Haiti Table of Contents
In the 1980s, Haiti's upper class constituted as little as 2 percent of the total population, but it controlled about 44 percent of the national income. The upper class included not only the traditional elite, which had not controlled the government for more than thirty years, but also individuals who had become wealthy and powerful through their connections with the governments of François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier. Increased access to education helped carry some individuals into the ranks of the upper class. Others were able to move upward because of wealth they accrued in industry or export-import businesses.
The traditional elite held key positions in trade, industry, real estate, and the professions, and they were identified by membership in "good families," which claimed several generations of recognized legal status and name. Being a member of the elite also required a thorough knowledge of cultural refinements, particularly the customs of the French. Light skin and straight hair continued to be important characteristics of this group. French surnames were common among the mulatto elite, but increased immigration from Europe and the Middle East in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries had introduced German, English, Danish, and Arabic names to the roster.
The only group described as an ethnic minority in Haiti was the "Arabs," people descended from Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian traders who began to arrive in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean in the late nineteenth century. From their beginnings, as itinerant peddlers of fabrics and other dry goods, the Arabs moved into the export-import sector, engendering the hostility of Haitians and foreign rivals. Nevertheless, the Arabs remained. Many adopted French and Creole as their preferred languages, took Haitian citizenship, and integrated themselves into the upper and the middle classes. Formerly spurned by elite mulatto families and excluded from the best clubs, the Arabs had begun to intermarry with elite Haitians and to take part in all aspects of upper-class life, including entry into the professions and industry.
Data as of December 1989