Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Island, Two Nations

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
-- Romeo and Juliet: Prologue

Occasionally, CNN.com does its job right and makes me think. Today was one of those moments:
We are all sick at heart to witness the unfathomable suffering in Haiti. Why do bad things happen to innocent people? Why Haiti, again? Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently, "It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people."

How we make meaning of this suffering will be crucial to how we respond, in the long term, as a global community.

Why, indeed?

McAlister goes on to explore Haitian faith and the Christian belief that Haiti is playing our the last chapter in the Bible, of famine and floods and earthquakes and war.

Perhaps. And yet, there's a side to this story that doesn't often get mentioned: the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola contains another country: not as poor, quite as Christian, and poised to absorb the nation of Haiti.

Quite the turnaround for a country that had to fight for independence from Haiti.

It's true, for much of its existence, Haiti has been out of favor of the United States and Europe, while the Dominican Republic has enjoyed the benefits of alliances with both. This despite the fact that the DR had engaged in what we would now call "ethnic cleansing," slaughtering Haitians within its borders by the tens of thousands, in an era marked by the spread of totalitarian fascism around the world and the rise of Nazi Germany.

Admittedly, Haiti has a long history of shackling from the West, first as a slave colony, and then with crushing debt incurred in the treaty for independence from France. Indeed, the national bank of Haiti has been looted, literally, no less than four times, including at least once by American troops.

Too, the political unrest in that nation since, well, independence can't have helped any, but riddle me this, Batman: why is American bankrolling uprisings or defending dictators, when we espouse policies of "sovereignty" and "freedom" and "popular choice" on our own people and are trying to cram these down the throats of Iraqis and Afghanis?

Is it any wonder people really don't trust us? They read history, the history we should read but do not. I mean, come on, we were supporting the Duvaliers with economic aid and development!

I don't know that I have the answer to this conundrum, and I expect people with far better knowledge of sociology and political science struggle with a question that seems infathomable to me.

But this simple truth cannot be denied: one island, two nations moving in diametrically opposite directions:
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.