there is a torrential flood risk especially during and after tropical storms.

The Cibao on the Dominican side is a really fertile and productive agricultural area.

Haitians are pretty much screwed, especially with friends like the Clinton Foundation, who needs enemies.




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