The history of the two Great Antilles states is remarkably similar, but it is fundamentally different from the 19th century onwards. In both states, the original culture of the Taino, from the beginning of Spanish colonization in 1493, was almost destroyed. The rich income opportunities from the cultivation of coffee, sugar and wood were far too valuable for the Spanish occupiers. Already in the middle of the 16th century the native population of the two islands was almost exterminated. For good reason, hardly any resident of Cuba or Haiti today, quite the opposite of the Latin American mainland, will call himself a mestizo.
While Cuba was firmly in Spanish hands until the beginning of the “long revolution” in 1868, with the exception of a brief English rule in 1762, the regime in Haiti was replaced by France in 1700. The French king had as much interest in the exploitation of the island as the Spanish crown. The populations of both islands were of course not involved in all decisions. They now consisted of white Europeans and a large proportion of black slaves from West Africa, as the indigenous population was decimated by introduced epidemics. In the course of the 18th century, both islands prospered, with Haiti already reaching its economic peak at the time of the French Revolution, while the Cuban heyday only began with the North American trade in the 19th century and Cuba was to become the richest colony in the world in 1868.
In 1868, an extreme unequal distribution of the wealth created, such as the emergence of nationalist ideas, led the Cuban subjects to a first serious uprising, which lasted for ten years and demanded everything from the Spaniards militarily. The momentum of “Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité” captured Haiti much earlier than Cuba. At the latest with the slave uprising of 1791, organized by “Maroons”, black slaves who fled to the inaccessible mountain regions, who led guerrilla attacks against the French since the 1750s. Both attempts failed. What did not fail, however, was the formation of an “invincible hatred of the oppressors”, as the poet of modernismo, José Martí, put it. This independentismo is what characterizes all subsequent Latin American attempts at revolution, as well as the doctrine of today’s socialist Cuba.
However, the failed slave uprising of 1791 brought something useful: the abolition of slavery in Haiti. 95 Years before the end of slavery on Cuban soil. After turmoil as chaotic as the post-revolutionary years in the motherland of France, Napoléon Bonaparte tried by military force to keep the colony in his possession, which was ultimately doomed to failure due to the massive Haitian resistance. In particular, the reintroduction of slavery mobilized the masses. The French Emperor was not ashamed to use Polish units, which can still be recognized today by their blue-eyed descendants in Haiti. On January 1, 1804, Haiti proclaimed its independence from France.
While Haiti made the bold but uncertain leap to independence, Cuba’s independence was still in the realm of fantasy at that time. Tenacious wars of independence against the Spanish lasted until 1898 and finally brought about the change. Mind you, not for the Cuban revolutionaries, but for the United States of America. The US intervened militarily, using as a pretext a US cruiser exploding in Havana, ending any revolutionary movement. The Spanish elites retained their privileges and positions, but had to accept the instructions of the Americans. For the U.S. elites, control of Cuba was an important goal, both geostrategic and economic, that now seemed to be coming true. All dreams of independence had been shattered by this time.
The Republic of Cuba, thus created from 1902, was nothing more than a pseudo-republic by America’s grace. The so-called Platt Amendment allowed the Americans far - reaching rights of passage in Cuba, such as control of Cuban domestic and foreign policy. This presumption of a democratically constituted state is also the basis for the current existence of the US naval base Guantanamo. The Cuban Revolutionary Wars represented a happy fate for the United States, in the spirit of its Manifest Destiny, especially since they had made several attempts in the past to acquire the island from the Spanish crown.
The U.S. government was well aware that permanent control of Cuba could only be achieved by “boots on the ground,” which they did in every possible deviation from their goals, for example in the years 1906 to 1909, 1912, 1917 and 1923. This usually served to secure American investments in Cuba, which had multiplied in the course of Cuban North American trade since the 1870s. U.S. dominance over the Cuban economy was further strengthened in 1904 with the Trade Reciprocity Treaty, which guaranteed Cuban agricultural products a 20 percent tariff relief on U.S. imports, but reduced the duty on American products by 40 percent. As early as 1895, US investors had invested $ 95 million in Cuba. In the 1920s, American companies controlled two-thirds of Cuba’s sugar production, as well as large parts of its infrastructure and utilities. In 1955, four years before the successful socialist revolution of the Revolutionaries led by the brothers Castro and Ernesto Guevara, US investors controlled 90 percent of telecommunications and electricity supply, 50 percent of train connections and 40 percent of cane sugar production. The interested reader can easily imagine that of the enormous yields, only a small part remained with the Cuban population. Cuba had become a magnet for US investment in the immediate vicinity of the American “Heartland”, which the US was not ready to give up without a fight.
While the status quo could be maintained in Cuba after the failed revolution of 1898, Haiti initially seemed to develop a kind of pre-modern democracy, in which, of course, only the mulatto descendants of the European conquerors determined. This system was intended as a kind of divide et impera, which should enable a balance between the economically rich layer of European descendants and the often black-dominated officer ranks. The system failed, which led to the intermediate division of the country into a northern and southern half. After the violent reunification of Haiti in 1822, the country was dominated until the 20th century by a “politique de doublure”, in which the balance of power was far from clear. The National Party, which was dominated by blacks, mainly from the military, and the Liberal Party of the urban elites constantly fought in a bloody way for power in small Haiti. After serious unrest in 1915, the United States decided to intervene militarily and established an American administration on the island until 1934. The Americans feared a possible influence by European powers on Haiti and the consequent loss of free access to the Panama Canal.
While Cuba was a top priority for the US administration due to its high level of direct investment, Haiti was only seen as a second-class interest destination. Thus, the US maintained diplomatic relations with the state of Haiti only from 1862. The American plantation owners of the southern states were deeply concerned about the successful uprising of the black Haitian slaves and successfully tried to get the US government to keep quiet if possible “the revolution that was not allowed to be, that seemed unthinkable” and not to recognize it until the secession of the southern states in 1862. Despite the limited “access” of Americans to Haiti, more goods were exported to the island state in the mid-19th century than to any other state in Latin America. Thus, American-Haitian economic relations did not have the character of investment and exploitation as in Cuba, but for the most part, with the exception of investments in infrastructure, were purely trade-based. However, trade relations were not relations among equals. Due to Haiti’s international isolation – apart from France and the USA – a mercantilist economic order had developed, which greatly favored the USA. This type of" partnership " was by no means limited to Haiti, but represented the economic policy strategy for the entire Caribbean region.
While in Cuba the wealth for American investors and local elites could be steadily increased until the socialist revolution in 1959, the economic situation in Haiti has been more difficult since independence in 1804. A distribution of land, comparable to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, ensured that the productivity of agricultural production fell rapidly. The now small-scale plantations were mainly used for domestic consumption, while export volumes decreased drastically. In essence, the “commitment” of the Americans and their support of changing authoritarian regimes, up to the first free elections in 1990, did not change the economic misery. Haiti is still one of the poorest countries in the world.
The reasons for Haiti’s economic poverty are manifold, as are the relative wealth of Cuba, and cannot, of course, be fully dealt with here. After the attempt at a historical-political classification of both countries with their respective colonial or postcolonial pasts, some reasons stand out. In Cuba, through the continuity of the regimes until the socialist revolution, a capitalist plantation economy could be maintained – quite at the latest technical level with additional industrial and tourist sectors – while in Haiti the redistribution of land as an attempt to create a fairer society permanently failed. Of course, in addition to a failed economic concept, constant unrest and attempts to overthrow various influential groups struggling for power also play a major negative role. Foreign aid, for example from the USA or France, could not be expected, since they regarded the small state only as a sales market of their own economies and as a geopolitical sphere of interest. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, added to the catastrophic situation.
In Cuba, on the other hand, from 1959 the socialist government was able to resort to means that Haiti never had. Thanks to modern agriculture, industrial facilities, well-trained specialists, as well as technical-economic cooperation with the USSR, the country was able to maintain its relative prosperity and further expand it in the following decades. If we want to compare the systems of both countries from today’s perspective, these historical developments must not be ignored. In view of the “failed state” of Haiti, the West must nevertheless put up with the question of why, despite intensive development aid for many decades – Haiti has the largest density of NGOs in the world – the country continues to remain in an impossible state, even though Haiti is still seen as a partner of the Western world.
On the basis of various empirical data, the full extent of the divergent development of Cuba and Haiti becomes clear. For example, per capita income in Haiti in 2020 ($1,188) is 10 percent below 1970 levels (in real terms, both in local currency and in U.S. dollars). The same data show that per capita income in Cuba has increased by 200 percent (to $ 6,804) since 1970.
Looking at the inflation rates of both countries, it is noticeable that Cuba, except for short episodes in the 90s and 00s, has moderate rates of 0 to 5 percent. In Haiti, the situation is dramatic at many times. Not only is the inflation rate on average at least 10 percent, but there are often extreme upward peaks of up to 92 percent, such as in 2000.
The development of trade balances is worrying in both countries. In Cuba, the trade deficit in the 2010s was consistently between minus 5 percent and minus 9 percent. In Haiti, the figures ranged from minus 18 percent to minus 25 percent over the same period. Both countries therefore have massive problems successfully participating in world trade and cannot produce much of their much-needed goods themselves.
The situation on the labour market is gratifying for Cuba, with only 3.8 percent unemployment in 2020. The country was able to steadily reduce its unemployment rate from over 8 percent in the 1990s. In Haiti, the rate rose from about 7 percent in the 1990s to up to 16.8 percent in 2007, with a slight downward trend.
Life expectancy in Cuba in 2019 is 78 years, comparable to Western countries. In Haiti, people reach an average of only 64 years of age. The data show that since 1960, life expectancy has increased by 23 years in Haiti and by 15 years in Cuba. In view of crises and the decline in per capita income in Haiti, this development seems to be based on sustained development aid rather than on its own progress. This is also indicated by the data on health expenditure in relation to GDP. While in Cuba in 2018 approx. While 11 percent of GDP was spent on health, in Haiti it was only about 7.5 percent, which means virtually no improvement since the 1990s. Per capita spending in current US currency points to the same picture.
A similar picture emerges in education. If 99.75 percent of people over the age of 15 in Cuba can read and write, the figure in Haiti is only 61.7 percent. These values are no surprise. Education spending relative to GDP in Haiti is only 2.8 percent in 2018, while in Cuba it is 12.7 percent in 2010. In Haiti, spending has at least tripled since the 1990s, while in Cuba, due to the higher starting level, it has only doubled.
The CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) indicates how strong the corruption felt by the population is among officials and politicians. Cuba is in the top positive third of all countries worldwide (63rd place out of 180), Haiti is in 170th place out of 180.
The author could name countless other indicators that show a generally bad situation in both countries. Compared to Haiti, whose population has virtually never achieved even moderate prosperity in its history, Cuba is in a comparatively good position. The Cuban government finally survived the shock of the 1990s, the dissolution of the USSR, and improved significantly in many areas. Haiti, on the other hand, is still one of the poorest states in the world, despite its early independence and long affiliation to the Western sphere of influence, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, the failure of states such as Haiti is also evidence of the failure of the Western world in economic but also in human terms. No one in the offices of Berlin, Paris or Washington should be surprised at the weariness of the West and the rapprochement with other systems.
Here are the sources.