Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Haiti's diaspora

It's difficult to underestimate the tragedy of Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti. I first learned of the catastrophe in the comments of this Marginal Revolution post, where Tyler Cowen was talking about how tourism was slowly taking off. With tens of thousands of dead and the country's infrastructure and capital destroyed, it's difficult to see how Haiti can recover.

If it does, the Haitian diaspora will play a critical role in financing a recovery. Haiti, like other Caribbean countries, is an island nation with a history defined by demographics: the destruction of the indigenous populations, the forced settlement of African slaves and the migration of Europeans attracted by prosperity of the sugar economy, followed by economic decline and migration. Haiti's independence came quite early, as African slaves revolted against brutal French rule and held off successive invaders for more than a century to become the second independent state of the Americas and the first modern black republic. Perhaps because of the subsequent depopulation--perhaps a third of the country's population died in the war--and Haiti's self-identification as a homeland for the African diaspora, the nation was briefly a destination for free African-American immigrants. By the early 20th century, Haiti's terrible poverty and political instability changed this altogether, with the beginnings of seasonal migration to the sugar cane fields of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, followed by a shift to North America.

The population growth rate in Haiti's rural areas has been lower than the rate for urban areas, even though fertility rates are higher in rural areas. The main reason for this disparity is outmigration. People in rural areas have moved to cities, or they have emigrated to other countries, mostly the United States and the Dominican Republic. An estimated 1 million people left Haiti between 1957 and 1982.

Many of the emigrants in the 1950s and the 1960s were urban middle-class and upper-class opponents of the government of François Duvalier (1957-71). Throughout the 1970s, however, an increasing number of rural and lower-class urban Haitians emigrated, too. In the 1980s, as many as 500,000 Haitians were living in the United States; there were large communities in New York, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Thousands of Haitians also illegally emigrated to the United States through nonimmigrant visas, while others entered the United States without any documentation at all.

The first reports of Haitians' arriving in the United States, by boat and without documentation, occurred in 1972. Between 1972 and 1981, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reported more than 55,000 Haitian "boat people" arrived in Florida. The INS estimated that because as many as half of the arrivals escaped detection, the actual number of boat people may have exceeded 100,000. An unknown number of Haitians are reported to have died during their attempts to reach the United States by sea.

Though poorer than earlier immigrants, the boat people were often literate and skilled, and all had families who could afford the price of a passage to Florida. About 85 percent of these boat people settled in Miami.

[. . .]

Since the early twentieth century, the Dominican Republic has received both temporary and permanent Haitian migrants. The International Labour Office estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 Haitians resided in the Dominican Republic in 1983. About 85,000 of them lived on cane plantations. In the early 1980s, about 80 to 90 percent of the cane cutters in the Dominican Republic were reported to be Haitians. Through an accord with the Haitian government, the Dominican Republic imported Haitian workers to cut cane. In 1983 the Dominican Republic hired an estimated 19,000 workers. Evidence presented to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Slavery revealed that the Dominican Republic paid wages that were miserably low and that working and living conditions failed to meet standards set by the two governments. According to some reports, Haitian cane cutters were unable to leave their workplaces, and they were prevented from learning about the terms of the contracts under which they had been hired.

Emigration helped moderate Haiti's population growth. Furthermore, annual remittances from abroad, estimated to be as high as US$100 million, supported thousands of poor families and provided an important infusion of capital into the Haitian economy. At the same time, emigration resulted in a heavy loss of professional and skilled personnel from urban and rural areas.

The continued immiseration of the Haitian economy after the 1980s has certainly not decrease the economic incentive for leaving the country, even with the ever-present risk of death, most recently evidenced by a 2009 shipwreck of a boat of Haitian migrants in the Turks and Caicos. What former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called the tenth département plays a critical role in Haiti's economy. Migration helps ameliorate terribly low level of human development with remittances providing funding for children's education, while consumption of goods plays a critical role.

Where do Haitians live? Haitians live in the countries with which they have foreign relations, with the United States, with the Dominican Republic, with its Caribbean neighbours, with Francophone aid partners like Canada/Québec and France. The modern diaspora is concentrated particularly in North America, with major concentration of Haitian migrants in the United States in New York City and Florida's Miami-Dade County, in the latter community, geographically closest to Haiti, most visibly in the Little Haiti neighbourhood. The Haitian diaspora in Canada is concentrated overwhelmingly in Québec. Québec's historically close relations with Haiti, the other large officially Francophone society in the Americas, a traditional destination for Québec's foreign aid and a source of Francophone immigrants. Canada's Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, was born in Haiti herself. More than 1400 Canadians are missing in Haiti. The islands of the French Caribbean also have large numbers of migrants. In the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, pervasive racism renders the lives of Haitians and of Dominicans of Haitian descent exceptionally difficult. In 1937, in fact, Trujillo's genocidal Paisley Massacre killed tens of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, as chillingly described by Edwidge Danticat in her 1999 novel The Farming of Bones.

Haitians in the diaspora, especially those of foreign citizenship, as observed in 2005 by Ericq Pierre, face a difficult situation, with suspected disloyalty coexisting with their homeland's dependence on their prestige and their moneys.

Although the legislation on nationality leaves many issues open, things are even more complex on the emotional level. It appears that when you change your nationality, for any reason, you somehow feel still more Haitian, still more deeply a native son, especially if you keep some roots in the country. Unfortunately, in the eyes of current laws, one is not completely so. It’s unfair; it’s frustrating; but that’s the way it is until the rules of the game are changed.

The naturalized Haitian feels in his heart that he has never stopped being Haitian, so he generally pays little attention to the legal ramifications that his naturalized condition can have for him in Haiti itself. When he is in Haiti, he rarely wears his adopted nationality on his sleeve. He generally reveals it only when forced to do so, and only to get out of a tight situation. Some even hide it like a shameful disease.

There are several reasons for this, of which a few are rightfully linked to the uncertain status of the naturalized person who returns to live in his native country. A naturalized person is assured to stay in his adoptive country, not return to live near-permanently in his native country. That carries clear risks. These “hybrid” countrymen, who are not entirely Haitian nor entirely foreign, are more often than you would think victims of the arbitrary and high-handed behavior so common in Haiti. In addition, Haitian politicians are suspicious of a member of the diaspora who wants to go into politics. They consider him as taking the foreigner’s side.

Don’t they say that there was an unwritten rule under the François Duvalier regime that allowed those exiled Haitians who wanted to go into politics to quickly be regranted their citizenship as soon as they set foot back on Haitian soil? Unfortunately, the idea behind this “generosity” was the power to throw these exiles into prison with no obligation to report to the authorities of their adopted country. Thus, more people than we think have fallen victim to their dual nationality.

In fact, not until the adoption of the legislation governing the privileges granted to native Haitians and their descendants who have acquired another nationality ( Ref: Le Moniteur of August 12, 2002 and Claude Moise Editorial in Le Matin of October 7-10, 2005), it was obvious that Haitians who have adopted a foreign nationality were among the members of the universal diaspora the ones who were the most downtrodden and abused by the laws of their country of origin. But other forms of exclusion are still in force. The Haitian authorities seem to be interested in them only when they bring back awards for excellence or when they send money. Then they rush to invite them to Haiti to appear in public with them and exhibit them proudly as very special specimens of Ayiti Toma.

If Haiti is to recover, it will need foreign help, including help from its diaspora. It certainly will grow larger: Canada has already fast-tracked Haitian immigrants, while pressure towards the same end is growing in the United States. In the end, a Haiti detached from the globalized economy by its poverty can only be aided by being brought back into globalization's networks. These include globalization's migratory networks.


Vancouver realtor said...

History shows us that the destiny of Haiti has been difficult and the earthquake has the biggest impact on its destiny. That's why the international help is inevitable. I'm glad that Canada has made quick decision about fast tracking of immigrants from Haiti. I believe that further loosening of legislation for immigrants will be essential.


David Alexander said...

I'd argue that the main reason for Haitians keeping their citizenship status secret at home is to prevent other Haitians from taking advantage of them. In Haiti, once people discover that you're from the first world, there's a magical perception that you're rich regardless of one's status in the first world. I'd also note that for many Haitians, citizenship isn't something that they aspire toward, but merely something that they'll do to maintain whatever benefits come with it. Otherwise, most Haitians aren't the kind of people that sing the praises of their adopted country, and a sizable number view it as an extended temporary stay with the hopes of returning and retiring back "home", a dream that doesn't pan out for most. Even for those that came as political refugees, they view the United States as the instigator behind their perpetual exile from their native home, so citizenship isn't something to be proud of, but merely something necessary to make the stay tolerable.

As for the diaspora in North America, you're correct in noting its concentration. It's rather obvious for Haitians to go to Quebec given the shared language and religion, just as how Anglophone Caribbeans find Ontario to be a sensible starting point for their homes in Canada. As for the States, New York and Miami are the cores, but there's a sizable number in Boston with smaller cores in Chicago and Philadelphia.