One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories: The Dominican Republic and Haiti


Central America

The Situation:

Haiti and the Dominican Republic make up to two halves of one Caribbean Island located south of Florida.  While the Dominican Republic and Haiti directly border one another, economic, social, political, and environmental conditions differ vastly.  

Both nations began with Indigenous roots; the Tainos people inhabited the land.  However, Spanish colonization in the East and eventually French colonization in the West led to the death of natives through disease, exhaustion and sometimes, direct cruelty from the colonizers.  Both the eastern (Haiti) and western (Dominican Republic) parts of the island are rooted in a history of European colonization.   Africans were imported into the island to replace the dying labor force.  Furthermore, both nations endured histories of deforestation and a depletion of natural resources.  Both islands endured harsh ruling from dictators. 

While both countries are poor, the Dominican Republic’s “per capita income is five times higher, and the population density and population growth are lower.”  Furthermore, its political system is much more stable and is “at least nominally a democracy.”  Finally, the Dominican Republic has a complex natural reserve system with 74 parks or reserves that make up 32% of the land. 

On the other hand, Haitians live in general poverty with little access to water or electricity.  Most of the people are subsistence farmers.  Haitians endured a history of political turmoil with little economic and environmental development.  Only four parks make up the natural park system in Haiti.   How is it possible for two nations to exist so differently on one island?

Jared M. Diamond’s Argument

Diamond argues that the divergence between Haiti and the Dominican Republic begins in colonization and ends in the decisions made leaders.  Haiti was colonized by the French who focused on developing the agricultural output through increased imports of Africans for labor. 

On the other hand, the Dominican Republic was colonized by the Spanish who raised cattle and imported notably less slaves.  The Spanish eventually lost interest in that area of the Island, and therefore did not focus on developing agriculturally.  Ironically, this impacted the future of the two nations in an opposite manner than expected.  The French’s efforts overpopulated Haiti, increasing population without an increase in resources.  Furthermore, farming in the mountainous and less-nutrient rich Haiti led to depletion of resources early on.  Haitians, now mostly descendents of African slaves or mulatto mixes launched rebellions that left them fearful of foreign invasion.  Hence, the people developed a deep fear and distrust of foreigners, closing the country to participation and investment from immigrants or foreign people. 

The people divided the lands and survived on subsistence farming without room for development.  On the other hand, the lack of attention from the Spanish allowed the Dominican Republic to maintain its natural resources and develop more naturally.  Viewed from the outside as more Spanish (and therefore European), the Dominican Republic became desirable for European immigrants. 

The lack of a strong history of slave rebellion left the Dominican Republic more open to participation from immigrants, who eventually became valuable assets in helping to develop the nation economically.  Hence, there were less people in the Dominican Republic and more trusting outlook on development from the outside world.

Furthermore, Diamond argues that the history of leadership makes a huge difference in the fate of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Following decolonization, both countries existed in political and social chaos.  However, the Dominican Republic was able to stabilize through the ruling of a dictator. 

This dictator was interested in developing the economy, which eventually led to protection of the environment and development of dams to support hydrological energy.   Despite his violent and cruel treatment of his people, Diamond argues that his interest in developing the Dominican Republic is what revived the nation from chaos. 

Furthermore, the people of the Dominican Republic played a significant role in lobbying the government to protect the natural resources, and eventually the dictators who followed played a role in passing laws and regulations that banned outside logging.  The people also formed non-governmental organizations that actively seek to protect, maintain, and develop environmental resources.  On the other hand, Haitians survived on subsistence farming.  The people had no manner of developing their farm work into cash crops because there were no governmental initiatives to develop the economy. 

Haitians endured dictatorships under rulers who had no interest in developing the country, but who had more interest in exploiting the people.   Hence, the country has become the poorest country in the New World and one of the poorest countries in the world, after African nations.

My Reflection

While Diamond’s analysis on the legacies of colonization and the impact of leadership is revelatory, his criticism of Haitian’s fearful response and individualistic mentalities following colonization lacks complexity.  Diamond praises Dominicans for their resilience following decades of colonization and lack of agricultural development.

  Furthermore, he depicts Dominicans’ efforts to seek a protectorate relationship with their former colonizers in a positive light by suggesting that it demonstrates their trusting relationship with foreign powers.  Hence, Dominicans became a nation open to immigration and desirable to immigration. 

The lack of agricultural investment in the Dominican Republic meant that there were less Africans brought into the nation as slaves.  As a result, there are less Dominicans who distrust foreign powers.  On the other hand, Diamond suggests that it is this very distrust of foreign powers that leaves Haiti underdeveloped. 

Histories of colonization led Haitians to divide land individually, leading to an individualistic model of economy.  Furthermore, Haitians fear immigration because they fear foreign powers.  Hence, Diamond asserts that because Haitians do not open their nations to foreign powers, they are closing themselves to further development.  However, Diamond fails to offer an alternative.  Diamond almost blames Haitians for their reaction to legacies of colonization.

Post Submitted By: Layhannara Tep