Haiti: The Aftershocks of History Review

We don’t always have books that cover Haiti specifically, but we feel that a good cross-section of books on poverty alleviation, development economics, non-profit operations, and Haiti provides the best opportunity for professional development.  This month, however, we have a book that is all about the country we love – Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois.

The book starts from the beginnings of colonialism and proceeds all the way up to present-day Haiti.  The context of history definitely gives a better perspective on some of the problems that we currently experience while in-country.  While there are many takeaways from the book, the following 5 were insightful.

  • Regime changes. It seemed as though there has been a real problem with peaceful transition of power throughout Haiti’s history.  Revolt after revolt brought someone new to power, but nothing ever seemed to change.  This disrespect for the political process and attitude of using violence to incite change has roots from the very beginning.
  • Constitution changes.  How much do we take the U.S. Constitution for granted?  It was written once and there is a clear process for revising it that requires a lot of political buy-in.  This is not so in Haiti. When a president didn’t like something in the Haitian constitution, he just re-wrote it to make it more favorable.  The lack of solid footing in the nation’s highest legal document is another strike against the political process that has implications to this day.
  • Property rights. There appears to be an utter disrespect for property rights throughout the nation – something else that we simply take for granted in the U.S.  After breaking up the large plantations, leaders seemed hesitant to give land to the uneducated peasant class.  Even in the past 60 years, there has been a track record of the government simply taking land and giving it to foreign investors without any thought of compensating the holders of that land.
  • Skin color/class.  Coming from a split-race society in the U.S., and knowing the trouble our nation has had with race throughout its history, one might think that other societies with just one people group of the same skin color wouldn’t have those problems. Surprisingly, in Haiti, an elite status has been given to lighter-skinned Haitians, while poorer, darker-skinned citizens comprise the peasant class.
  • Foreign intervention.  The number of times foreign countries (largely the U.S.) have intervened in Haiti with largely detrimental effects is staggering.  Governments or NGOs, take your pick, have done wonders in undermining the entire farming economy, eradicating the indigenous pig supply, creating a food-aid subculture, and introducing cholera to the masses.  It’s clear that anytime we intervene, we must consider whether we’re helping or actually hurting. Something we take very seriously at Espwa.

This book was a great place to start gaining some familiarity with Haiti’s beginnings.  Recommended for anyone with a vested interest in the country.


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