The present high level of poverty of the common people in Haiti today has its roots in the turbulent history of the first Black Republic in the world. After destroying the Napoleonic Army on the bloody battlefields of Vertières, liberating themselves from French colonialism and slavery, and thus proclaimed the independence of Haiti in 1804, Haiti's new ruling elites were confronted with a daunting choice: restoring the economy by re-instating the sugar plantation system or preserving emancipation by allowing small and inefficient land holdings. The Haitian people resisted to a return of the system of forced labor that is required to maintain the sugar plantations; which they regarded as the other side of the coin of slavery. They instead demanded economic independence and an equitable land distribution for all. The decision to do away with the erstwhile profitable plantation system into small peasant farm holder began a process of reducing the earning power of the newly liberated citizens of Haiti, and hence the economic clout of the 'Jewel of the Antilles'.
A few years after the decision was taken to liberalize land ownership, which translated into drastic reduction in foreign exchange earnings of the new republic, in order for the populace to feel truly liberated, a grave danger to the very existence of the new republic surfaced. This was a threat from the shameless defeated colonial power France to invade Haiti anew. A French naval force was already strategically positioned in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Cap Haïtien. France has emphatically hrefused to recognize Haiti's independence until it agreed to pay an indemnity of 150 million francs to compensate for the losses of French planters in the slave revolution. Payment of this indemnity brought the government deeply in debt and crippled the country's economy.
As if to add salt to an already festering sore, the great slave owning powers of that time in human history, France, Spain, Britain and even the fledgling United States of America, which Haitians had helped in its time of needs to survive the onslaught of a British invasion, have mounted a total economic boycott against Haiti. This concerted but unwarranted economic embargo on Haiti, along with payment of the imposed indemnity of 150 million francs to France, when taken together could be said to be the second root cause of Haitian poverty. The effects of these punitive measures are still felt by the common people of Haiti up till today.
However, one historically important contributive cause to Haitian poverty is the inherent instability of Haiti's political terrain. The period between the expulsion of President Boyer in 1843, after he capitulated to France's demand for indemnity, and the first American invasion in 1915; It is generally regarded as the chaotic era in Haitian history. A notable historian of the period, Leyburn, summarizes this chaotic era in Haitian history as follow: "Of the twenty-two heads of state between 1843 and 1915, only one served out his prescribed term of office, three died while serving, one was blown up with his palace, one presumably poisoned, one hacked to pieces by a mob, one resigned. The other fourteen were deposed by revolution after incumbencies ranging in length from three months to twelve years. "
This extremely high level of political instability contributed in no small measure to deprive Haitians the peaceful environment needed for economic empowerment, which would have translated to their economic growth. The period of the first American occupation of Haiti, though frequently touted as one of relative peace and progress in infrastructural development, was more of a peace of the graveyard. Several rebellions against the American occupation by Haitian nationalists were brutally put down. In one such incident, over two thousand Haitians, popularly known as 'cacos', were killed by the American marines as they were protesting American racism and economic deprivation.
In another instance, unarmed peasants during a march protesting for better economic conditions were, on December 1929 in Les Cayes, mauled by United States marines where more than ten defenseless Haitian peasants died. All said and done, American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, rather than reduce poverty among the ordinary Haitians, only exacerbated their plight, while American Multinational companies were making record profit level by exploiting Haitian cheap labor. Instead of reinvesting these profits in poverty alleviating programs in Haiti, these companies repatriated their profits home to further boost American wealth, while further impoverishing hapless Haitians. Thus we can say that the first American invasion and subsequent occupation of Haiti, is one of the root causes of Haitian poverty.
Poverty in Modern Day Haiti
The recent political and economic history of Haiti is an extension of its past history. Before the Americans left Haiti in 1934, as they always tend to do, they installed a puppet government in Port-au-Prince, which main preoccupation was to look after American commercial and business interests and thus feathering their own financial nests in the process. Development or expanding Haiti beyond Port-au-Prince was of no importance to them, and hence empowerment of the masses in Haiti was put in abeyance. The arrival of the Duvaliers, 'Papa Doc' Duvalier and his son 'Baby Doc' Jean Claude Duvalier, was initially heralded as a ray of sunshine of hope in a dark cloud of misery and poverty. The poor masses soon had their hopes shattered.
Although 'Papa Doc' started well in 1957 with a modicum of rural development programs, he soon turned into a tyrant protecting his power. To his benefit, it is worthy to mention that he too was faced with an embargo from the Black Eagle. When Papa Doc died in 1971, he was succeeded by his son Jean Claude Duvalier. His father was a bit more interested in the well being of the masses in the countryside. Jean-Claude neglected the countryside and further exacerbated rural poverty. All of the revenue generated through foreign grants and World Bank loans were wasted on his consumptive lifestyle and those of his cronies and the new elites in Haitian society. Baby Doc only added another chapter to the sorry story of Haitian poverty.
Today, Haiti remains the least-developed country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Compared to other low-income developing countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has not made much social and economic headway since the 1980s. Haiti now ranks close to the bottom of all the countries in the United Nation's Human Development Index. Almost eighty percent of all Haitian population lives in abject poverty, ranking the second-to-last country in the world in a comparison measure of global poverty.