remittance, money remittances transfer haitian diaspora
A man waits in the doorway of a Church Avenue money transfer store, often used to send money to Haiti, on May 7. Photo by Sam Bojarski

By Garry Pierre-Pierre | The Conversation

Several years ago, as my son was about to enter college, I told my niece in Haiti that she could no longer count on me to send money for her monthly expenses. The arrangement had been part of our routine since my brother passed away after a long battle with cancer. 

At the time I made the promise in 2006, I had every intention of keeping it. But this dependence on me for everything felt unsettling. So I explained to my niece that universities, especially the private type my son would eventually attend, are expensive and that I wasn’t sure I could keep the arrangement. 

I told her then that I could give her a lump sum to start a business so she could be off my payroll and that I would help with emergencies like an illness or death in the family. Since then, I have sent her money for Christmas and other occasions, but she is not dependent on me and has not asked me for any cash in years. 

This story is not unique to me. Every Haitian living abroad has one person or even a whole family — across all economic status — depending on them to eke out a living. In fact, The Haitian Times has reported that the Haitian diaspora sent $3.8 billion in remittances to Haiti in 2020 alone. That’s not even counting informal giving.

So I’ve been really puzzled about the ubiquity of the anti-diaspora sentiment we hear come out of Haiti. It makes little sense that the people whose relatives overseas are helping them would resent them. But all of those negative views often come from the ruling classes in Haiti, the oligarchs and their corrupt political allies.  

An unsustainable middle class model

Since July 8, the day after the country and the world learned of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, I’ve been seeing some of these feelings being amplified on social media. To sum them up: “Give us your money, not your opinion.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re not living the daily reality, or hell, that Haiti has become in the last three years.” 

Guess what? I know of one country that rose up for being taxed without representation. The United States. 

With Haiti though, it’s the diaspora that serves as the de facto middle class, the backbone of the society. The uber rich don’t care who’s in power and the bottom trodden shrug off politics too because their station in life doesn’t change, regardless of who’s president. 

The problem with this scenario is that it’s unsustainable. Those with the most to lose live outside the country and the nation struggles to function as a republic. The fighting is being done by a small group of people who have been marginalized in Haiti, despite their education. 

They say: “Give us your money, not your opinion.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re not living the daily hell Haiti has become.”

A word to Haiti: Stop rigging the system

How we fix this problem and build a significant middle class in Haiti is as complicated as Haiti itself. But not figuring it out will stunt the country’s economic development. 

One strategy could be to lure a large number of diaspora back to Haiti, but the country is not ready for that either. At the very least:

  • The government would have to put the oligarchs in check first. Have them pay their fair share of taxes and use that money to pay the civil servants who get paid irregularly and are vulnerable to corruption. 
  • It would have to launch an anti-corruption campaign and hire Internal Affairs at each ministry to do undercover work. 
  • Those ensnared in stings can be made an example of what happens to corrupt civil workers as a warning to others.   

Then there is the question of quality health facilities. Just recently, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide had to be flown to Cuba for Covid-19 treatment, one year after the disease struck the world. The treatment protocols are not available in Haiti.

We also don’t respect the rule of law. Your property or business can be taken over or set ablaze at the snap of a finger and no one will ever be arrested, prosecuted or sentenced for the crime. 

The last thing any Haitian government needs to do is to democratize the economy, which rests in the hands of the oligarchs. If I’m going to lose money, I want it to be a fair fight. I don’t want a system that’s rigged. Only mercenaries would invest in Haiti, because it’s dirty money and a get-rich-quick scheme. 

Viter Juste, the revered pillar of Miami’s Little Haiti, once told me of his efforts to bring a goat farm to his native La Gonâve, two decades before his death. He said he got spinned around in circles like a wide receiver spins a football after scoring a touchdown. Meanwhile, cash was flowing  out of his pocket like a broken water faucet. He lost thousands of dollars and gained no farm. He owned the land. 

Again, there are scores like Viter Juste, the father of my colleague Carl, a visual journalist at The Miami Herald. 

A word to the diaspora: Get our house in order

The diaspora is not ready for such a drastic move either. It too needs to get its own house in order. We have many organizations, but they might as well be social clubs. Most of them don’t have staff or executive directors working full time. Even the Haitian physicians association is not structured. 

It’s true we’ve come a long way since the 1990’s, but we’ve got an even longer way to go before we can exhort influence and power anywhere, including in Haiti. We are still another generation away. 

In the meantime, what is Haiti to do? I think it is imperative that every Haitian begins to trust one another, to honor their word until proven otherwise. That trust can bring about a togetherness and allow us to find our common denominators, whether we are rich, poor, dark, light, urban or rural. 

A word to all: Rise up socio-economically

What Haiti needs is a socio-economic Bois Caïman revolution where we take an oath to respect each other and ostracize those who violate the covenant. We need to reject the notion that ‘Depi nan Ginen, nèg rayi nèg ,” Creole for, “Ever since Guinea, we don’t like the other.” That mindset isn’t going to take us anywhere. 

We’re not all from the Guinea region, for one. We’re also Dahomey, Congo, Hausa and all kinds of Motherland mélanges. There’s European, Asian and others in the mix too. Let that be our strength so we can show the world that we are serious about stability and progress.

We need to reject the notion that ‘Depi nan Ginen, nèg pa fe nèg konfyans.”

I’m betting that at some point, my grandchildren will reach the apex of American society. But as you know, they will always be Haitian because in America, we all come from somewhere else. In my vision, I could see them being some financial titan’s roommate or dating the U.S Secretary of State. 

Flush with Haitian pride, they will decide to entice their rich and powerful friends to change Haiti, the land that their grandpa talked so much about when they were growing up. They will bring skills and money, the kind that will transform Haiti and restore the moniker “The Pearl of the Antilles.” 

This scenario has played out in front of us. You look at Italy and Ireland, once the largest purveyor of immigrants across the world. Italy was wretchedly poor and Ireland faced the potato famine. Look at these places today. Though not perfect, they are functioning nations with strong economies whose diasporas helped them greatly. Fourth and fifth generations of Italian, Irish and others I meet have a strong bond with their ancestral homelands to this day.

And then there is Israel, a Jewish state that was carved out in a hostile Arab environment. This and the other successes are the work of their diasporas, the people who wanted to change the narrative of their grandparents’ homelands. 

For those reasons, I’m confident that there is hope for Haiti. 

In the song “Dyaspora,” Zenglen sings about a man who falls in love and marries a woman in Haiti. Once she comes to the U.S., they divorce. Basically, she was using him. It’s time Haitians start working with, not conning, the diaspora.   

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

Join the Conversation


  1. Great read and article. I truly feel the “give us your money, not opinion” from the people there.

  2. Guinen does not mean Guinea in Haitian parlance, it means Africa.

    Haiti will not make any economic progress if we keep ignoring the DR problem. DR wisely made use of cheap Haitian labor as part of its development plan and now produces for the entire island.
    We need to awaken a sense of nationalism among Haitians who suffer from a deep inferiority complex when it comes to foreigners.
    Haiti’s problem is economic and the place to start is with national production and protection of nascent industries. That can be achieved by any type of government as long as it is nationalist and progressist.

    1. Totally agree. Progressive governance and economic development. Border controls and intelligent use of tariffs. Law and order, rules and norms and penalties for crooks.

  3. This read definitely provokes one to become more engaged in the betterment of Ayiti.

  4. Another great read Gary! I promise you we think a like. I am a 1st generation Haitian American, my parents came to the US in the mid 80’s. My mom left behind 5 kids in Haiti, had 1 in Bahamas, and 4 in the US. Ultimately she and my dad worked their butts off and we’re able to immigrate all 5 of my siblings to the US- by working menial jobs & the grace of GOD. I remember growing up my mom would constantly send money to Haiti and I remember family calling and asking for money almost every month. Once I got older, and even recently, I told my mom that this model wasn’t sustainable- that she was getting older and that my siblings and I wouldn’t send money to family back home with the same frequency that she does. I suggested to her, that we should send a lump sum and have family back home start a business of some sort. I didn’t think starting a business would be easy for them in Haiti, right, I was thinking of the give a man a fish vs teaching a man how to fish analogy so that they could provide for themselves rather than rely on us constantly. However, as I’ve done my research recently and even in light of recent events, I’m starting to see how precarious my family’s situation back in Haiti is. There’s no rule of law, dark skinned people are discriminated against, rampant corruption, lack of security, etc. So as much as I agree that they should start a business, I don’t yet see how. It’s not like America where small businesses are supported (somewhat) or encouraged by the government. So that’s the dilemma, that I believe your article encapsulates. The oligarchy controls every major sector and refuses to share the riches of the country with the masses. I’m a millenial and believe that we should begin to lay the groundwork now so that 10-20 years from now we can see tangible results. We need more Haitian Americans involved in local, state, and National politics so that we can affect US policy- such as the dumping of US goods in Haiti, foreign aid dependency etc. It can be done, if we organize and strategize properly. Look at the Cubans, and what they have been able to do, locally in Miami and even at the National level to affect the US’s posture towards communist Cuba. We should be able to do the same.

  5. Haiti is receiving 3.8 Billion dollars in economic aid a year will only decrease as the diaspora Haitian population become and more entrenched in their adopted countries and the memories of Haiti begin to fade. The economic aid Haiti is receiving right now from the diaspora is mostly personal and might keep a person(s) floating along, but it does not do much for economic development. It is the same type of Aid Haiti is currently receiving from the international community such as US, Taiwan, EU. This type of Aid only fixes patches in the garment, but does not fix the entire garment . I think a concerted effort by the Haitian Diaspora to combine their economic wealth and power and to once and for all center it on rebuilding certain part of Haiti is much more effective. Such is the economic development China is providing to Africa. Leave all the politics aside, discard the strings-attached and rebuild the country piece by piece.

  6. Great article. Good deal of the money is used for consumption and find its way to the few in the import business sector. Little is done to increase local food production or local industries to ensure that the money circulates broadly in the economy.

  7. Governance in Haiti is beyond comprehension. Take ONA which is social security. How could it possible for private sector to have access to ONA loans that are guaranteed by assets which are subject to all sort of risks including “dechoukaj?” This is not social security. It is rather social insecurity. Instead of creating conditions for large scale development in agriculture, Haiti imports pretty everything. Just look at the trade deficit between DR and Haiti. It is astronomical. Then there is loss of State revenues due to contraband or sweet deal exemptions. Only a mafia would run a country in this manner.

  8. As an African-American with no ties to car, I often wonder why Haiti doesn’t build a cruise or vacation site for visitors to come to it. After reading this article and some of the comments, I understand some of the reasons but personally I think that this should still be done. I have travel to some Caribbean countries but it never occur to me to visit Haiti. For one, Haiti isn’t sold as a vacation destination stop and doesn’t advertise itself as one.
    Why am I saying this, well for one, it would become a source of revenue for Haiti, it would be in investors to invest in Haiti, and most of all, would bring in people who want to visit the “First Caribbean Country to Declare itself Free”. I think some reading my history that Haiti could possibly offer a lot of “First Time” memories to a people for years to come.
    It said that all dreams start with a first step, I hope soon those steps begin.

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