The Importance of the Diaspora’s Investment in Haiti


Since 1990, the Haitian government has transformed—with laborious displays of violence—19 times.[1] The trend is part of a cycle of sustained political instability that has pervaded the nation’s history since its inception and has prevented it from harnessing much of its potential human capital and natural resources. Given the instability and low standard of living in Haiti relative to other proximate countries, a critical mass of contemporary Haitians—disproportionately those who are educated—have chosen to exit Haiti in what has been termed the “Haitian diaspora,” roughly beginning in the 1960s and enduring today.

The diaspora has created a community of expatriate Haitians abroad with singular and remarkable characteristics who represent a large portion of the potential human and working capital, which is now absent in Haiti. Their investment and interest would lend a significant amount of capacity and resources—whether monetary contributions from abroad or talents physically returned to within Haitian borders—to the development of the nation.

The cycle is dangerously self-perpetuating: political capriciousness leads to exodus, which causes a sapping of resources that can only further instability. This paper examines the historical roots of the Haitian diaspora, the push factors of which still persist today, and the 2010 earthquake’s exacerbation of social and economic disparities in Haiti.


Definition of a Diaspora

διασπείρω (pronounced “diaspeirō”) is a Greek noun formed by adding the preposition διά, meaning “across” to the verb σπείρω, “to scatter.”[2] The term was first employed to refer to the settling of citizens of an Ancient Greek city-state in a conquered land.[3] In English, the capitalized Diaspora signifies the dispersal of colonies of Jews following the Babylonian exile from the Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century BC; the use of the term rose to prominence to describe the Jewish exile following the Hebrew Bible’s translation into Greek.[4]

Since then, the term has undergone significant etymological expansion to encompass any general transplantation (voluntary or forced) of a group of people from a homeland that they or their ancestors have traditionally inhabited. In literature and social sciences, academics have used the term loosely to refer to any magnitude and type of dispersal of peoples. In 1991, American political scientist William Safran ascribed five other criteria outside the strict definition to qualify a people as members of a diaspora: 1) the retention of a collective awareness of the homeland; 2) the lack of complete assimilation to the host society; 3) the belief that the ancestral home is a destination of eventual return; 4) the collective feeling of responsibility to maintaining the homeland; and 5) the existence of an “ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity” in the diaspora population thriving in a host society.[5] Safran asserts that this definition encompasses “the Armenian, Maghrebi, Turkish, Palestinian, Cuban, Greek, and perhaps Chinese diasporas at present [and the] Polish diaspora of the past.”[6] However, his qualifications are somewhat too narrow and exclude widely-accepted exoduses of peoples, such as the African diaspora, which was largely forced by the slave trade. For that diaspora, the third and fourth of Safran’s conditions (the desire to return to the homeland and the feeling of responsibility to maintaining the ancestral land) may be mostly eroded. Therefore, in this paper, Safran’s qualifications will be treated as the ideal conditions of a theoretical, perfect diaspora but will not be considered the exclusive terms under which a diaspora can flourish in actual practice.


Classification of the Haitian Diaspora and its Push Factors

There does not exist consensus to address the ambiguity of the term “diaspora” in academic circles; the nebulousness of the word pervades the discussion of the Haitian migration. According to the Millennium – Journal of International Studies, the Haitian perception of their diaspora is as follows:

When a Haitian refers to someone as “diaspora,” he or she means one of two different things: either someone residing abroad or a returnee. It must be stressed that in the local parlance the returnees are also called diaspora. This simply means that the category diaspora is resilient because it outlives the conditions that once exclusively defined it. [7]

In other words, the prevailing Haitian sentiment is that there exists a divide—cultural, economic, or social—between returned diaspora members and Haitians who never left their country. In this paper, references to harnessing the power of the diaspora will include individuals of historical Haitian roots who have spent an extensive amount of time abroad and who have potential talent and resources that Haiti can use to further its development. This qualification encompasses not only returnee Haitians but also the second and third generations of the diaspora. These consist of the children and grandchildren of original migrants who may or may not have ever traveled to Haiti but who still possess a more than purely objective, outsider interest in Haiti. However, references to the Haitian diaspora in terms of hard statistics will include only those Haitians who have physically transplanted themselves abroad and still currently reside in another country. This distinction must be made because institutions that track rates of diasporic activities discount returnees and the second and third generations of the diaspora from their statistics.

Haiti’s 2013 net migration statistic is −5.5 migrants per 1000 people in the population,[8] meaning that the outflow of individuals exceeds inflow. The Haitian diaspora has established the largest ethnocommunal enclaves in primarily the Dominican Republic, Canada, and especially the United States, among other regions of the world.[9] The receiving countries of the diaspora are significant because they share two common characteristics. Firstly, they were and are all more developed and politically stable than Haiti, thus representing safe havens for immigrating Haitians. Secondly, they are in close geographic proximity to Haiti that facilitates en masse transplantation of the diasporic community.

In this paper, unless otherwise specified, the use of the phrase “the diaspora” refers to the Haitian disapora with the following parameters: there are three generally accepted waves of diasporic migration, the first being in the 1960s, the second in the 1980s, and the most recent in the 1990s.[10] While different specific circumstances fostered environments in which migration was desirable, all waves of migration are tied together by the common push factor of political turmoil and instability in Haiti, which prompted diaspora members to believe their standards of living could be improved elsewhere.

This paper will also examine the Haitian diaspora through the lens of its dispersal to the US and its effects on US-Haitian relations. The US is an appropriate case study because it possesses the largest population of Haitian diaspora members (approximately one million members, or around 43 percent of all diasporic activity[11]) and because the US, in many ways, spearheads current international efforts to engage and reconstruct the Republic of Haiti.


The First Wave of the Haitian diaspora: 1960s

Between (nominal) Haitian independence in 1804 and the 1960s, there had been little classifiable Haitian migration other than the nation’s participation in the exchange of laborers among other islands in the Caribbean.[12] Haiti’s “brain drain” phenomenon—the movement of human capital away from the less developed Haiti to a more developed country (MDC)—was negligible before the 1960s, largely because of racial discrimination in MDCs.[13] From 1900 to 1950, the US received fewer than 2,000 legal Haitian immigrants.[14]

In 1957, Francois Duvalier consolidated control over the Haitian government and instituted a dictatorial regime with the radical vision of promoting noiriste ideology; a “black power” movement that called for the replacement of the educated and professional class with a new black aristocracy.[15] Through the violent channels of massacre and property destruction, the Duvalier regime targeted communists and the upper class.[16] The private property and businesses these citizens abandoned as they fled or were killed were expropriated and nationalized.[17]

This persecution brought upper-middle class and educated Haitians in large numbers to the US, France (and, less significantly, other parts of Europe), and the French portions of Canada and Africa.[18] The magnitude of the migration to French-speaking parts of the world can be attributed to French colonial rule of Haiti prior to its independence and the incorporation even in the contemporary Haitian republic of certain exported aspects of French culture.

The 1960s exodus marked the beginning of the “brain drain” phenomenon in Haiti. Not exclusively observable in Haiti, episodes of brain drain have occurred and persist in less developed countries, where migrating members consider the homeland to be unfit to nurture the living conditions or development of human talent that they desire. The distinction between “brain drain” and any sort of diaspora lies in the fact that while members of a diaspora are simply part of a large human movement, participants in the “brain drain” represent the sapping of human capital away from the homeland to a receiving country that is perceived to have a greater ability to employ the migrants’ talents.

Duvalier, during the 1960s, actively encouraged certain forms of “brain drain” to Francophone Africa.[19] During this decade, the parts of Africa that had been under French rule had just been newly liberated, and Duvalier’s government promoted the emigration of Haitian professionals and technicians who were not seen as current political threats to these parts of the world.[20] In doing so, Duvalier intelligently gambled to decrease the risk of future political opposition from the skilled class but also set in motion the depletion of human talents that would continue to haunt Haiti to this day.

Duvalier also tried to rid skilled Haitians by exporting them to the US. While racial tensions did not cease in the US in the 1960s, significant improvements in immigration and civil rights laws facilitated the Haitian diaspora to the US. While not all Haitian immigration to the US was legal during this time, US presidents in the period from the 1960s to the end of 1970s were primarily concerned with fighting a Cold War and its associated proxy wars. The implication of the Cold War for Haiti was that Washington, D.C. looked favorably on Duvalier in comparison to the neighboring, communist Cuba, which was under the rule of Fidel Castro. Therefore, the US made no efforts to stem legal or illegal Haitian immigration.[21] The number of Haitian immigrants to the US consequently leapt from the mid-1950s statistic of 3,000 annually to 25,000 annually by 1970.[22] Not until the 1980s did the US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) tighten its campaign against those who did not hold valid immigration visas.[23]


The Second Wave of the Haitian Diaspora: 1980s

In 1971, Duvalier passed away and transferred power to his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier.[24] Under the younger Duvalier, standards of living continued to deteriorate for Haitian people, but human rights violations lessened in intensity.[25] A heavier influx of Haitians than the first wave of migration began arriving in the US in the 1980s, once again because of political instability. In fact, over 75 percent of the aggregate amount of Haitians currently residing in the US entered the country after 1980, with the largest recorded mass of legal Haitian immigrants within a timespan of one year occurring in 1980–1981, when 44,570 total Haitians arrived.[26] During the same time period, a record amount of Haitian refugees (25,000 in 1980 and 8,000 in 1981) also arrived in southern Florida via water.[27] The exodus by boat of Haitians to Florida was characteristic of the younger Duvalier’s regime until its end in 1986. However, following 1981, the average amount of annual refugees who arrived in this manner stabilized at around 500.[28]


The Third Wave of the Haitian Diaspora: 1990s

Another burst of diasporic activity (both legal and illegal) to the US began at the start of the 1990s.[29] Between January and the end of August 1991, around 38,000 Haitians fled the country (although not exclusively to the US).[30] Once again, political unrest was the impetus of the migration: the Haitian military had spent the year staging a coup d’état against the democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was realized on September 29, 1991.[31] That same year, over 10,000 Haitians traveled by boat to US-administered Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to seek asylum.[32] Approximately 30 percent were granted access to the US, and the US made active efforts to reunify these refugees with their families (as provisioned by US immigration law).[33] While military rule lasted until Aristide’s return in 1994, refugees also sought safety in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.[34]

In 1995, the US tightened requirements for reunifying Haitian families, and consequently, barriers to legal migration intensified.[35] The US Coast Guard launched a campaign to more actively detract illegal immigrants from south Florida.[36] Notwithstanding, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates that since 1990, Haitians have continued legal immigration at a steady 15,000 arrivals per year.[37] In addition, because of US bureaucratic inefficiency in handling the influx of Haitian immigrants, beginning in the 1990s, some of the official annual number for legal Haitian immigration into the US is accounted for by Haitians previously residing in the US whose legalization only recently occurred and who therefore count as “immigrants” in the year they achieved legal residency and not the year of their migration.[38]


Current Diaspora Statistics Following the 2010 Earthquake

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti approximately 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, most populous city, and center of economic activity.[39] Following the earthquake, the US granted temporary protected status (TPS) to approximately 200,000 Haitians who had already been residing in the US, but who did not have legal documentation.[40] The legal implication of this policy change was that these immigrants were now permitted to work legally within the US. Another consequence of the earthquake was that the segment of Haiti’s population that was comprised of US citizens of Haitian descent who had returned to Haiti before the earthquake (mostly students and retirees) was now compelled to move back to the US.[41] The American University of Cairo’s Cairo Review of Global Affairs presents the following numerical data of Haitian immigration to the US:

The 1990 US Census reported 306,000 persons in the US who identified their primary ancestry as Haitian. By 2000, the recorded number nearly doubled, and had reached 548,000. In 2010, the US Census reported 907,790 Haitians (foreign and native-born) in the United States. [42]

Current statistics estimate that over one million people of Haitian descent now live in the US.[43] The number of ethnically Haitian persons in the US comprises, by a rough count, around 15 percent of the current population of Haiti.[44] (Organizations that have measured this statistic cite significant underrepresentation of Haitians in the US Census as the reason their count differs from that of the US government.[45]) If up to 80 percent of university degree-holding Haitians and their progeny live outside of the national boundaries of Haiti, and if around 43 percent of diaspora members are in the US (the second greatest population of Haitian diaspora members thrives in the Dominican Republic),[46] then a sizable portion of any talent that could be useful to Haiti in reconstruction following the earthquake does not currently reside in the republic.

In the current time, political stability under President Michel Martelly (in office since 2011) has been established in Haiti to a greater extent than in decades previous. Here, “politically stability” is being loosely defined as the absence of any immediate threat of political turmoil, of forceful and violent ousting of the incumbent government, or of governmental violence against citizens, but should not be confused with infrastructural or social equality. Therefore, the immediately relevant source of current Haitian migration stems not from a threat of violence but from economic, environmental, and social factors, most profoundly embodied by the 40.6 percent official unemployment rate in the country, which significantly undercounts the nearly three-quarters of the population that is actually unemployed or is attempting to make headway in the informal sector.[47] Frantz Duval, editor of Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s leading newspaper, commented that the nation has “gone from being the Republic of NGOs to the Republic of Unemployment.”[48] In the present day, the phenomenon of chain migration also greatly facilitates the movement of Haitians to the US; other migrants from LDCs tend to follow a first batch of migrants from their home country that has successfully obtained legal and socioeconomic status in a receiving country.


The Characteristics of Haitian Diaspora Members in the US

Socioeconomic Status of Haitian Diaspora Members

In general, the members of the Haitian diaspora in North America hold higher educational degrees and more upper-level professional careers than their counterparts in parts of the Caribbean.[49] The trend is a product of the amount of opportunities for education and professional development available to immigrants in the receiving country­. For example, Haitians who have moved to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic (DO), among other Caribbean islands, are constrained by the labor opportunities available—generally “agriculture, service, tourism, construction sectors, [and] petty commerce.”[50]

Another determinant of socioeconomic status following a move to the receiving country is the degree of prior education before participation in the diaspora. Diasporic members who displace themselves to other Caribbean islands tend to have been involved in peasant labor and petty commerce before their move; their migration to neighboring islands—many of which have mass deportation programs for Haitians—is often illegal.[51] However, there exists an increasing amount of skilled workers from Haiti (especially in primary and secondary sectors of production—agriculture, construction, and agro-processing) in the DO.[52] The DO has also witnessed growing numbers of migrant Haitian university graduates and former Haitian political elites, all of whom had their legal immigration statuses thrown into political limbo in October 2013.[53]

While this paper primarily focuses on the dynamic created between the US and Haiti as a result of the diaspora, a generalizable observation about the socioeconomic statuses of diaspora members in receiving societies can be observed in the DO Constitutional Court’s October 2013 decision to revoke the citizenship of any persons of foreign descent in the country—regardless of whether they were born in the DO—if their birthdate falls after 1929.[54] The United Nations (UN) estimates roughly 210,000 Haitian-descended, Dominican-born people—a large chunk of the 244,000 total people of foreign descent that the policy affects—will now be without Dominican citizenship.[55] While the implications of the policy are not clear given its newness, attorney Wade McMullen of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights claims that now that the Dominican government has excluded this segment of the population from citizenship, these stateless persons will be compelled “to leave and effectively go to Haiti, where they are also not citizens.”[56] Meanwhile, Dominican Immigration Director Jose Ricardo Taveras, long-time dissident of the “Haitianization” of his country, insists that the court ruling endows the stateless persons for the first time with clearly delineated identities that will aid future navigation of any national legalization plan that the DO might implement.[57] In terms of this paper, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the DO’s revocation of citizenship is that the disparities in treatment of diaspora members across different receiving countries constrains the upward socioeconomic mobility of the migrant community.

Members of the Haitian diaspora who engage in entrepreneurship in the US tend to do so on a small-scale level, through micro-enterprises and informal economic activities of which there are no formal records. These businesses tend to cater to a market that is almost completely comprised of Haitians, both in Haiti and in the US.[58] These examples of enterprise exist mostly in the industries of “money transfers, travel agencies, and food preparation” and of “bakeries, shipping, restaurants, translation services, music shops, and small grocery stores.”[59]

The Cairo Review of Global Affairs provides reasoning for the lackluster quality of Haitian diasporic businesses:

These businesses tend to have little potential for growth or to create any significant wealth since they cater to a limited market and very few employ more than the owner…The informality and small size of Haitian expatriate enterprises stem not only from their own lack of sophisticated entrepreneurial skills, but also from low production, low standards, and the low diversity of goods to be had from Haiti…The Haitian diaspora in the US and elsewhere is largely a community of wage earners, focusing more on climbing professional occupational ladders and increasing incomes from their jobs….In 2010, the US Census reports a mere 3.5 percent of Haitians remain in [the] category [of self-employed Haitians who are aged 16 or older]. [60]

There is a sharp contrast between Haitian diasporic members and members of the Lebanese, Iranian, and Chinese diasporas, who have engaged in trade activities on a multi-national level through establishing niches in large-scale manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, and distributing.[61]


Community Sentiment Among Haitian Diaspora Members

Social science posits that most immigrants cannot immediately assimilate into a receiving and foreign culture due to both cultural differences as well as discrimination on the part of the receiving country’s people. This effect is patently manifest in communities of Haitian diaspora members, to whom academics often refer as “migrants in isolation.”[62] Notwithstanding, Haitian communities have largely managed to retain a strong sense of ethnic identity in the US. Haitian businesses cater specifically and almost exclusively to that ethnic group, and there exist hundreds of Haitian associations in the US whose agendas range on the spectrum from political activism to the promotion of arts, charitable causes, and professional development.[63] The significance of these organizations is they are created overwhelmingly to address issues in Haiti, the ancestral home, rather than Haitian-American issues in the US. Although groups to promote Haitian-American interests in the US thrive as well, tragic disasters (the 2010 earthquake, cholera outbreaks, etc.) and poor conditions in Haiti tend to funnel diaspora efforts on charity to Haiti.[64]


Economic Consequences of the Diaspora on Haiti

The working capital and human capital drain on Haiti from diasporic migration is significant. The most acute per capita “brain drain” in the world occurs in Haiti.[65] 80 percent of university degree-holding Haitians have left the country.[66] Two million Haitians reside abroad (with approximately half that number in the US).[67]

Reliance by Haitians on remittances from the diasporic movement stems from the damp employment prospects in the nation. By the harshest estimates in 2011, only ten percent of residents of Haiti were formally employed following the earthquake.[68] Aggregate annual remittances from diaspora members were as large as $1.9 billion in 2010, which constituted around 30 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product (GDP).[69] In perspective, money channeled into Haiti by other outside players and labeled as “official development assistance” (ODA) only made up ten percent of GDP, a third of diasporic contributions.[70] The economic impact of the Haitian diaspora is twofold: while it has undoubtedly drained funds away from nation, it also currently props up a large portion of the informal Haitian economy. However, aggregate statistics fail to show that not every individual diaspora member is the same; while some are regularly sending large remittances to the country, there are those who feel they have no ties to Haiti or for other reasons do not participate in unilateral transfers. To draw diasporic contributions to the country, there must be a base understanding that sentiments across the diaspora community range and therefore methods of attracting diasporic investment must vary.


Consequences of the Diaspora on US-Haitian relations

 In 2010, the U.S consumed nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s $530 million export industry.[71] The US is Haiti’s largest trading partner;[72] therefore, there is mutual economic interest in preserving strong diplomatic relations. The Department of State’s official platform on “US Relations with Haiti” explicitly and optimistically states that members of the diaspora with legal status in the US could function as “a potentially powerful ally in the effort to strengthen US policy initiatives in Haiti,”[73] possibly because the US government assumes diaspora members have cultural understanding of Haiti but have resided in the US long enough to be willing to promote an agenda that is bilaterally beneficial.

Such hope is tempered by trepidation at illegal immigrants from Haiti. The “flow of illegal migrants” from Haiti that the US Department of State perceives includes “100,000 undocumented Haitian migrants…intercepted at sea by the US Coast Guard in the past two decades.”[74] However, emphasis should be placed on the fact that the bulk of these interceptions were made during Bill Clinton’s 1991-1994 term, when illegitimate military rule (which had ousted Aristide from Haiti) existed in Haiti. During that time, more than 67,000 illegal migrants to the US were interdicted.[75] Currently, the US Department of State reports an average of “fewer than 1,500 [annual]” interdictions for such offenses. However, it warns that “the prospect remains…for the renewal of higher flows of illegal migrants, particularly under conditions of political unrest or further economic downturn.”[76]

The week before President Martelly was sworn in as Haiti’s president in 2011, the Haitian legislature altered the country’s constitution to extend dual citizenship to Haitians abroad in an effort to compel Haitian-American diaspora members to become more vested in Haiti’s developmental trajectory.[77] While the instability of Haiti, which drives illegal diaspora migration, strains US-Haitian relations both developmentally and politically, the US recognizes legitimate migrants of the diaspora as powerful tools for furthering development of Haiti.


Importance of Diaspora in Rebuilding Haiti

Even prior to the 2010 earthquake, almost every development index consistently ranked Haiti near the bottom of its measurements.[78] The task ahead is difficult: Haiti must remedy both the deep-seated, structural inefficiencies that existed even before the earthquake and also address the devastation that the earthquake wreaked. The diaspora presents largely untapped human and capital resources for carrying out this twofold goal. This paper argues that the two types of development most capable of improving standards of living in Haiti are social and economic improvements, both of which the diaspora can contribute to significantly.


Diasporic Contributions to Economic Development

Traditionally, Haiti’s niche in the global economy has been agriculture and manufacturing, primary and secondary sector activities.[79] While Haiti could theoretically attempt to supersede its historic formula for economic success—economists widely accept that the tertiary and quaternary sectors are more lucrative, mostly because they deal with services and information in an increasingly technology-oriented world—other MDCs have largely captured the market in these sectors.[80] While 50.4 percent of the small segment of Haiti that is employed is actually occupied in providing services,[81] competition with more formally-educated populations of MDCs may be too stiff for unskilled Haitians – especially if the goal is job creation for the many unskilled, unemployed persons in Haiti. This paper therefore argues that Haiti’s best bet for economic stimulation is to revitalize its lackluster agricultural and manufacturing sectors and also capitalize on a renewed, potentially lucrative tourism industry.

The potency of agricultural reinvigoration is large. Coca-Cola is partnering with TechnoServe to engage in foreign direct investment in Haiti by developing more efficient methods to grow crops (specifically mangos) for Odwalla’s beverage, “Mango Tango,” sold in foreign markets.[82] The US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, among other organizations, are subsidizing the project.[83] While still in the works, estimates project that 25,000 farmers in Haiti will see a 100 percent increase in income as a result of the project’s job creation efforts between 2011 and 2016.[84] To succeed, the project needs strengthened infrastructure to export mangos, so Coca-Cola and its investors will also have to open new supply lines, thereby improving channels of transportation within the country for other types of economic activity.

The manufacturing of textiles and other goods is far from as robust as it used to be in Haiti. However, a hefty portion—19.4 percent[85]—of the Haitian economy is propped up by the manufacturing industry. US legislation such as HOPE I and II and the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act give Haitian textiles duty-free access to American markets coupled with US foreign direct investment in the form of the Caracol Industrial Park outside of Caracol, Haiti, which currently employs 1,600 Haitians, and other smaller forms of investment in order to stimulate textile production.[86] Sae-A Trading, a South Korean firm that produces apparel for Gap, Target, Wal-Mart, and other clothing stores, is the largest employer in Caracol park.[87] A byproduct of this industrial park is that in order to function with efficacy, it, like with Coca-Cola, must strengthen national infrastructure, of which other portions of the economy can take advantage. Continued expansion of secondary sector activity via diasporic contributions can lower the unemployment rate in Haiti, increase GDP, and result in a multiplier effect and a more robust economy that attracts more capital into the country.

The last underdeveloped portion of the Haitian economy is tourism. If the state can successfully sell Haiti as a country with rich cultural background and unique sightseeing destinations (which will involve actively funneling money—potentially from the diaspora—into preserving Haiti’s natural wonders), it could direct a large amount of foreign money to local Haitian businesses.


Diasporic Contributions to Social Development

Outside of economic improvements, the second target of the Haitian government, if it is serious about raising the standard of living of citizens, must be social improvements. A case study of positive social development that engages the diaspora (although not directly) is President Martelly’s taxing of international phone calls to and from Haiti at five cents per minute and of international money transfers at $1.50 each, which he pushed through in 2011 (without legislative approval).[88] He had ambitiously declared the tax money would be used to finance state education programs, which the government—for lack of resources and efficiency—has largely until recently left up to NGOs.[89] Martelly announced in March 2013 that $100 million had been collected to fund the education of 1,021,144 children (statistics on which his government has been vacillating greatly since the project’s inception and which the organization Haiti Grassroots Watch disputes to be 165,000 impacted children).[90] His own lack of accountability with the money notwithstanding, if Martelly can garner widespread support for the tax rather than sow resent over it in the diaspora community – which appears to be the prevailing sentiment at the moment[91] – he can use the ongoing stream of taxed money to fund any number of social reform programs, including state-sponsored hospitals and other welfare programs. To do so, Martelly will have to convince the Haitian diaspora community that they have a stake in the country’s development and also prove to them that he is not in fact misappropriating the funds they contribute.


Conclusion: The Problems With Current Engagment with the Haitian Diaspora

While Haiti’s proximity to the US and other international economic powerhouses and its retention of the structural skeleton of a multi-sector economy (from past activities) are optimistic signs that growth in the country is possible, issues hindering successful development include both intrinsic and already pervasive issues in the country as well as disconnects between the diaspora and the nation.


Internal Issues in Haiti that May Hinder Development

Firstly, the infrastructure of the country is weak. Channels of communication and transportation are not up-to-date, and therefore resources are either not shared or their distribution not coordinated efficiently enough, both spatially and across diverse portions of the economy. The problem is self-perpetuating: poor infrastructure leads to little economic development, which results in little motivation for investment in infrastructural improvements. In addition, economic activity is overwhelmingly concentrated in a few poles, including Port-au-Prince (with 2.1 million of the 10.1 million people in the country), Cap-Haïtien, and Les Cayes.[92]

Haiti, without the monetary capital to invest in itself, is also largely dependent on foreign aid, which comes in the form of a plethora of NGOs and foreign government aid, which does not function as a cohesive unit and which is attached to myriad different agendas. Foreign aid, while undeniably necessary for the country, ushers into the country the problem of outside players’ not understanding Haiti’s cultural or environmental background well enough to necessarily decide the best course of action for the country. For example, in 1994, Bill Clinton’s administration and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pressured Haiti to liberalize trade.[93] Annual US domestic subsidies to its rice farmers figure around $434 million (far higher than the $353 million it contributes to Haitian aid),[94] allowing the US to export what local Haitians call “Miami Rice” to Haiti at a lower price than that at which local Haitian farmers can sell their product. In 1980, Haiti was self-sufficient in terms of rice production. However, as a result of US action, roughly 90 percent of Haiti’s rice now comes from the US,[95] and 60 percent of its aggregate food from abroad.[96] These local farmers, no longer able to support themselves, were forced to migrate by the thousands to cities like Port-au-Prince, where they lived on the margins because of a plan Clinton now admits “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but [has] not worked.”[97]

In addition, NGOs and foreign governments are often pressured by their donors and taxpayers respectively to turn out quick results. Haiti’s issues are in most cases too deep-rooted to have quick fixes. Bill Clinton’s Caracol Industrial Park, for example, while a staggering and concrete example of foreign direct investment doing good in Haiti, is 1) of dubious environmental sustainability, having eroded levies in a portion of Haiti’s shores;[98] 2) not a comprehensive, overarching fix of all of Haiti so much as one example of how to stimulate its economy—in essence, for Haiti’s economy to truly turn around, several iterations of industrial park construction would have to take place; and 3) less of the paragon of ideal employment for Haitians than a means for Haitians to eke out an existence—given the marginal wages of its workers and subpar working conditions.[99]

Lastly, while the Haitian government is currently peaceful, any future instability could undermine present reconstruction efforts and deter international interest in providing aid.


Disconnect in Vesting the Haitian Diaspora in Haiti’s Development           

The diaspora and the Haitian government have historically had tense relations. Acute corruption in Haiti has discouraged diaspora members from channeling their talents into the country, which must ease its barriers to enterprise if it wishes to draw diasporic investment.[100] Currently, appeals to nationalism and “diaspora consciousness” have been regarded as enough to lure diasporic contributions to the ancestral home. Assumptions about the homogeneity of diaspora members (in terms of their affiliation with Haiti) ignore the nuances and multi-faceted quality of the diasporic individual’s circumstances. Until Haiti and other outside players interested in Haiti’s development can come to a comprehensive understanding of the diverse attributes of the diaspora community, they cannot maximize enlistment of diaspora members in Haiti’s growth.

In addition, while the multitude of charitable organizations founded by Haitian-Americans to alleviate poor conditions in Haiti have the power to effect positive change in the Caribbean country, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs notes that:

The bulk of Haitian voluntary organizations in the US center around regional associations that are named for the specific region, town, or village in Haiti within which they conduct their charitable work. Haitian institutions in the US largely mirror those in Haiti in that they are weak or barely functioning, are plagued with capacity and financial resource deficiencies, are inappropriate due to parallel purposes, and are extremely informal.[101]

The criticism is significant because the dearth of coordinated efforts and lack of organization on the part of these NGOs erodes their efficacy not only in bettering Haiti but also in gaining support from the American and international public.

Prime Minister Daniel Gėrard Rouzier famously declared in 2011 that “Haiti is open for business.”[102] Delivering on such a statement is a tall order: expansive efforts to aggressively develop Port-au-Prince and a few other economic centers economically might be in the works, but those cities are only a few economic poles of Haiti (albeit the most populous ones). For all of Haiti to truly be open for business, Rouzier must invest in development across the whole country. Diaspora engagement, while imperfectly employed at the moment, is one of his potential assets in doing so.

Katherine Fang (’17) is a Global Affairs major in Trumbull College. 

Works Cited

Agunias, Dovelyn Rannveig, and Kathleen Newland. “Developing a Road Map for Engaging Diasporas in Development: A Handbook for Policymakers and Practitioners in Home and Host Countries.” International Organization for Migration (2012). <>.

Central Intelligence Agency. “Haiti.” The World Factbook. 2013. <>.

Charles, Jacqueline, and Nadege Green. “Martelly to Haitians in South Florida: ‘Haiti has changed a lot’.” Miami Herald, December 10, 2012. <>.

Doyle, Mark. “US urged to stop Haiti rice subsidies.” BBC New,s October 4, 2010. <>.

The Economist. “Haiti: Still waiting for recovery.” The Economist, January 5, 2013. <>.

Ember, Carol R., Melvin Ember, and Ian Skoggard. “Jewish Diaspora in the Ancient World, Africa, and Asia.” In Encyclopedia of Diasporas. New York: Springer, 2005.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Jean-Claude Duvalier.” 2013. <>.

Fiering, Norman. The World of the Haitian Revolution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Forman, Johanna Mendelson, Hardin Lang, and Ashley Chandler. “The Role of the Haitian Diaspora in Building Haiti Back Better.” Center for Strategic & International Studies. (2011). <>.

Haiti Grassroots Watch. “Haiti – Open for Business.” Haiti Grassroots Watch, November 29, 2013. <>.

History of the Haitian Diaspora. Haitian Diaspora Federation. <>.

Jackson, Regine O. Geographies of the Haitian diaspora. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Laguerre, Michel S. “State, Diaspora, and Transnational Politics: Haiti Reconceptualised.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies. (1999): 633-651.

Largey, Michael. Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. “Diaspora.” A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: 1940. <>

McCallister, Jared. “A court ruling to deny citizenship to Dominican Republic-born Haitians will be challenged by demonstrators outside the Caribbean nation’s consulate in midtown this week.” NY Daily News, October 13, 2013. <>.

Merriam-Webster. “Diaspora.” <>.

Ross, Travis. “Michel Martelly’s education plan in Haiti marked by mismanagement and inflated claims.” Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, April 9, 2013. <>.

Safran, William. “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies. 1.1 (1991): 83-99.

US Department of State. “US Relations With Haiti.” Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2013. <>.

United States Geological Survey. “Magnitude 7.0 – Haiti Region.” Earthquake Hazards Program, 2013. <>.

Wah, Tatiana. “Engaging the Haitian Diaspora.” Cairo Review of Global Affairs, 2013. <>.

Watkins, Tate. “How Haiti’s Future Depends on American Markets.” The Atlantic, May 8, 2013. <>.

Zacaïr, Philippe. Haiti and the Haitian diaspora in the wider Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010.



[1] Tatiana Wah, “Engaging the Haitian Diaspora,” Cairo Review of Global Affairs. <>.

[2] Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, “Diaspora,” A Greek-English Lexicon, 1940, <>.

[3] Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, and Ian Skoggard, “Jewish Diaspora in the Ancient World, Africa, and Asia,” in Encyclopedia of Diasporas (New York: Springer, 2005).

[4] Ibid.

[5] William Safran, “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1:1 (1991): 83-99.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Michel S Laguerre, “State, Diaspora, and Transnational Politics: Haiti Reconceptualised,” Millennium – Journal of International Studies (1999): 633-651.

[8] Central Intelligence Agency, “Haiti,” The World Factbook, 2013, <>.

[9] Wah.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Michael Largey, Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006), 190-192.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Wah.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Jean-Claude Duvalier,” Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), <>.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Wah.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] United States Geological Survey, “Magnitude 7.0 – Haiti Region,” Earthquake Hazards Program, last modified 2013, <>.

[40] Wah.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “Haiti: Still waiting for recovery.” The Economist, January 5, 2013, <>.

[48] Ibid..

[49] Wah.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Jared McCallister, “A court ruling to deny citizenship to Dominican Republic-born Haitians will be challenged by demonstrators outside the Caribbean nation’s consulate in midtown this week,” NY Daily News, October 13, 2013, <>.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Johanna Mendelson Forman, Hardin Lang, and Ashley Chandler, “The Role of the Haitian Diaspora in Building Haiti Back Better,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2011, <>.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] US Department of State, “US Relations With Haiti,” Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (2013), <>.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Central Intelligence Agency.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Central Intelligence Agency.

[86] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Travis Ross, “Michel Martelly’s education plan in Haiti marked by mismanagement and inflated claims,” Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, April 9, 2013, <>.

[89] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[90] Ross.

[91] Jacqueline Charles and Nadege Green, “Martelly to Haitians in South Florida: ‘Haiti has changed a lot’,” Miami Herald, December 10, 2012, <>.

[92] Central Intelligence Agency.

[93] Mark Doyle, “US urged to stop Haiti rice subsidies,” BBC News, October 4, 2010, <>.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Jim Guinn, “USA Rice Efforts Result in Rice Food-Aid for Haiti,” USA Rice Federation, Jan. 10, 2010, <>.

[96] Doyle.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Tate Watkins, “How Haiti’s Future Depends on American Markets,” The Atlantic, May 8, 2013, <>.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Forman, Lang, and Chandler.

[101] Wah.

[102] “Haiti – Open for Business,” Haiti Grassroots Watch, November 29, 2011, <>.


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