Defining Poverty and Wealth: Is Haiti Poor?

We put this question to numerous Haitians. Below are some responses.

Konpè Filo has been one of Haiti’s most popular journalists since 1974. Arrested, tortured, and exiled by Duvalier in 1980, Konpè lived in numerous countries until he could return home when the dictatorship fell in 1986. Today he runs a widely watched daily TV show on Radio Tele Ginen Haiti.

That depends on how you define poverty and wealth. Is Haiti poor? No, I would say Haiti is a rich country. We have solidarity and community. We’re raised in compounds with common courtyards and we know that what you have, you have to share with your neighbors. You stand in front of your neighbor’s house and you ask, “Did you drink coffee already today?” You know that your success and your family’s success depend on the community’s well-being. That’s the model we have.

Haiti has other riches, too, like people who work hard for the global economy, in America, the Caribbean, everywhere. We have people working here, too, doing construction, producing agriculture and other products.

But it’s hard for a little country to rise up, especially in our case. We’re still paying a toll because of the independence we got [from France in 1804] in one of the best revolutions the world’s had. The war against us never ended when we got our independence. We helped other people liberate themselves and gain their sovereignty in South America [helping the liberator Simon Bolívar in Venezuela in 1817] and in [the Siege of Savannah in the revolutionary war in] America. We had our own revolution and we were exporting revolution, so there’s still an embargo against us,[1] a barrier blocking us. It’s like Cuba: if Cuba had support, if it weren’t blockaded, there’s no limit to what it could do.

Haiti could go far. But humanity has to become more solidarity-minded so the global economy doesn’t predominate and crush some of us.

And the wealthy need to understand that they can’t take their riches with them. What they have, they should use it for good, because it actually belongs to everyone. As Victor Hugo wrote, we’re all children of God.

Islande Henri is a 22-year-old aspiring artist from Carrefour-Feuilles. Her dream is to become a painter known throughout the world. (You can learn more about her artwork and dream here.)

Haiti would be a poor country if we didn’t have so many youth with so much capacity and talent. They want to work but they can’t, because they don’t get any support. You see other countries that maybe would be in the same condition as Haiti except their youth got supported and nurtured, got resources and jobs. If we had a way to take advantage of all the talent of young people here, this country would take wings and fly.

Selina Augustin (not her real name) grew up in the countryside, but moved with her family to a Port-au-Prince shantytown in the hopes of greater job opportunities. Since her husband was killed by an armed gang in 2004, she has raised the five surviving children of her original six alone. She’s been unemployed since the earthquake. When times were better and she could afford the merchandise, she sold small household goods on a street corner.

Rich? I don’t know, some people are rich. You see my kids? I don’t have one single thing to feed them today. You can’t survive in this country unless you have big connections. No one helps us. Where are we little people supposed to get the resources we need to feed our children or get them well when they’re sick? Two of my kids have a high fever but the doctor told me I had to buy pills for them and I can’t afford that. I ask God every morning, “Show me the way. Help me find some aid so these children don’t die on my hands.” I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how this country can get out of its deep hole. But first thing, they have to start doing something for us mothers who are trying to keep our children alive.

Iderle Brénus is an organizer and popular educator who has worked with small farmer and women’s groups throughout Haiti. She served as the coordinator of Vía Campesina for the Caribbean. Today she coordinates the Campaign for Food Sovereignty in Haiti and does trainings with the National Committee of Peasant Women and other groups.

Haiti is not poor because it has a population that’s very young and very active and which could be a fundamental resource if they could get good education. And Haiti isn’t poor either because the majority of people in the country are women, many of whom participate actively in the process of agricultural production, Haiti being essentially an agricultural country. Haiti isn’t poor also because it has natural resources which are rare and which haven’t yet been exploited. We have all this wealth in Haiti.

What Haiti needs now is unified people with the same vision and ideology, who recognize the importance of these resources and who can channel them to the well-being of the country. This necessitates educating youth, supporting women to give them more worth in society, and exploiting our natural resources while respecting biodiversity and environmental development and the planet, which is our mother.

Emanuela Paul is a student of sociology and business management. She is a member of the Dessalinian University Association (ASID), organizing for university reform and against privatization of state services and enterprises.

Haiti isn’t poor as a country, but there are classes of people who’ve been made poor while others are living in extraordinary opulence. There’s a small group who exploit the peasant sector and other marginalized classes, who benefit from all the riches and who’re enjoying them. The political class backing them benefit, too.

People say that Haiti doesn’t have enough resources and competence to satisfy its social needs. But how’s our money spent? It’s critical to look at our national budget, which really shows why Haiti is poor. So much has gone to pay the foreign debt.[2] Whose debt is that, and what was it spent on?

The budget doesn’t benefit the Haitian people. There’s no serious state financing of health programs or hospital administration. As for education, you can forget it. The poor are excluded from the budget.

The government lowered import taxes – some of them almost to zero – which makes it harder for us to produce. People in the Artibonite Valley, for example, can’t compete [with foreign goods]. If these farmers were supported, if agriculture were subsidized, they could produce much more.

But we have doors to exit by. We could change all this if we cut with the social and economic policies that have been systematically imposed since the 1980s. We have resources that are available and we can break with the leaders who have turned this country into a restavèk, child slave, with their neoliberal policies and their privatization of state resources. Plus we have our history, when slaves stood up in a movement for liberty, well-being, and riches for the peasants and the masses in general. We can establish policies which can give us the liberty we started fighting for in 1791.

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds,, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Photo by Ben Depp


[1] Nervous at the message the Haitian revolution would send to slaves of other countries, the U.S. refused to recognize Haiti’s autonomy, and led an international embargo, for Haiti’s first 58 years as an independent nation.

[2] Debt payments were 30.3% in FY2006, for example, and were projected to represent 27.3% of Haiti’s GDP in 2007. Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval, “Debt Cancellation for Haiti: No Reason for Further Delays,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, December 2007,