From a January 21 post by Mark Krikorian on National Review Online's blog The Corner:
Derb and Jonah's discussion on why Haiti is a basket case misses the point, I think. The question is not “Why isn't Haiti like Denmark?” It's “Why isn't Haiti like Jamaica or Barbados?” Those places certainly have their problems, but they're not dystopian like Haiti. (Haiti doesn't just have the lowest per capita GDP, based on purchasing-power parity, in the Western Hemisphere; the next-lowest, Nicaragua, is at twice Haiti's level.) It's obviously not race -- Caribbean blacks are all from the same basic background. It's not because of their different colonial masters; while Britain's influence in the world has certainly been more salutary than that of France, Guadeloupe and Martinique are also French former sugar colonies in the Caribbean, and they're infinitely better off.
My guess is that Haiti's so screwed up because it wasn't colonized long enough. The ancestors of today's Haitians, like elsewhere in the Caribbean, experienced the dislocation of de-tribalization, which disrupted the natural ties of family and clan and ethnicity. They also suffered the brutality of sugar-plantation slavery, which was so deadly that the majority of slaves at the time of independence were African-born, because their predecessors hadn't lived long enough to reproduce.
But, unlike Jamaicans and Bajans and Guadeloupeans, et al., after experiencing the worst of tropical colonial slavery, the Haitians didn't stick around long enough to benefit from it. (Haiti became independent in 1804.). And by benefit I mean develop a local culture significantly shaped by the more-advanced civilization of the colonizers. Sure, their creole language is influenced by French, but they never became black Frenchmen, like the Martiniquais, or “Afro-Saxons,” like the Barbadians. Where a similar creolization took place in Africa, you saw a similar thing -- the Cape Coloureds, who are basically black Afrikaaners, and even the Swahili peoples of the east African coast, who are Arabized blacks. A major indicator of how superficial is the overlay of French culture in Haiti is the strength of paganism, in the form of voodoo -- the French just weren't around long enough to suppress it, to the detriment of Haitians.