This spring’s presidential election in Haiti sadly re-enforced the country’s blighted reputation. The paradox is that today Haiti has a chance, perhaps the best in its modern history, to escape from its long history of extreme poverty and turmoil.
A mere one-hour flight from Miami, the country struggles with poverty levels akin to the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But, whereas many parts of the world are extremely poor because of their isolation, Haiti is extremely poor despite its proximity to the world’s largest market. Now, Haiti can turn its geography into a competitive advantage, but only if the United States helps.
Haiti recalls a famous lament once heard about another US neighbor, Mexico: “So far from God and so close to the United States.” As with Mexico, Haiti’s proximity to the US has cut both ways in its history. Proximity to the US should, of course, be an advantage for exports and attracting investment.
However, proximity has also meant US meddling. Haiti was the second country, after the US, to win its independence from Europe, following a slave rebellion in 1804. But America regarded Haiti as a threat rather than as a colleague in freedom, refusing to extend diplomatic recognition until after the outbreak of the Civil War, which finally brought an end to slavery in the US.