According to Haiti’s government, and independent sources, the country is experiencing a mini-boom in tourism. Or, there is at least a fair amount of tourism-related investment planned for the next few years. Prior to the devastating January 2010 earthquake, such news would not have been too surprising for Haiti. In the years leading up to the natural disaster, foreign investment poured in to Haiti, and export-related job growth surged. Indeed, with the support of the United Nations, the country’s quality of governance was on a clear path of progress.
Now, after the setback of 2010, and a reconstruction process still far from complete, many outsiders are again questioning Haiti’s position for enduring development. If we take a much longer view – reaching back into the nineteenth century – Haiti has a very long experience with foreign doubters. In truth, Haiti’s early international relations were roiled by much more than mere skepticism abroad. As the first independent black state in the Americas, Haiti was singled out for diplomatic and economic ill will. After it won its independence from France in 1804, Haiti suffered enormously because it was seen as a threat to countries still utilizing black slave labor. In the twentieth century, the United States and other key states removed formal economic sanctions motivated by racism. But, the Cold War period brought a different kind of negative foreign influence in the form of “anything but communism” support for a repressive dynasty of dictators, the Duvaliers.
While it is clear that Haiti does not face the same kind of international challenges that it once did, it is premature to argue that these historical legacies have been fully erased. Yes, the island state has key boosters like former US President Bill Clinton, who have helped lure new investment to Haiti. And international NGOs have flocked to the country, though not all agree on the benefits of all this development aid. Even so, anecdotal evidence – and some of the argument presented by the activist Randall Robinson – suggests that Haiti is still battling an image problem abroad. Who hasn’t heard the often-stated fact that Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas? And, tellingly, that fact is often presented as though it is self-evident, since we are talking about Haiti. Over time, sustained good governance and steady economic growth should help erase these negative perceptions of the past. For Haiti’s sake, let’s hope that longstanding negative images of the country – once tied to pro-slavery interests – fade away soon.
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.