Why “Shithole” Countries Like Haiti Have Such a Poor Economy: Part 1

by Sabine Tessono

“Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” According to one source, President Trump made this remark while discussing a bipartisan immigration deal with a team of senators.  Unfortunately, seems as though that was not the most controversial comment made during the closed White House meeting on January 11th. Almost three weeks ago, President Trump reportedly made the harsh comment about African and Haitian immigrants coming to the US from “shithole countries.” These offensive statements tie into a pattern of  another reported issue of Trump targeting Haitian people, a pattern enforced by his June claim that they “all have AIDs” during a meeting on immigration. While Trump’s words were tone-deaf at best  and racist at worst, his apparent severely negative perception idea of black-populated countries, particularly Haiti, is reflective of an underlying, very dismissive idea that a significant number of both Americans and those living outside the United States have towards those same regions. While Haiti is one of, if not the, poorest country in the Western hemisphere, it didn’t suddenly appear into existence like that. In this post, we will attempt to understand how and why Haiti descended into its current state of rampant economic and humanitarian crisis, and examine the factors, often of Western origin, that continue to prevent it from successfully re-establishing itself.

In order to understand the country’s present state, we have to first look to its past. In 1804, Haiti became the first black slave nation to gain independence from France. While this may have been seen as a victory at first, the sudden revolution caused a great deal of instability within the country due to it being “diplomatically and economically isolated and facing a continual threat of foreign intervention.” The a swift cut off from the white European states that had built an economy supported by plantations forced Haiti into a state of deep fiscal crisis as there existed no infrastructure upon which the new government could fall back. This contributed to a lack of true autonomy, with a hierarchy of upper class mulatto people and lower class emancipated slaves still experiencing ever-increasing wealth disparity. A constant cycle of unsteady governments and interfering global powers that ignored the interests of the general population also set the foundation for turbulence within Haiti’s history which carries through to the present day. Influential early leaders such as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines,  and Henri Christophe, should have been expected to intently focus on effectively building up the economic and social structure of the newly formed state, giving subsequent leaders a solid base from which to build. While some of their tactics did help to establish Haiti as a threat and an example to Europe, squabbles between officials often regarding furthering their own self-interests  led to a long line of “revolving door governments that inconsistently invited and spurned foreign investment.” and political puppetry that continues to refuse to address the social and economic inequalities the common people suffer from. These incompatible elements come together to form a disorganized and divided system that still hasn’t been effectively disentangled to this day.

If anything, the fiscal issues that overwhelm Haiti in the present day are intrinsically linked to the creation of the nation itself, and the interfering Western nations and leaders of that time period. However, Haiti’s story of continual hardship doesn’t stop there. In order to fully understand what led to its present state, one must thoroughly examine a few key specific and disasters through a closer lens. The next installment of this series will break down a few of these in an attempt to reconcile what many see as a country entirely to blame for its hardships, and Western influence that seems to either have left decades ago,  

-To be continued-