One Island, Two Very Different Countries

The other day, I read a short news report that the Dominican Republic is building a wall along its border with Haiti.  With the collapse of governance in Haiti, the Dominican Republic does not want a flood of Haitians fleeing their homeland seeking refugee across the border in the Dominican Republic.

This poses, yet again, the big question about emigration, asylum seekers and refugees: why do they flee?  Why has their homeland turned against them?

The generation of emigrants, refugees and asylum seekers is the failure of sovereignty.  Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island.  Why is one territory safe and prosperous and the other dangerous and poor?

Let’s compare the two societies on some internationally well-accepted metrics (low score is better):

  • Human Development Index: Dominican Republic 82, Haiti 158
  • Social progress Index: Dominican Republic 72, Haiti 159
  • World Bank 2020 Human Capital Index: Dominican Republic 112, Haiti 131
  • Economic Freedom index (high score is better): Dominican Republic 62.9, Haiti 48.2

The island which is now home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic was the first land in the Western Hemisphere to be colonized by Europeans.  Columbus landed there in 1492.  Columbus founded the first European settlement in the Americas, La Navidad, on what is now the northeastern coast of Haiti.

According to Wikipedia, the Dominican Republic has the seventh-largest economy in Latin America.  Over the last 25 years, the Dominican Republic has had the fastest-growing economy in the Western Hemisphere – with an average real GDP growth rate of 5.3% between 1992 and 2018.  GDP growth in 2014 and 2015 reached 7.3 and 7.0%, respectively, the highest in the Western Hemisphere.  Recent growth has been driven by construction, manufacturing, tourism and mining.  The country is the site of the third largest (in terms of production) gold mine in the world, the Pueblo Viejo mine.

The Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean.  The year-round golf courses and resorts are major attractions.

For Haiti, Wikipedia says:

Competing claims and settlements led to the west of the island being ceded to France in 1697, which was subsequently named Saint-Domingue.  French colonists established sugarcane plantations, worked by enslaved persons brought from Africa, which made the colony one of the world’s richest.  In the midst of the French Revolution, enslaved persons, maroons and free people of color launched the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), led by a former slave and general of the French Army, Toussaint Louverture.  Napoleon’s forces were defeated by Louverture’s successor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (later Emperor Jacques I), who declared Haiti’s sovereignty on 1 January 1804, leading to a massacre of the French.  The country became the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, the first country in the Americas to eliminate slavery and only country established by a slave revolt.

Both countries have experienced bad governments and American military occupations.  But what might explain their different social, political and economic outcomes?  Are there lessons for all nations in the answers to that question?