On the Role of History and Social Science in Policy

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By Kiran Jayaram, Visiting Focus Blogger 

Five days after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I smuggled myself onto a bus chartered by the Dominican government, and for the next two weeks, I assisted the relief efforts in Haiti by working with the Cruz Roja Dominicana (CRD).  Indeed, the Dominican government and non-state actors in the Dominican Republic played important roles in the immediate aftermath, as I will discuss below, but some of the good intentions were undermined by existing social dynamics.  Policy initiatives, especially during disasters, should be based upon solid understandings of history (lest we be doomed to repeat it) and of people’s experiences gained though social science.  Rather than depict angels and demons, I offer a sober sketch of the pre and post-earthquake dynamics of the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, after which I mention a few details from my time as a relief worker.

Both in the past and presently, Haitians and Dominicans have co-existed amicably.  Slavery in the Dominican Republic was abolished while the country was under Haitian rule.  Though certain Dominican groups resented the so-called Haitian unification of the island from 1822-1844, others supported it due to potential trade benefits.  After the 2010 earthquake, President Fernández opened the border between the two countries to facilitate relief efforts.  The Dominican Red Cross was one of the first international groups operating after the earthquake, which I will discuss shortly.  In the contemporary era, Haiti represents the largest foreign market for Dominicans, accounting for at least 25% of all exports.  Additionally, Haitian students represent the largest group of foreign students in the Dominican Republic.  Furthermore, there have been festivals with both Haitian and Dominican musicians, sometimes in the same band.  Finally, there are countless children across the island who have a Haitian and a Dominican parent.  Yet despite this amity, animosity also exists.

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