The Caribbean island of Hispaniola is home to two countries, namely Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both countries have an average population of 10 million, but the average Haitian is 10 times poorer than the average Dominican and more likely to be unemployed. This difference in income manifests itself in poverty and drastic disparities in health.
For instance, the infant mortality rate in Haiti is twice that of the Dominican Republic. Additionally, HIV and AIDS are more prevalent in Haiti.
Acknowledging these differences, one can ask: How did one island produce two drastically different worlds? The answer lies in both countries’ social realities, rooted in Haiti’s colonial past of slavery. Further, can Haiti’s colonial context of slavery explain the contemporary unequal dynamic?
The reason why Haiti and the Dominican Republic turned out to be so different is because of the island’s history. The island of Hispaniola used to be under Spanish rule in 1697 until the Spanish handed over the region of Haiti to the French.
The area of Saint Domingue became the wealthiest French colony. Thousands of African slaves were brought there to carry out the commercial production of sugar, coffee and cotton. The slave system carried out in Saint Domingue was considered one of the most rigid in America.
In 1791, the region witnessed a successful slave rebellion. Soon after, slavery was abolished and the nation was declared independent in 1804. Saint Domingue was renamed Haiti.
However, this did not put an end to the nation’s problems. The former slave colony faced challenges that were manifested into present-day poverty, human trafficking, sex slavery and forced labour, institutional racism, etc.
Even though Haiti was the first to reject the system, slavery is still widespread in the nation. As per the 2014 Global Slavery Index, Haiti has an estimated population of 2,37,700 enslaved people. This makes Haiti the country with the second-highest prevalence of slavery in the world, after Mauritania.
The traditional system of Restavek is functional in modern-day Haiti. Under this system, Haitian children from impoverished households are separated from their parents and sent to work as domestic help in wealthy families. This system reflects apartheid, where slave children are reduced to a subjugated status, made to sleep on the floor, feed off leftovers and are often beaten.
Additionally, human trafficking is common in Haiti. The nation is a major source and destination for women and children subjected to sex slavery. Haitians are trafficked out of their country to the wealthy neighbouring country of the Dominican Republic. Sex slavery in Haiti is a pressing issue.
Haiti has become the top destination for sex tourists. Survivors are not only trafficked for prostitution but also illegal stripping and child pornography. Successive generations in Haiti have grown to adulthood in an environment of racism, shame, abuse and neglect.
In contrast to Haiti, the Dominican Republic has a flourishing economy. It is the second-largest economy in Central America and has significantly improved living conditions and proper healthcare. As a result, racism is prevalent in the Dominican Republic owing to the after-effects of slavery in the oppression of Black Haitians.
In the Dominican Republic, “blackness” is associated with lower-class status and Haitian migrants. Haitians who possess African-like phenotypic features are victims of racism and discrimination.
The upper-class people in the Dominican Republic are of European origin as opposed to predominantly black Haitian slaves. This has led to the white Dominican Republics having an economic and social privilege. Whiteness is associated with wealth and beauty, whereas the blackness of Haitians is associated with poverty.
There are many instances of discrimination and prejudices between white-skinned Dominican Republics and black-skinned Haitians. Many Haitians have lost their lives due to this racial stereotyping. The white people systematically prevent the representation and empowerment of Haitians. This has forced Haitians to accept their compromised position and submit to slavery.
Haiti’s turbulent history of slavery and rebellion has brought it to the point of destitution and deprivation. Only slavery is to be blamed for Haiti’s tragedy. Today, this country produces people so poor that the only promising source of income is prostitution for most adults. Thus, slavery is still relevant in explaining Haiti’s contemporary situation.
Representative Image via flickr