Gary Francisco Keller Ph.D.

Our Man in Hispaniola

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No man is an island, entire of itself … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.     — John Donne

Hispaniola is now an uncharted latitude. Spirited cooperation transcends past problems between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Some islanders use the original Taíno term Quisqueya or “mother of the earth” to indicate the common destiny of the madre patria. Thus, Dominican volunteers call their Haitian displaced-persons camp Quisqueya.

Economist Johnny Sánchez in the Dominican Republic’s Diario Digital RD hopes international mobilization will increase. Paraphrasing Sánchez: “Everything with M must move: money, médicos, militares, medicinas, maíz, miles de volunteers to alleviate la miseria y el miedo that permeates Haiti. Sánchez thinks Raúl Humberto Yzaguirre as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic will genuinely help.

Raúl is a colleague and long-standing friend. Known for three decades (1974-2005) as CEO of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), he is no stranger to international strife. He developed a strategy to create support by Latino leaders for the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Former president Jimmy Carter made him part of a delegation to monitor the 1994 Mexican presidential election. He went to Chiapas, which had just withstood the initial armed incursion of the now mostly nonviolent and defensive Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN).

Currently the ASU presidential professor of practice in community development and civil rights, he will take a leave of absence to serve as ambassador. The enthusiasm in the Dominican Republic was so great that President Leonel Fernández publicly welcomed Raúl a few days before President Obama himself announced the nomination. José de la Isla, writing for Hispanic Link weeks before Haiti’s catastrophe, wrote that Raúl Yzaguirre’s nomination may signal a new, positive turn in the United States’ relationship with Latin America.

The Dominican Republic is the key land link to Haiti. These twin nations, cuates en simbiosis, must cooperate como jamás to deploy the roads, infrastructure, and medical resources of a robust Dominican Republic to a devastated Haiti.

The United States acted as soon as possible, and did so by sending American troops on humanitarian missions. The usual subjects – Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales – made knee-jerk protests that the U.S. had invaded Haiti. Listen to actor and supremely militant activist Sean Penn, who went to Haiti on his own. Penn is in a new, awesome and awful place. Aren’t we all? Holding back tears, he told Geraldo Rivera that the army was doing extraordinary work and he singled out the 82nd Airborne Division in particular. Penn pleads for more humanitarian help, including military, outside Port Au Prince where the devastation is just as acute.

Carnal Raúl, enhorabuena on your nomination!  Now, a la obra. Your destiny is to be a key leader in confronting this catastrophe that, if nothing else, shapes the common destiny of Quisqueya despite previous conflicts of its Creole-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking Dominicans. We hope and pray for your success in establishing an international program of support that unavoidably the U.S. must spearhead and which requires every resource, including military logistics and supervision, to ensure the return to wellbeing of Hispaniola and the well-being of all empathizers worldwide.

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