Two Halves, No Whole:
The Continuous Border Crisis of Ayiti (Haiti) & Dominican Republic
-Vendors selling second hand items in Ouanaminthe, Haiti
The acrid fumes from the exhaust of a gas tanker truck engulf me and the other people in the immediate vicinity in a dark smoke that makes us cough for several minutes after the truck rolls away. The incident happens so quickly that most of bystanders could only try to cover their noses and faces to avoid inhaling too much.
Along the road, various vendors sit next to their wares, selling everything from high-fashion brands from previous years to discarded goods from North America and Asia that all ended up at this repository of outdated fashions.
Other vehicles pass by: motorcycles, taxis, buses, cargo trucks, and private vehicles. Each making their way to the Dominican/Ayitian border or coming from it. The sidewalks are lined with people sitting and selling their own goods, exchanging Haitian gourdes for Dominican pesos, or engaging in conversations. Licensed motorcycle taxi drivers await fares as the cheapest option to move around both the border town of Dajabón or cross the intermediate mercado (market) that allows for the commerce that unites both sides of the border.
Dominican border agents police the area. One in particular uses a bat to give vehicles a few taps to convince the drivers to move head so as not to hold up traffic. Other guards keep an eye on both entrance and egress points, checking vehicles for drug trafficking and directing individuals to areas where their IDs can be verified properly.
People walk with traffic, weaving in and out around parked and moving vehicles to get to their individual destinations. A mix of bachata and merengue music blares in the background as 40ozs of Presidente or Brahama Beer are the beverages of choice for only 180 pesos ($3.21 USD).
A Control Migratorio (Immigration Control) truck serving as a mobile detention center makes its way to the border as it dips into one of the many pot holes filled with muddy water. Kids jump onto the back, asking questions of those being transported back to Ayiti due to the lack of a visa or not having enough to bribe their way out of their predicament only to possibly be detained another day.
The vehicle crosses the Dominican side of the border, making a U-turn as it reaches the bridge over the Massacre (Dajabón) River and backs onto the entrance to Ouanaminthe on the Ayitian side. Their items are dumped onto the ground as immigration officers form a perimeter around the back of the vehicle. As the precious cargo is released, a single individual tries to run back to the Dominican side only to be quickly stopped. The Ayitian immigration officers simply stand back and allow the situation to unfold without interference.
Not far from this exchange, on the Dominican side, a guard sits alone and watches what may, over time, become a border wall whose goal is to separate both sides of Hispaniola from each other. According to many locals, that is a fantasy due to the lack of funding and corruption.
For now, this scene at the busiest border crossing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is also being played out in the other border towns of Elias Pina/Belladere, Jimani, and Pedernales/Anse-a-Pitre.
Over the past few years in Ayiti, which means “land of high mountains” in the original Taino language, political, social, and economic issues have been publicized. Since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the current, and to some illegitimate, prime minister has been Ariel Henry.
The only good news is the recent end to a long cholera outbreak. In contrast, the bad news includes scarcities in food and fuel and the frightening rise of gang violence from groups associated under the G9 gang alliance whose kidnappings and fuel blockades in the absence of sufficient police/military have made local matters worse.
All of this can be summed up as another unfortunate set of events in a country whose history is rife with it. Ayitians can never catch a break. Whether it is due to their own actions or external forces is indeterminable at this point.
Making my way towards the main border town of Dajabón/Ouanaminthe to view the construction of the border wall and treatment of Ayitians on the Dominican side resulted in hearing three different perspectives on life on Hispaniola and how people survive.
To be honest, I expected chaos and fear. Perhaps since I stayed away from Port-au-Prince, I did not see much of either. Instead, I witnessed people simply adjusting and living with the current situation.
As I spoke to each group, the actions of former President Horacio Vasquez and Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, also known as “El Jefe,” set the tone and basis for how Dominicans and Ayitians interact, conduct business in the mercados (markets), and create the current rules of engagement.
“Treaties, El Jefe y la Frontera”
Prior to 1929’s Border Treaty, the current border regions were vaguely determined. Residents on either side could move back and forth without the need for documentation. This resulted in free trade areas; mixed relationships of people from either side of the border, or in some cases, to elude a temporary lover; and the use of the rough terrain by caudillos (strongmen) as their basecamps.
Under President Horacio Vasquez and President Louis Borno, the Border Treaty was established to create a formal border and an understanding and a joint effort to establish order from the 1890 border negotiations. Instead, disputes developed over the lands that lie right on the agreed-upon border from the 1777 Treaty of Aranjuez.
An agreement was eventually reached, but it was an uneasy one. Residents in contested areas found themselves realizing that their town/surrounding area was now in another country. Added to this was a limitation on border crossing, which was not an issue prior to the treaty. This led to groups of Haitians and Dominicans relocating.
The 1930s talks worsened as Haitian diplomat Abel Leger found that the Border Treaty was, in fact, unconstitutional under the Haitian constitution. Now under the term of Presidente Trujillo who made the border one of his main issues, a new political climate was established that were, in fact, the beginning of his dictatorship.
Assassinations, strong-arm tactics, and the slow squelching of dissent led to many Dominican freedom fighters going across the border to stage operations to dispose the new president.
In 1935, another treaty was signed by President Stenio Vincent and Trujillo under a tense political climate. The ceding of Dominican land (666,076 hectares), which was more land than was required by the 1929 treaty, brought an end to the discussions. Diarios (daily newspapers) would go on to publish articles replicating the ecstatic mood:
“Santo Domingo and Haiti, two struggling countries that ignore nothing because they have suffered everything, have now given…an example to the world worthy of imitation.”
There was a call to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Trujillo.
In March 1936, President Vincent at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince toasted Trujillo:
“When Dominicans and Haitians are free of rancor and prejudices, they offer themselves to work together for their own prosperity. The world will contemplate how civilization and progress, motivated by the most energetic and loyal cooperation between men, achieved happiness throughout the preferred island of Christopher Columbus.”
During this time, relations between Ayitians and Dominicans were at a high. Throughout this period, it would have been difficult to find a disparaging remark against either group in the press. Citizens on either side of the border proudly proclaimed their roots whether it was Dominican or Haitian. Even Presidente Trujillo proudly proclaimed his African heritage.
This changed in October of 1937.
Now known as the Parsley Massacre, this seven-day event led to the systematic slaughter of Haitians in and around the border. The attackers mainly used machetes, leading to a mass exodus into the interior of Haiti.
The massacre got its name due to how differently the word “parsley” is pronounced in Spanish and Hayitian Kreoyle. This difference was used as a test to determine who belonged to which nationality. At the end, an estimated number of 12,000–35,000 Haitians had been killed.
The timing of the massacre is believed to be due to the resolution of the border dispute in 1936. Since Dominicans were now in Haitian territory, but wished to leave, Trujillo was, in fact, repatriating them. There was also no United States Marine oversight because all of the troops were withdrawn. Finally, a mass deportation of Ayitians from Cuba was also transpiring.
Unfortunately, the massacre serve as the first step to not only reclaiming ceded lands but both claiming more and establishing control of the border.
Relations between both groups changed as the Dominicans with the same complexation of Haitians were now implicated in the massacre. One year later, the border became Dominicanized. Press began calling for the establishment of border controls:
“The Haitian people have a population twice our number, in a territory that is half our size; these circumstances place pressure on us…We can not oppose another remedy we could call an ethnic border, destined to prevent the advance of people motivated by the growth of a country prolific by race and temperament” (September 1938).
Border towns and regions went through a slow process of erasing their past to help create new Spanish and xenophobic identities. Regions and towns were renamed from Kreoyol to Spanish. Jean Sapit became Agapito. Cailon into Barahona. Toussaint to Grenada. Dahabon to Dajabón and so forth. Although Haitians fought against the changes, in the end the identities of the border regions were changed to support their new identities.
Next, government funding was put into land distribution for Dominicans from the newly acquired lands. Multicrop agriculture, butcher shops, churches, schools, homes, military outposts, and airstrips were added. Buildings were renovated into new communities to move away from Haitian-inspired architecture. The last step was bringing modernity via phones, electricity, and plumbing. This step moved the area away from the rural, backwoods appearance that had become associated with Ayitians. Dominican Identification cards with a photo, nationality, ID number, family, and region were mandatory.
As contraband continued back and forth across the border, any crime could be blamed on Ayitians as the Dominicans were labeled as victims. To ease escalating tensions, scheduled events along the border, such as entertainment and markets, were allowed on specific days and times to relieve frustrations.
Dominican military resources were used to maintain order and secure the area. Dominican nationals entering these areas would have their cedula (Id) held until they left the established area. Upon request to leave, their goods would be searched. If anything was determined to be contraband, it was confiscated and the individual was fined.
“No soy rasista no! Dios lo sabe. Solo que no me gusta ver como ellos se maltratan entre ellos mismos. Y lo antihigienicos que son la mayoria. Desorganizados.”
“I'm not racist, no! God knows. I just don’t like to see how they mistreat each other. And how unhygienic most of them are. Disorganized.”
Most conversations with Dominicans started with a proclamation that they were not racist. As the dialog continued, there was a palpable frustration with the current political situation that had spilled over to their side. While they felt sorry for what was transpiring in Ayiti, they clearly stated that “it was not their problem.”
They had done more than any other country and the well had run dry. They cited aid provided after earthquakes hit the already fragile Haitian side.
To understand the current political situation, take a look at the presidencies of Danilo Medina (2012– 2020) and Luis Rodolfo Abinader Corona (2020–present) who ran on a platform that promised stricter border control and immigration.
Under Presidente Medina, anti-Ayitian resentment increased, while under Abinader promises began about a border wall and an increase in deportations.
Various publications reported that holding centers were places with human rights violations. The Haitian political situation became graver following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse (July 2021). This came after an increase in gang violence (some of said gang leaders were Dominican Nationals) and the use of Haiti as a stop along various Caribbean drug trafficking routes.
Both the United Nations and United States have asked the Dominican government to step in and increase efforts to assist, including refugee centers along the border and military operations. Both requests were denied.
Dominicans who I spoke with believe that current claims of racism and subsequent travel alerts for Black travelers to be aware of delays due to intensive searches are part of a smear campaign by the United States government.
“Haitians built the Dominican Republic! Why would we want them to leave?”
Many of my conversations revealed a blunt attitude toward the efforts of Haitians who had their visas. This was the only way to gain legal employment in DR and work on the Dominican side. For them, the rewards include health care and fair wages.
The issue is really with the illegals who were described as having multiple aliases, living in small rooms with other people, and committing crimes.
It is easy to cross the border. Having a wall will help with the issue seemed to be the common belief. The police (Dominicans) are known to be corrupt and will not truly help and, in fact, aid with border crossings or escape from immigration if the price is right.
Many Haitians cross for supplies or gas to either sell on the black market or provide for their families on the other side of the border.
“Pero ahora la no es de territorio que se habla, lo que pasa es que los haitianos se estan matando entre ellos mismos. Y los que estan de este lado tambien quiere matarse unos con otros aqui y eso nuestro gobierno no lo esta permitiendo. Ademas como en todos los paises si tu vienes de turista por tres meses debes regresar a tu pais por lo menos un dia antes de que se te cumpla la visa. Los haitianos vienen de paseo y se quedan aqui ponen negocios de todos tipos. Y luego cuando migracion les pide sus papeles y ve que estan ilegales como todos los paises hacen los deportan a su pais. Lamentablemente esas son las reglas y hay que cumplirlas aqui por ser Republica Dominicana entonces no se cumplen?”
“But now the territory is not being talked about. What is happening is that the Haitians are killing each other. And those who are on this side also want to kill each other here and our government is not allowing it. Also, as in all countries, if you come as a tourist for three months, you must return to your country at least one day before your visa expires. Haitians come for work and they stay here and do business of all kinds. And then when migration asks for their papers and sees that they are illegal, as all countries do, they deport them to their country. Unfortunately, those are the rules and you have to comply with them here because it is the Dominican Republic, so they are not complied with.”
The violence attributed to Haitians added another layer, especially since it is next to impossible to arrest someone without an identity and living in a transitory state. One story that was revealed to me was of a shop keeper who was decapitated by a Haitian after a dispute. When the police came to arrest the criminal, they could not find him because no one knew who he actually was other than his nationality.
“Dias atras yo iba a la universidad y caminaba hasta la estacion de tren y estaba llovisnando y una haitiana que vendia sombrillas se paro frente a mi y me dijo ¿ holle quieres comprar una sombrilla? Yo le dije que no gracias la semana pasada compre una aqui mismo, pero hoy se me quedo. Y ella me dijo pero ahora la necesitas comprame una y yo le dije no gracias, permiso voy tarde. Ella me dijo estupida y me escupio la cara y me empujo. Un señor haitiano que habia ahi a mi lado le dijo varias cosas en su idioma y empezaron a discutir entre ellos. Yo tube que entrar al baño en la estacion y labarme la cara. Yo estaba muy enfadada.”
“A few days ago, I was going to the university. I was walking to the train station in the rain when a Haitian girl who was selling umbrellas stood in front of me and asked, ‘Hello, do you want to buy an umbrella?’ I told her no thanks as last week I bought one right here, but today I forgot it. And she told me, ‘But now you need to buy one from me, and I told her no thanks, excuse me, I’m late. She called me stupid and spit in my face and pushed me. A Haitian man who was there next to me told her several things in his language and they began to argue among themselves. I had to go into the bathroom at the station and wash my face. I was very angry.”
“Are Dominicans racist? Yes, yes, they are,” said a Haitian vendor.
For over a week, I made my home a bar only a few steps away from the Dajabón crossing into Ouanaminthe and directly across from one of the entrances/exits of the shared market.
Recently, the site has been the site of a number of protests by Ayitian activists.
In late October 2022, the border was blockaded by Haitians protesting against the refusal of gas being sold to anyone with Haitian plates.
Another protest in November 2022 was the result of the ramped-up deportations before the government decree that deportations would not take place before 8:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m., which are the border’s hours of operation.
Finding Haitians to offer their perspective of the political situation on both sides of the border was difficult. The various people that I encountered were illegals who were selling their wares or offering courier services for groceries or merchandise. Most of them kept their responses brief and were wary of speaking to a stranger. The added concern was also of immigration agents who routinely canvassed areas that Haitians were known to populate. When either an agent or a vehicle was spotted, they would leave abruptly and sometimes left their items to go toward the back of a restaurant or bar and, if possible, exit via a back door.
Their responses were frank. They were taking risks to make an income by selling items they were able to procure because they really had no employment options. One gentleman, who had his migratory paperwork assisted me with an altercation with Dominican Intelligence, told me he was working to save enough for a cell phone.
When I asked for his opinion on illegal crossings and people without visas, he simply replied that if he had to get one, then they should as well.
On a separate occasion, I witnessed a number of Ayitians defuse a situation with an angry individual. When I asked, “What happened?” The response was that he was “moun sòt,” meaning he was an idiot but did not want his behavior to reflect on the rest of them.
Prostitutes where another source of perspective. A number of women used the wealth gained from visiting French Canadians and Americans who would pay starting at $54 USD/$73 CAD and up for their time. A weekend could earn them not only free meals but a few hundred dollars. Some who had been at it for some time upgraded their appearances to stay attractive and demand higher fees. For women who worked at hotels and smaller establishments, they were left in a position where they had no real protection from their employer due to the power dynamic.
One woman told me how she spent the entire day cooking, cleaning, and eventually having sex with a tourist only to be given few dollars and told to leave. Being an illegal left her with no recourse but to accept what had happened. They also would simply tell me that it was racism and leave it at that.
On the Ouanaminthe side, most of the responses were the same. Finally, I found younger Haitians who spoke freely with me.
“I have lived near the border all of my life, but never saw it closed until (Presidente) Abinader.”
This is in reference to the four border crossings that were closed after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse to prevent a mass exodus into the Dominican Republic.
I asked for specific examples of racism but was not provided any. It was not until I witnessed the actions of police and military in the form of intensive searches of Haitians who did have visas.
I was also searched on multiple occasions and asked to provide my identification. While Dominicans (specifically those with lighter skin, straight hair, or spoke Spanish) were let by. Those of us who did not have those distinguishing features were checked for narcotics, paperwork, and legality.
“Sa pase St Domingue. 2 timoun! Youn 2 Ans ,youn 6 Ans. Li tap viv st Domingue, ebyen il arrivé jwenn lanmo nan men 2 dominiken, ki detripel ak kout kouto pou yo te ka pran telefòn li ,lè lòt ayisyen ap pale de lanmo a, popilasyon dominiken reponn: si se ayiti se kidnape yo tap kidnapel ,mande lajan aprè touyel al jete kò a.
Sa prouvew klè pagen jistis pou li et se akoz de prop ayisyen parèy nou kap touye nou nan move kondisyon, ki koz lot nasyon pa bay lavi nou enpotans
Li pa premye ayisyen ki mouri nan kondisyon men se jan nasyon dominiken an pale ki touchem! Helas papa 2 timoun, yo touyel tankou bèt jis pou yon telefòn .
Yon ekip gro palto ap AME Bandi pou fè zak sou nou nan prop patri nou vi'n koz yo pa bay vi nou valè nan lot peyi. Eske wap ret chita ap di sa ka chanje sanw pa fè anyen, oubyen Manche ponyèt ou pouw met pyew nan Batay .
Après yo fi'n asasinen Jovenel, kounya se pep lan yap masakre.”
“That happened in St. Domingue. 2 children! One 2 years old, one 6 years old. He was living in St. Domingue, and he was killed by 2 Dominicans, who stabbed him three times so that they could take his phone. When other Haitians talk about the death, the Dominican population replied: if it was Haiti, they would have been kidnapped. , asking for money after killing him to dispose of the body .
This clearly proves that there is no justice for him and it is because of our fellow Haitians who are killing us in bad conditions, because other nations do not give our lives impotence
He is not the first Haitian to die in conditions, but it is the way the Dominican nation speaks that touches us!
Alas, the father of 2 children, they killed him like an animal just for a phone .
A team of big coats is ARMING bandits to do acts on us in our own country because they do not value our lives in other countries.
Are you going to sit back and say that it can change without doing anything, or put your wrists down and put your feet in the battle .
After they killed Jovenel, now the people are being massacred.”
One person told me that cracking down on illegals was simply an excuse. After they achieve their goal of pushing out those with no papers, they will come after the legal Haitians and mixed (both nationalities) next.
The government wants the country for only the (lighter) Dominicans is what I was told.
Shortly before 6:00 p.m., the border crossings begin to close. Traffic has slowed to a crawl with a few last-minute vehicles getting through. Those still selling on the Dominican side move to side streets turning them into a night market. Others who wish to get home to Haiti, I witness carrying groceries as the border gate closed after them.
I wonder for how much longer can Haitians rely on this lifeline.
The relationship between Ayiti and the Dominican Republic is, and always will be, tied to the stark differences in how they both view blackness, the Haitian Occupation of the DR (1822–1844), United States Occupation of Haiti (1915–1934), and the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (1930–1961).
That basis is what forms the current border controls.
How can Ayiti be fixed? That is a question that I do not hear in conversations. More often than not, it is how do we deal with Haiti’s current crisis? Although at the moment, U.S. military or UN intervention may be in the near future, the concern is that it will lead to another occupation.
The immediate issues of governmental stability and decreases in gang violence, kidnappings, and food shortages all take precedence but for how long?
Unfortunately, to move forward, these issues must be taken care of quickly and with care as the past seemingly lives forever in the ruins of Haiti.
The next step should be rebuilding. The hard truth, though, is that Ayiti is the site of get-rich-quick schemes and foreign aide going to individual pockets instead of to the people that need it.
To fix Haiti would mean to invest in its future. I currently do not believe that many who take interest in the country believe that it has one. Another step that I believe could go far in rebuilding the country is promoting the benefits of dual citizenship, investment opportunities, education initiatives, and in the long-term tourism, which already takes place in a limited form in Labadee.
While walking through most major cities in the Dominican Republic, you will see Haitians working construction sites, cleaning and maintaining structures, and doing tasks and jobs just below management that seems to be dominated by Dominicans.
If Haitians are looked at as building the Dominican Republic, then it stands to reason they can also rebuild Haiti.
-Control Migratorio - Mobile Immigration Unit
-Current border between the Dominican Republic & Ayiti (Haiti)
-Shopping at the Dajabón Mercado (Market)
-Dajabón (Massacre) River
-Image circulating on social media. Father of Two killed by Dominicans for his phone.
- average work day.
-Dajabón/Ouanaminthe Border Closing for the night.