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Comparing Puerto Rico and Haiti

In 1898, the same year Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a letter to a friend, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This may not always be true, though. For example, comparing Puerto Rico with Haiti might make people in Puerto Rico feel as though their glass is half full, rather than half empty.

Haiti is closer to the mainland United States than Puerto Rico, less than 400 miles from Puerto Rico, on the other side of the Dominican Republic, which is Puerto Rico’s closest neighbor.

Haiti is quite a bit larger than Puerto Rico, both in square mileage and in population, with 11.4 million people to Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million. The geographic area of Haiti is about three times as big as Puerto Rico.

Just as Puerto Rico used to be a colony of Spain, Haiti used to be a colony of France. Unlike Puerto Rico, Haiti chose independence. They became an independent nation in 1804, following years of revolution.

Health and wellbeing

Life expectancy in Puerto Rico is 76 for men and 85 for women. In Haiti, men can expect to live 60 years and women just 66. The death rate is just about the same, 8.6 for every thousand people, but Haiti’s birth rate is 23.5 babies per thousand people and and Puerto Rico’s is just 5.90.

Infant mortality is very different, too: Haiti loses 40 out of 1,000 babies before they reach one year of age, while Puerto Rico loses only 6.

With a higher birth rate and a similar death rate, Haiti is not losing population as Puerto Rico is. The migration rate for Haiti is -1.86, which means that more people leave Haiti than move there. However, Puerto Rico’s migration rate is -10.76, which means that more than 10 people move away from Puerto Rico for every one who moves there. Puerto Rico is losing population at a dangerous rate. This contributes to an aging population in Puerto Rico, which leaves some older people in a fragile position without caregivers.

Puerto Rico has a higher rate of chronic diseases than Haiti, probably because of the age difference. The average age in Puerto Rico is double the average age in Haiti. Puerto Rico’s health score by World Data’s standards is 91 and Haiti’s is 14.


Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, led by a locally-elected governor. The Island has one non-voting representative in Congress and a bicameral territorial government, as well as its own constitution, approved by the U.S. Congress. While the political status of Puerto Rico is a point of contention with strong feelings on all sides, the territory does not suffer from political violence or unrest.

Haiti is an independent nation with both a president and a prime minister. The country is currently in a political crisis, with no elected government for the first time since the end of a dictatorial regime in the 20th century. The Economist Intelligence Unit described Haiti’s government as “an authoritarian regime” last year and the BTI Project claims that Haiti has no functioning government. Haiti is known for political instability, and much of the power in the nation is in the hands of criminal gangs.

World Data rates both political stability and human rights for Puerto Rico at 68. Political stability for Haiti is 24 and human rights just 12. World Data’s corruption index describes Haiti as “very bad” and Puerto Rico as “moderate.”


Haiti is one of the poorest nations in he world, a circumstance which contributes to the political unrest in that country as well as to the poor health outcomes seen there. Puerto Rico is worse off than any of the states in the US, but is more prosperous than any neighboring country.

Haiti’s unemployment rate is 14, but Puerto Rico’s is just 6. This is still higher than in the 50 states, but is much lower than it has been in the past.

In U.S. dollars, Haiti’s average per capita annual income is $1,430, while Puerto Rico’s is $22,580. The per capita GDP for Haiti is $1.83 and Puerto Rico’s is $32.64. Residents of Puerto Rico are more than twice as likely to have internet access as residents of Haiti, and 2.6 times more likely to have electricity at home. People in Puerto Rico are almost twice as likely to be literate as those living in Haiti.

Puerto Rico is far more prosperous than Haiti.

Haiti has been an independent nation since 1804. If Puerto Rico were to choose independence as a political status, it might see the same kind of situation as the Philippines, a U.S. territory that became independent. But there might also be lessons from Haiti, a Caribbean nation that was formerly a possession of another country.

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