CASA GRANDE — I fell in love with Haiti a long time ago.
Early in my relationship with the man who would eventually become my husband, I asked him what his hopes and dreams were.
“To see Haiti become beautiful and safe again,” he said. That dream soon became my dream as well and sadly, nearly 30 years later, it hasn’t been realized.
Haiti has had its ups and downs over the past few decades — enduring poverty, hurricanes, an earthquake and continuing political strife. The recent assassination of its president, Jovenel Moise, is another sad and tragic low point in the country’s history.
Here in the U.S., it can be easy to ignore a news story about an assassination in a country far from here, but there are definite lessons from the incident that we, on both sides of American politics, should pay attention to. Moise’s assassination was the result of the damage warring political parties can cause. If the constant hate, vitriol and name-calling in American politics doesn’t alarm you, it should.
Observers of Haitian politics might not be overly surprised by Moise’s assassination.
Political tensions have been brewing for a long time in Haiti. At the core of the political strife are opposing political ideologies that, in a nutshell, pit the country’s poor against the wealthy and professional classes. One group has money and the other does not. That provides a natural source of tension. Being among the poor in Haiti can be difficult, frustrating and scary. Education is limited and usually not free or mandatory and there are few safety nets to assist people who are down on their luck.
My first visit to Haiti was in 1993, a time that perfectly illustrated how very wrong politics can go. The then-president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was in exile in Washington. His predecessor, Jean-Claude Duvalier, was also in exile in France.
The two main political parties at the time were fighting over who should control the country. While they fought it out, a U.S.-imposed embargo made gas and basic necessities scarce and expensive.
Aristide returned to Haiti to finish his term and things seemed to calm for a while.
Haiti’s last president, Michel Martelly, made many moves to improve the country, including building roads and hospitals and encouraging businesses to invest. New airports and hotels opened. A few of my husband’s cousins purchased seaside homes in Haiti. Things seemed to be improving.
But tensions began simmering again recently.
Protests erupted. In a recent protest, rioters set fire to several cars parked outside one of the new hotels in Port au Prince. There have been reports of shootings and kidnappings as well.
There are definite problems in Haiti that need to be addressed, just as there are obvious problems in the U.S. that also need solutions. But name-calling and hateful rhetoric toward those with whom we don’t agree is never the answer. It hinders progress and problem-solving.
And that’s the lesson for the U.S.
It’s easy to hate and call names when you don’t agree with someone’s political ideology. It’s harder yet to take a deep breath and listen with an open mind. If there is any silver lining to Moise’s tragic death, it’s that hopefully, it will prompt people and politicians on both sides of American politics to stop, think and use kindness, compassion and understanding when discussing the issues.
PinalCentral Arts and Entertainment Editor Melissa St. Aude can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.