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Case Study:



Haitian sugar exports




White sugar (pounds)



Raw sugar (pounds)



Figure 1: Source: Haiti: the Politics of Squalor


As can be seen in Figure 1, the production of sugar drastically fell in Haiti at the beginning of the 19th century, mostly as a consequence of ten years of civil war. Before, Haiti produced more sugar than all of the British colonies combined (Rotberg  31); the magnitude of Haiti’s sugar exports during the 19th century is outlined in Figure 2. In 1789, 4100 ships entered and left the port of Saint-Domingue, with more than half from the United States (Rotberg  32). The production of Haiti represented 40% of the value of France’s foreign trade, the biggest contribution of a single colony to its colonizing metropolis (Rotberg  29).


Haitian sugar exports in constant and current prices


Constant prices


Current prices













Figure 2: Source: Haiti: the Politics of Squalor


However, by 1802 the production of sugar had dropped by between two-thirds and three-quarters and by 1842, (Rotberg 50) it was estimated that no more sugar was produced for exports. (Rotberg 71). This will be further discussed later on.


Sugar plantations need 3 elements to be prosperous: land, manpower and capital.


- Land

        The revolution had destroyed most of the sugar cane plantations        since these were located on plains, easily accessible by the        revolutionaries, unlike the coffee plantations which were mostly        found in the mountains. In addition, of the remaining land on the        island, most had lost its fertility through many years of intensive        use. (Rotberg  38)


- Manpower

After several upheavals of the late 18th century, there only remained between a third and a half of the initial 500,000 African captives, 20,000 of the 30,000 free mixed-bloods and free Africans and 5,000 to 10,000 of the 40,000 whites. Furthermore, another source of labor had been cut off: the forced labor provided by new African prisoners. Between 1784 and 1791, the annual average number of kidnapped Africans who actually made it alive to Haiti was 29,000 (Rotberg 38). Of these, about a third died during the first three years of hard labor. After the revolution, no more Africans were brought over.


- Capital

With the revolution, most of Haiti’s trading partners did not want to trade with the country any longer, fearing the spread of the revolution within their own colonies. Furthermore, most of the investors living in the country had either been killed or had fled for safety. Due to this, the country was lacking the necessary investment to keep the economy going. By the mid-18th century, the price of sugar had fallen, pushing even more investment away from this export commodity (Rotberg 38)


As a consequence of these three factors, by independence in 1804, cotton, indigo and sugar had disappeared as Haiti’s main exports. Coffee production, though still important, fell by 25% (Rotberg 56).


Post-independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines ruled for a short period (1804-1806). Later on, the country was divided in two parts: the North and the South. The South was ruled by Pétion and the North by Christophes. The two rulers were quite distinct. Christophes imposed coercive labor and used British foreign capital to promote sugar, indigo and coffee production (Rotberg  62). Through these measures, he was able to bring prosperity back in his half of the country. In the North, Pétion employed laissez-faire methods of administration. He dismantled the plantation structure and started distributing state-purchased arable land to peasants, army men, etc. A general resentment towards intensive agriculture arose and the peasants did not want to produce sugar, coffee, nor indigo. After more then a decade of instability, the Haitians wanted to cultivate their land for personal consumption, leaving a small share for trade. This pushed the economy towards recession and decay (Rotberg  61). At the end of his reign, Petion tried to implement forced labor measures like his neighbor in the North, but these were unwelcome and led to fleeing of Haitians to the mountains. (Rotberg 62)   


Reality of migration

A person will migrate if the comparative utility of staying is inferior to comparative utility of leaving. They would move from low earnings to high earnings, poor living conditions to better living conditions (Perusek 5). However, these judgments are only based on expectations. The person thinks that the conditions abroad are better, but does not know for sure. The accuracy of the rational calculations is thus not guaranteed.


Lee’s factors of migration are the following (Perusek 5):

1. Factors associated with the place of origin

- Conditions of living, earnings, political condition, economic prosperity,…

2. Factors associated with the place of destination

- Conditions of living, possible earnings, political condition, demand for labor

3. Intervening obstacles

- Distance

4. Personal factors

- Fear of the unknown, adventurousness


Migrants are therefore rational calculators, and factors in both their home country and the prospect country affect their decision to move. There is a battle between a push from the home country and a pull from the receiving country (Perusek 5)


In Haiti, there is no push versus pull factor. We only see a push from the home country (Perusek 6). No matter what the conditions of the receiving country are, Haitians will move whether there is demand for labor or not. In that case, why do they keep migrating? This is possibly because living conditions in Haiti are far worse than in most receiving countries.


In 1914 constant prices, exports per capita were estimated at $6 until the 1890s and the price of coffee and logwood, the two main exports, dropped (Perusek 7). This led to a decrease in the absolute quantity of exports. Between 1910 and 1914, the value of exports per capita dropped by more than 25% (Perusek 7). With an economy based on exports, the peasants’ income fell at the same rate.


In the late 19th century, the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic was not clearly defined (Perusek 11). Haiti was more populated, so people naturally moved toward the neighboring country. It is estimated that currently 100,000 Dominicans of Haitian descendant live on western part of the Dominican Republic (Perusek 11). Emigration increased with the rise of the sugar industry in early 20th century. The total number of migrants in that country is unclear but it is estimated at more then Cuban amount, 37,000 between 1912 and 1919. Between May 1915 and May 1921, 81,000 Haitians fled to Cuba (Perusek 10). All this even though conditions in the adoptive country were not better. In Cuba, they endured the following conditions:

§         quasi-slavery

§         living in shacks

§         left to find their own food

§         travel at their own expense. (Perusek 12)


The Haitian government tried to stop the flow of migrants but it did not work. In 1928, it was made illegal. The Dominican Republic closed its border in 1930, but this had no effect. Only the Trujillo massacre, which killed more than 25,000 living on the border, checked it for a while (Perusek 13).


Why did migration continue? Economic expansion in the Dominican Republic. The growth of the sugar industry greatly influenced migration toward the Dominican Republic, but the migration continued even after decline of the industry. A better solution might have been found by looking at the opportunities for labor at home. In Haiti, there was less and less land available because of the rising population density (Perusek 14). Until the 1890s, the value of exports had been able to keep pace with the growth of the population (Perusek 14). In the 1910s, the value of exports dropped drastically. Haitians were left with two choices, either migrate or starve. There were no mechanisms in place to increase productivity. In other Caribbean countries, American and European capital came in quite easily. This did not occur in Haiti. At independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines made holding of land by foreigners illegal. It was only in 1915, through American invasion, that the constitution was modified to allow foreign ownership of land. Following this, the first attempts at large-scale agriculture by American interests failed, discouraging subsequent foreign investment (Perusek 15). Furthermore, most of the Haitian labor did not have savings which greatly reduced their incentive to take risks with new techniques, a crucial step in the innovation and improvement of production (Perusek  15). There was also a rise in kleptocracy with governments more interested in the spoils of the presidential office than the economic development of Haiti (Perusek 15). Coupled with peasants’ extreme sensitivity towards changes in food prices and in export markets (sugar), these factors increased their vulnerability and thus their incentive to migrate to neighboring countries.



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