Landscapes of Development: The Haitian Peasantry and the Historical Evolution of Haiti’s Landscape
In former colonies like Haiti, studying landscape shift can provide unique insight into the impact of public policies and social institutions. Geographers have focused on human culture as the agent in alterations of the physical landscape since the 1920s. 3 In Haiti, studying landscape shift provides a particularly important perspective on Haitian history because of the central role that shifts in human-environmental relationships have played in some of the country‟s most important transitions. Plantation agriculture completely changed the ecological and the racial landscapes of the island, transforming a forest sparsely inhabited by Amerindians into a black sugar production hub. Black slaves fought for their independence in the 1790s because of their desire to own land and be beholden to no master. The US spends $38 million annually on agricultural development in Haiti via USAID, and this work has a significant impact on Haiti‟s ecology.
Beyond these impacts, however, is a more drastic reconfiguration of the labor and social structures of Haiti. Trends towards urbanization over the past few decades have made it necessary to reconsider our understanding of what it means to be a peasant in Haiti. By focusing on the evolving relationship between the peasantry and the Haitian landscape, we can come to a more nuanced understanding of why economic development has left the Haitian nation behind. Understanding these unintended consequences of external interventions in Haiti is essential to effective economic development in the 21st century.