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The Puzzle of Hispaniola

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On the one side, then the other…

The eastern half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola has had a calm and optimistic week. In the Dominican Republic on Sunday, popular centrist President Luis Abinader coasted to reelection with a nearly 30-percentage-point lead over his closest competitor. Abinader’s party is set to hold on to majorities in both of the country’s legislative chambers.

At a press conference on Monday, Abinader celebrated the country’s strong economic growth, which is expected to be more than 5 percent this year. He also heralded a reduction in poverty and spoke about potential tax reform. Then, Abinader faced a question about the other side of Hispaniola, where things look starkly different.

To the west of the Dominican Republic lies Haiti. For months, the country has experienced a spate of gang violence, kidnappings, and critical infrastructure blockages. Haiti’s police forces are so overwhelmed that United Nations-backed actors, including the United States and Kenya, put together plans for a foreign stabilization mission. The force is due to begin operations soon; Kenyan police will form its largest contingent.

Asked to comment on how the Dominican Republic was planning for the impending security mission to Haiti, Abinader replied that there are things he “cannot say” but that Dominican officials are in touch with other actors to be prepared for “anything that comes up.”

However Haiti’s problems are managed, the Dominican Republic has made exceedingly clear that it does not want to be part of the solution. Haiti’s difficulties are extremely complex and extraordinarily difficult to entangle; colonialism, racism, financial stringency, botched interventions, and consistently horrible leadership. I sometimes think that “anti-colonialism,” the sort that breeds leadership from Papa Doc to Yahya Sinwar, is the final poisonous fruit of the European colonial project. The prospect of Kenyan peacekeepers holding Haiti together seems quite distant to me, although they might evade some of the baggage that international interventions invariably seem to stumble over.

With respect to the DR, before I read Ron Chernow’s biography of US Grant (I have long planned to blog at greater length about this book) I was unaware how close the Dominican Republic had come to joining these United States. Grant committed a considerable amount of his political capital to the project (politics is harder and more complex than war, it seems) and the Dominican political elite was enthusiastic, but it foundered on US racial politics and on anti-Catholic prejudice. Grant’s racial politics are awfully interesting; he was a smart but not terribly philosophical guy who struggled for most of his life over questions about the relationship between race and America, and who came up with the right answers more often than not, a record that put him leagues ahead of most 19th century white dudes.

…not good:

An Oklahoma-based missionary group working in Haiti’s capital was attacked by gangs on Thursday, leaving two Americans and the group’s director dead, the organization, Missions in Haiti, announced on Facebook.

Missions in Haiti runs a school for 450 children as well as two churches and a children’s home in the Bon Repos neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The independent nonprofit was founded by an Oklahoma couple, David and Alicia Lloyd, in 2000.

The victims were the founders’ son, David Lloyd III, 23, known as Davy; his wife, Natalie Lloyd, 21; and the organization’s Haitian director, Jude Montis, 20, the group said. Ms. Lloyd is the daughter of a state representative in Missouri, Ben Baker.

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