Former Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernandez talks Latin American history
Last Friday, former president Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic spoke in Riggs Library about Latin American history and politics. He spoke of democracy, development, and prosperity in the region. Fernandez has recently joined Georgetown’s Center for Latin American Studies as a member of the advisory board. Members provide funding for various research initiatives and support Georgetown’s relationship with Latin American countries.
Professor Erick Langer, president of the Center of Latin American Studies, introduced Fernandez, apologizing for the 30-minute delay (in the Carribean, he said, “usually time flows differently”). Langer mentioned that Fernandez, while fluent in English, would much prefer to give the speech in Spanish if the entire audience would be able to understand. Approximately 50 people were in attendance; all Spanish-speaking.
Fernandez spoke about both the opportunities and challenges facing Latin American countries, historically and today. While delving into the Dominican Republic’s history, the former president described the unique position the Dominican Republic had when gaining independence from Haitian occupation. Fernandez also talked about other parts of Latin American history, such as Cuban American relations, the Mexican Revolution, and Venezuela.
During his lecture, Fernandez spoke passionately about Haiti’s fight for independence. “I think the independence of Haiti, which marked a profound liberation fight, generated a problem that none of the other Latin American countries caused. This is the fact that by separating from France, Haiti did what no country had done until then, and will do after, which is proclaiming independence and abolishing slavery at the same time,” he said. “The fact of having abolished slavery generated a situation of international isolation. No country recognized Haiti as an independent country.”
Langer thought that Fernandez’s speech brought attention to an interesting recent trend in Latin American development. “Finally in the last 40 years, Latin America has seen a combination of democracy and development of some type. Before you had either democracy or development…finally that’s come together,” he said, after the event.
Due to the unexpected switch from an English to Spanish lecture, Voxy Gurl was not able to get very good direct quotes from Mr. Fernandez. Thanks to Lucia He for help with translations.
Photos by James Hauser of the Center for Latin American Studies