Haiti May Have Won Independence, But It Is Not Independent of Chaos and Poverty

Haiti is engulfed by an ongoing political crisis and the world is desperately awaiting solutions to ease a turbulent political atmosphere. Her neighbors in the Caribbean are being implored by the international community to propose measures that will avert further calamities. Working to contain the crisis in Haiti benefits Caribbean countries because Haiti’s instability can lead to regional turmoil. Moreover, the appetite for refugee status in neighboring Caribbean countries will surely strain local budgets and embolden nationalist sentiments.

Some refugees will be law-abiding citizens, but others could be delinquents or members of gangs using the crisis in Haiti as a camouflage to escape. Cultural clashes are likely to emerge with the influx of new people into a territory and Haiti’s neighbors might not be prepared to tackle such issues. Unlike America and England, small states in the Caribbean don’t have the experience and technical capacity to deal with a continuous refugee crisis. Also, their populations are more concerned with parochial issues and are likely to perceive attempts to assist Haiti as a diversion of resources to a foreign matter.

For example, human rights groups are pressuring the Jamaican government to host immigrants, but they won’t face constituents who question the logic of helping Haitians when the public health system suffers from bed shortages. Haitian refugees require tremendous support and Jamaica already has its fair share of poor people. Usually, America and her European allies intervene in international crises, but the Haitian debacle is seen as a problem to be rectified by Caribbean people and others of African descent.

Haiti is a symbol to the global black community because it became the first independent black state in 1804. As such, she is an embodiment of black pride and resilience, therefore few are willing to question the logic of the Haitian Revolution and its outcomes. France presided over a brutal slave regime in Haiti so the enslaved could not be faulted for finding the allure of rebellion appealing. However, the outcomes of the Haitian revolution have not been favorable.

The therapeutic effects of the Haitian revolution fizzled out shortly after independence. Although, Haiti was victorious in war, due to the power dynamics of the nineteenth century, Haiti was compelled to pay France reparations. Not only did Haiti borrow funds from French and American institutions to compensate France, but it was also isolated by leading powers and America only recognized Haiti’s independence in 1862. Instead of liberating Haiti, independence ushered in a period of political instability. Haiti’s future was marred by internecine warfare and class conflicts.

As a colony, black slaves were oppressed by white planters, but after gaining freedom, the various social groups in Haiti fought bitterly for supremacy. Since independence, Haiti has experienced multiple coups and a litany of economic problems. Haiti’s inept performance has been attributed to political corruption, unscrupulous foreign interventions, and a host of natural disasters. However, the failure of Haiti parallels the disappointing postindependence performance of several ex-colonies.

Institutional learning is critical to development, therefore colonies with greater institutional experience are more successful after independence. Some ex-colonies were granted independence prematurely without a sophisticated understanding of public policy issues or the human capital to generate development. Valentin Seidler in his research program on institutional copying has demonstrated that British colonial officers played a pivotal role in adapting colonies to the workings of Western institutions by providing expertise and human capital.

Furthermore, the failure of independent states to suppress the political ambitions of rival groups fomented political instability. Colonial regimes often succeeded at pacifying rival groups and liberating natives from oppressive tyrants. Disaster is the outcome when colonialists grant independence to their subjects without establishing strong states. Edmond J Keller in the article “Decolonization, Independence, and the Failure of Politics,” comments that the postindependence aspirations of Africa devolved into tragic realities: “By the mid-1980s, 60 percent of Africa’s countries had come under military rule and . . . by 1986, Africa was not only a continent in “economic free-fall,” and characterized by poor governance, it was also the subject of growing attention for international donors.”

Like many ex-African colonies, Haiti was unprepared for sovereignty and is currently experiencing the perils of early independence. Independence is not a predictor of development, because if this had been the case countries like Cayman, Bermuda, and the overseas departments of France would be struggling. Due to the popularity of anticolonial movements, one would think that present colonies are in a hurry to sever ties with colonial powers, yet recent polls show that there is growing opposition to independence in Bermuda. On average, nonsovereign countries in the Caribbean are richer than their independent counterparts and are treated like citizens of colonial powers, so great incentives do not exist to surrender these privileges in the name of independence.

America fought for its independence like Haiti, however, the former was established by men with a working knowledge of political economy and public administration, whereas America was equipped to confront the challenges of independence, a multiracial and divided country like Haiti required more maturity to govern a nation. The success of the Haitian Revolution is cherished by many, but its long-term effects reflect the pitfalls of early independence.

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