Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island. The island, Hispaniola is located in the Caribbean Sea and it is home to these two countries. But the life on either side of the border is quite different. We travelled to both countries recently, crossing the border from the Dominican Republic to Haiti via land and the difference is immediately noticeable. Here’s a short summary to help understand why the Dominican Republic and Haiti are so different.

Haiti and Dominican Republic share an island called Hispaniola

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island called Hispaniola

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The population is predominantly French Creole-speaking descendants of African slaves brought here during the slavery time.

If you’re born on this side of the border you are ten times poorer than if you are born in the Dominican Republic.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island - why is the Dominican republic and haiti so different

Christopher Columbus statue in a square, Santo Domingo – Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic is the first place in the Americas that Christopher Columbus settled. And the capital of Santo Domingo was built. The Spanish-speaking locals are descendants of Spanish, Tainos (natives), and Africans. The country is stable and has been a popular tourist destination for many years.

The land is very fertile in the Dominican Republic. Everything from bananas, coffee, coconuts & cacao, it’s a tropical paradise where everything grows. 

As you can see, although Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, things are not the same.

To understand why these two neighboring countries are so different, we must explain the history of this island.

Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola in the 15th century. During the 17th century, a struggle for control between France and Spain began. It was resolved by simply splitting the island into two colonies. The western part of this island, today’s Haiti was controlled by France. The eastern part, today’s Dominican Republic was controlled by Spain.

The land in Haiti was destroyed

The French exploited the land. They brought in thousands of slaves from Africa and turned it into the most profitable colony. They destroyed the soil by aggressively harvesting the same crop year after year – mostly sugar.

The harsh treatment of the slaves resulted in a very resilient and resentful nation ready to rebel, which eventually did. In fact, Haiti was the first black former slave republic to declare its independence.

After their independence, the following factors are the reason why Haiti is struggling today. Their land has been destroyed (due to heavy deforestation) and no vital economy was set up. They incurred a huge debt that they paid to France (to pay for their independence) and battled a war with the Dominican Republic. Add to this a few bad leaders and many natural disasters, you begin to understand why they are the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. There has been international pressure on France to pay Haiti the debt back.

In short, history is one of the main reasons why Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, yet life here is so different.

Cap Haitien downtown in Haiti

Downtown Cap Haitien, the second-largest city in Haiti.

The Spanish did things differently in the Dominican Republic

The Spanish didn’t exploit the islands the same way as the French did. Firstly, they focused on other colonies in this region. The Spanish mixed with the native population which resulted in a more mixed racial population.

Secondly, they established a common political system and economy too. They also built towns and although they gained independence from Spain, they remain in a good relationship.

There is more to learn about the history of these two nations and how so many factors impacted and determined the fate of each. The fact that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, but have evolved into two very different nations is a unique example to see how the past can impact the present and future. 

Hopefully, this gives you an understanding of why the Dominican Republic and Haiti are so different. And most importantly, what to expect if you are visiting. We enjoyed our time in both countries.

Here are some other blogs on Haiti you may enjoy reading: