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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Setting up the blog

In all of my travels in Latin America, only two countries remain that I have not visited: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Years ago my cousin Paul urged me to visit Haiti as it provides a very different face for Latin America. As I slowly began to finish my check list of Latin American countries, I became more and more interested in visiting the country. In my teaching, I grew increasingly fascinated with the history of the Haitian slave revolt and its aftermath.

For a while, political unrest made visits to the country a risky endeavor. As things calmed down, first Wiren and then Cheryl traveled to the island--but neither took me with them. I began to look for a time and a way to travel myself.

Coming less than two week after my return from a semester in Ghana, visiting Haiti will come at both a good time and a bad time. Such quick turn arounds can be exhausting, and not leaving proper time to process one experience before launching on another can diminish the value of both.

On the other hand, living in Africa has heightened my interest in visiting the most African of the American republics. While in Ghana, I have reflected on the parallels with Ecuador, and I am curious what those with Haiti will be like. Haiti ranks 149 in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI), the lowest of the American republics but at 152 Ghana is still a couple places lower. On the other hand, Ghana has a relatively good Gini coefficient of .43, in the same range as the United States and Venezuela (but well below Denmark and Norway), whereas Haiti is the most unequal country in the Americas with a Gini coefficient of .60.

What is the legacy of French rule, a successful revolution, an attempt to rebuild the country in the face of overwhelming international isolation, and the legacy of authoritarian and exclusionary ruling structures? What is the best role that solidarity movements can play in the face of Haiti's complex recent political history? What can we learn from this most unique of countries? These are the types of questions with which I travel, and the types of things I hope to learn.

And with this trip, only the other half of Hispaniola, where European colonization began, remains on my check off list.

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