The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and also has a population of 9 million. Ranked 88th in the Index of Economic Freedom, the Dominican Republic has an annual per capita income of nearly $5,000 - more than six times higher than in Haiti.
Mr. Erikson estimated that Haitians living abroad send $1.5 billion a year to their families back home.
“Haitians’ success in the United States demonstrate that Haiti’s problems are not due to individuals,” Mr. Erikson said. “They’re due to the system and the environment in which they live.”
That system is extraordinarily corrupt. In a global index of corruption compiled by Transparency International for 2009, Haiti ranked 168th out of 180 countries, tied with Iran and Burundi.
Pervasive graft and insider dealing siphoned a significant portion of the $8.9 billion in aid that Haiti received between 1960 and 2008 from the wealthy members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In recent years, however, Haiti began to make tentative progress, as the economy grew between 1 percent and 3 percent since 2005, Mr. Erikson said. That period coincided with the democratic election of President Rene Preval and a new parliament in May 2006, a vote held under the auspices of a United Nations stabilization mission.
“What makes the earthquake so tragic is that it looked like Haiti was on a path to more sustained development when you could see some hope,” Mr. Erikson said.