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Troubled Haitian-Dominican Republic bilateral relations await progress

By Wilhelmina Agyapong
Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Recent events have demonstrated that disputatious bilateral issues between the Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti may have (finally) taken a positive turn. A second round of talks held between the two governments was launched in Jimani, DR, this past February 3, 2014. These concluded with the decision that the DR’s Congress will commence a naturalization plan on February 27 for all Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the country.

This meeting came after a series of events that had severely impacted Haiti-DR ties. These included Haiti’s existing ban on the DR’s imports of poultry and eggs on June 8, 2013; then came the first round of talks held in Ouanaminthe, Haiti on January 7, and finally a closed-door meeting in late January held during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) Summit in Havana, Cuba.

With the recent lift of the ban on imports and the immigration consensus at the February 3 meeting, one can finally expect to see warming links between the two countries. Nevertheless, in spite of these improvements, one must understand that abysmal relations and abiding hostility between the two countries date back to the colonial era and have continued to sour relations between the two states until today.

Historical Background: A Foundation for Conflict

From 1822-1844, Haiti occupied the entire Island of Hispaniola, which cradled the colonized societies of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. During its early history, the Dominican Republic was known as Santo Domingo and was ruled by Europeans of Spanish extraction, while Haiti was known as Saint-Domingue and was ruled by the French. [1]

According to Ernesto Sagás, the author of “Case of Mistaken Identity…” the people of Santo Domingo, mostly of Spanish Caucasian origin, saw themselves as superior in stature in comparison to the people of Santa Domingue, who were for the most part dark and of African descent. As a result, the occupation of Santo Domingo by the people of Saint-Domingue (Haitians) generated deep resentment among the Santo Domingo people (Dominicans). [2] This historical context created an abiding anti-Haitian sentiment, also known as antihaitianismo, among the residents of Santa Domingo (today, known as the DR).

This hate or distaste for Haitians reared once again in 1937, when the Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, seven years into his 30-year dictatorship, ordered the Haitian Massacre, a policy of mass murder against Haitians residing at the time in the DR. “From late September to late October in 1937, between 9,000 to 18,000 ethnic Haitians (we will never truly know the exact number) were systematically rounded-up and killed on Dominican territory…” by Dominican security forces. [3] These executions took place on the border region, as well as eastern parts of the country such as Moca, Santiago, Puerto Plan, and San Francisco de Macorís. [4]

Though Trujillo’s motives were dubious, his very specific actions materialized in a virulent form of anti-haitianism, almost serving as a state doctrine in the DR and preceded to coalesce into an ideology that eventually categorized into what it meant to be a Dominican. The Dominican government and Trujillo set the blame on farmers and never formally acknowledged or provided legitimacy for the atrocities; neither were they ever indicted by the civilized world for this inhumane behavior.

Events such as the Haitian Massacre and the racial animosity that etched into the colonial era, in addition to other baleful manifestations of that epoch, has underlined many of the recent harsh racist attitudes that existed between the two countries. These included Haiti’s ban on imported Dominican poultry and eggs and the chronic deplorable immigration policies that poisoned Haitian descendants that sought economic and political refuge in the DR.

Background on the ban of poultry and egg imports

On January 16, news came out of Port-au-Prince that the ban on Dominican poultry and eggs, implemented on June 8, 2013, had been lifted. [5] This announcement, which was made by the DR’s Agriculture Minister, Luis Ramón Rodríguez, came right after Haiti’s Agricultural Minister, Jacques Thomas, noted the modification in Haitian legislation. [6] The ban that affected the importation of poultry and egg products into Haiti came after allegations were made that the bird flu had spread along the border between the two countries. The Dominican Republic, however, denied these allegations. The ban had been a primary cause of the deterioration of bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries.

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Last updated March 25, 2017 at 5:40 PM
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