Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Was Independence Premature for Haiti?

Haiti declared its independence in 1804 in the wake of a successful uprising against France. Haiti’s subsequent history was in marked contrast with that of other French constituent lands in the Caribbean, which include Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, St. Martin, and St. Barthélemy. Each of the remaining five (along with other French lands in North America, Africa, and Asia) enjoys representation in France’s National Assembly and Senate and in local elected assemblies that enjoy a high degree of autonomy apart from defense, international trade and currency, and courts and administrative law.

How has independence served the people of Haiti? Rrecent data show per capita income in Haiti at about $1,300. In contrast, the poorest of the French Caribbean lands, French Guiana, enjoys per capita income of $8,300. Per capita income in Guadeloupe and Martinique ranges between $9,000-$11,000, with St. Martin exceeding $20,000 and St. Barts $30,000.

Historians point to numerous unique circumstances explaining Haiti’s chronic poverty. These include payment of reparations to former French slave owners which resulted in a massive debt burden which Haiti could not surmount and cultural issues (e.g., voodoo). Regardless of these constraints, it is a simple fact that every other French Caribbean territory enjoys living standards at least six times higher than in Haiti.