Economic Problems of Latin America

By Seymour E. Harris | Go to book overview

Chapter XV Haiti

by DON D. HUMPHREY

HAITI is the most densely populated nation in the Western Hemisphere, with double the population of the Dominican Republic, which occupies almost two-thirds of the same island. The 10,700 square miles of mountainous terrain support an estimated population of over 3 millions. The total area, which is a little larger than Vermont, has a population about nine times as great.

The disproportion between population and resources is the more severe because of the lack of capital. Haiti is an agricultural economy literally without a plow. Consequently, the peasants live at the Malthusian level.

In the colonial period, Haiti was France's richest holding in this hemisphere. French is still the official language, but the peasants speak a patois or Creole. Following the revolution at the close of the eighteenth century, which established Haiti as the second independent republic in the New World, the plantation system tended to disappear, and the soil now is exploited primarily by small individual landholders.

Large-scale agricultural investment, which is almost entirely American, played only a minor role in the nation before the Second World War. The investment in sugar is estimated at $8 to $10 million and in bananas at $1.5 to $2 million. Plantation Dauphin, which was the principal producer of sisal, covered 12,000 to 15,000 acres before the war. Coffee, which is Haiti's leading export crop, grows wild or half wild and is harvested by the peasants, as are also cotton and cocoa.

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