Saturday, February 16, 2008

Collapse by Jared Diamond Part 3: Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Jo Hunter Adams
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Diamond contrasts the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two countries largely sharing one island. Haiti is one of the most overpopulated countries of the New World, "much more so than the Dominican Republic, with barely one-third of Hispaniola's land area but nearly two-thirds of its population (about 10 million), and an average population density approaching 1,000 per square mile" (p330). Per capita income in the Dominican Republic is five times higher, although it is also not a rich country. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Why the difference?

One difference is environmental. Hispaniola's rains come mainly from the east. As a result, the Dominacn side is far richer environmentally. However, this is only part of the picture.


To suggest another answer answer, Diamond looks back on Hispaniola's history of imperial conquest. While France was exploiting Haitian resources, Spain neglected the Dominican Republic. Haiti did not develop commercial agriculture, and "sought mainly to extract wealth from the peasants." (p340). As a result, far more of Haiti's was "used up" without any view for sustainability or the long-term impact of actions taken on the land.

In the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo was elected president in 1930 and proceeded to become a dictator, killing all his possible opponents while claiming to act in the country's best interest. However, although he held national monopolies on most of the country's economies, he also developed the economy, infrastructure, and industries. In the 1950s, Trujillo began to lose support. In 1961, he was assassinated, apparently with CIA support.

Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier

In 1957 in Haiti, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier took power after a series of unstable political regimes. Like Trujillo, he took absolute control of the country and its citizens by force. Unlike Trujillo, however, he did not develop the economy.

After the Duvaliers in Haiti, Haitians continued to be politically unstable, and it's economy has not had an adequate opportunity to develop.


After Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Balaguer dominated Dominican politics. During his presidencies, his final presidency ending in 2000, according to Diamond, he rescued the country's natural reserve system. He placed strict controls on the use of resources, particularly on wood.

I was struck by the reality that a colonialism of neglect might--in this case-- be preferable to a colonialism of rabid exploitation. At times, in the African case, it seemed that when there was a strong desire to exploit natural resources, it led to greater creation of basic infrastructure. However, in Haiti resources could be "used up" without creating real infrastructure-- leading to both nothing built, and nothing to build with.

Coming Soon
The Cost of Transportation and the [human] cost of Pesticides
A look at Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Beginning the Growing Season Indoors!

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