Over Here, Over There joins our other three geographical features – Around the Novahood, Outside the Novahood, and Beyond Our Border – as a means to connect our local experience with events and issues similar, sometime identical, across boundaries that separate us only physically.
With the assassination of its president at home a few weeks ago, the island nation of Haiti has suffered yet another crisis threatening the beleaguered country. Haiti shares the western half of the island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, and lies about 1,900 miles from the United States.
Originally inhabited by the Taino, an indigenous people of the region, the island was visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492. The Taino population was largely annihilated from exposure to European diseases. Spain ruled until ceding the western half of Hispaniola to France in 1697.
For nearly a century until the French Revolution in 1789, French colonists created sugar and coffee plantations with labor using vast numbers captured from Africa. By 1788, the slave population was 700,000, and European, 25,000. Inspired by the popular revolution in France, in 1791 Haiti’s Blacks mounted a takeover of the island under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, an event that raised concerns in the US slave states.
Although generally expressing an ambivalent foreign policy toward the island country, the US provided some support to the revolutionaries as a means to diminish the influence of Spain and France in the New World. With the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the US announced its Western Hemisphere hegemony.
On January 12, 2010, an earthquake devastated Haiti. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush jointly spearheaded a campaign to funnel aid. (A contribution of $250 in 2010 by Judy Woodruff, noted PBS journalist, was cited by Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin as a reason to withdraw from a debate with Democratic rival Terry McAuliffe because his opponent was a director of the Clinton Foundation.)
The ties that bind seem permanent.
Not the US Peach State but the former socialist republic of Russia, Georgia’s constitution guarantees human rights but not acceptance of LGBTQ+. A July Pride Month celebration with a planned parade was met with violent protest causing injuries to 50 media personnel. A photojournalist was seriously injured by counter-protesters and later died. Demands for the prime minister’s resignation led to physical scuffles in the Parliament.
Georgia is located at the intersection of eastern Europe and western Asia in the Caucasus region. On the west it is bounded by the Black Sea; north and east abut Russia; and to the south, Turkey and Armenia. Its population is about 4 million, over 85% ethnic Georgians and over 80% reporting affiliation with Orthodox Christianity.
The nation was forcibly annexed by Russia in 1922 but seceded from it in 1991 following a popular referendum. The country has had a NATO relationship since 1992 but has not been formally admitted. Between 2004-2008, tensions between Georgia and Russia over territory led to armed conflict, which was resolved in a peace-keeping deal but led to mutual withdrawal by way of diplomatic recognition. To Georgians, the country is called Sakartvelo and its capital is Tbilisi.
Homophobia is deadly. Like Ukraine, Georgia is one former Soviet satellite to keep an eye on.
In 2012, a fire at an apparel factory here consumed 112 lives, with reports of locked doors and other safety violations echoing the 1911 New York City Triangle Factory fire. Walmart was reported to have been the major beneficiary of the factory’s output but in a statement denied any relationship. Recently, another factory fire inferno took the lives of 51 individuals here. Locked exit doors were again reported, but the owner blamed workers’ smoking cigarettes. No American company was indicated to have an interest.
Bangladesh is a densely populated — 163 million — and poverty-stricken country that has been a favorite offshore manufacturing haven for American companies cutting production costs with cheap labor. Bordered by India, Nepal, and Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal, it reflects the extraordinary reach of global commercialism in the service of capitalism. While many American companies talk about improving safety conditions in foreign countries where offshore manufacturing is conducted, little progress is evident..
Sooner or later, the piper must be paid.
In the face of severe economic crisis, food insecurity, and wartime consumption of resources, the government of Syria announced in July a doubling of the price of bread and a 180% increase in the cost of diesel fuel. President Bashar al-Assad, however, appears immune to such events, and announced a 50% salary and 40% military pension increase, affecting thousands of civil servants and military personnel. No information was available concerning the President’s salary.
Since the start of its civil war, 6 million Syrians have been displaced within its borders and another 2 million have become refugees to other countries, creating an overall decline from over 21 million in 2010 to about 18 million today. Further, the nation’s economy is on life support under drastic US sanctions.
About ten years ago, following the Arab Spring, Syria experienced a popular movement toward democracy. Ruled for decades by the minority Alawhites through the Assad family, President Assad has cleverly maneuvered two more populous sects, the Shia and Sunni, to bear the brunt of the civil war.
Assad-led forces, supported by Russia, have employed banned chemical warfare weapons and have been cited for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. In geopolitical gamesmanship, Russia and China have vetoed UN resolutions to impose sanctions on Syria concerning the use of chemical weapons.
Syria borders Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest–clearly strategically positioned in the region.
The world watches as a nation borders on collapse.