Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth -- with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
1. The official language is French. When most of your potential trading partners (people from whom you could adapt ideas) speak English or Spanish, that is not a good thing. When most of your population speaks Creole rather than the official language, that is an even worse thing.
2. As ruthless dictators go, Duvalier may have been a great deal worse than those in the Dominican Republic.
3. I have enormous respect for Paul Farmer as a courageous, caring person, but I doubt that he has the answer to economic development. I am not saying that I have the answer, but I would feel more optimistic about a country that was getting its economic advice from somebody who has thought about economic and political systems. Someone like Douglass North or William Easterly--or even Jeff Sachs.