One Is­land, two na­tions, lots of trou­ble

The African - - GLOBAL AFFAIRS - BY SI­MON CARTIERES

MAX, a young Haitian, lives in Pe­queño Haití in Santo Domingo but does not feel wel­come there. “Do­mini­cans want this en­tire is­land for them­selves,” he says, re­fer­ring to His­pan­iola, which is shared by Haiti and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

He pulls down his shorts to dis­play scars on his legs, in­flicted by a ma­chete-wield­ing Do­mini­can in an ar­gu­ment over pay­ment of a debt. A bar­ber a few streets away of­fers a Do­mini­can point of view of Haitians: they are “dirty and do not like to bathe”.

De­spite their shared pos­ses­sion of His­pan­iola a chasm sep­a­rates Haiti and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. Each coun­try is home to roughly 10m peo­ple, but the Do­mini­can Repub­lic’s GDP is nearly ten times that of Haiti (see chart).

The gap in mea­sures of health and ed­u­ca­tion is sim­i­larly large. The Do­mini­can Repub­lic’s gen­eral elec­tion on May 15th will un­der­score an­other con­trast: the dis­puted out­come of the first round of Haiti’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last Oc­to­ber has left the coun­try with­out a proper govern­ment for months.

This di­ver­gence in for­tunes has many causes, start­ing with ge­og­ra­phy. The Do­mini­can Repub­lic is the greener, rainier side of the is­land and has bet­ter farm­land. France, Haiti’s colo­nial over­lord, im­ported vast num­bers of slaves to work the sugar-cane fields.

Span­ish rule of Santo Domingo, as it was known, was less bru­tal, in part be­cause Spain had more lu­cra­tive pos­ses­sions in other parts of Latin Amer­ica to ex­ploit. When Haiti gained in­de­pen­dence in 1804 it was an over­pop­u­lated plan­ta­tion econ­omy.

The neigh­bours have fought for cen­turies. In­de­pen­dence Day in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic com­mem­o­rates the end of 22 years of Haitian oc­cu­pa­tion in 1844. Haitians still grieve over the Pars­ley mas­sacre on the bor­der in 1937, trig­gered by Do­mini­can com­plaints of cat­tle rustling and theft.

Nowa­days the main ten­sion is over the treat­ment of Haitians in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

In 1960 the two coun­tries were equally im­pov­er­ished. The Do­mini­can Repub­lic pulled ahead in part be­cause it was luck­ier in its dic­ta­tors. Rafael Tru­jillo, who ruled for 31 years un­til 1961, was a brute but at least en­cour­aged the de­vel­op­ment of in­dus­try.

What came af­ter was a sham democ­racy, backed by the United States, but it did al­low for the de­vel­op­ment of po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The Du­va­lier dy­nasty, which gov­erned Haiti from 1957 to 1986, sti­fled en­ter­prise, in part be­cause it mis­trusted mu­lat­tos, who dom­i­nated busi­ness.

The Do­mini­can edge in tourism comes partly from the coun­try’s forests, which cover more than 40% of the coun­try (against less than 4% in Haiti). It takes in dou­ble the amount in re­mit­tances, in part be­cause its di­as­pora is larger and lo­cated mainly in the United States and Spain. A big chunk of ex­pat Haitians are in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

Not all Do­mini­cans are shar­ing in the good for­tune. The sec­tors that em­ploy the most peo­ple, such as farm­ing and re­tail­ing, are not do­ing as well as less labour-in­ten­sive ac­tiv­i­ties, such as min­ing, fi­nance and tele­coms, points out the In­terAmer­i­can De­vel­op­ment Bank. The poverty rate has fallen more slowly than GDP has risen.

But Do­mini­cans are feel­ing pros­per­ous enough to make the re-elec­tion of the pres­i­dent, Danilo Me­d­ina, a near cer­tainty. His Do­mini­can Lib­er­a­tion Party has been in power for 12 years, but he has gov­erned only for four. Polls sug­gest he will win 60% of the vote in the first round.

He has been helped by the weak­ness of the op­po­si­tion Modern Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party (PRM), which split off from a party that is now aligned with Mr Me­d­ina. His mous­ta­chioed vis­age smiles down from count­less posters; Luis Abi­nader, the PRM’s can­di­date, is nearly in­vis­i­ble.

Across the muddy bor­der, most Haitians would gladly swap their prob­lems for those af­flict­ing the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. The growth rate in Haiti is a mis­er­able 1.2% and in­fla­tion is in dou­ble dig­its. Re­con­struc­tion af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in 2010 is pro­ceed­ing slowly.

Im­prove­ment will not come un­til Haiti has a fully func­tion­ing govern­ment. Three at­tempts to hold the sec­ond round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to choose a suc­ces­sor to Michel Martelly (who was a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian known as “Sweet Micky” be­fore he was pres­i­dent) have been post­poned.

Jo­cel­erme Privert, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the se­nate who now leads a tran­si­tional govern­ment, says he has one mis­sion: to re­store con­sti­tu­tional sta­bil­ity by over­see­ing the elec­tion of a new leader as quickly as pos­si­ble. “Hav­ing a pro­vi­sional pres­i­dent is seen as a malaise by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” he says.

A five-man “ver­i­fi­ca­tion com­mis­sion” ap­pointed by Privert is to re­port by the end of May on the con­duct of the first round, which was de­nounced as far­ci­cal by the can­di­date who came sec­ond, Jude Célestin.

The com­mis­sion will rec­om­mend whether to re­run the first round or to hold a runoff be­tween Célestin and Jovenel Moïse, who is Martelly’s pro­tégé.

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