Posted by Haiti Democracy Project at

There never has been any love lost between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At best, the relationship is one of quiet tolerance — mostly from the lighter-skinned Dominicans who put themselves in a class above their darker-skinned Haitian neighbors.

Political turmoil in Haiti periodically has caused the Dominican government to close the 300-mile border — always to shut out Haitians. During Rafael Trujillo’s reign in the 1930s, the Dominican dictator ordered the slaughter of tens of thousands of Haitians on a whim. The Dominican government still rounds up longtime Haitian residents without warning. They don’t even allow them to collect their belongings or notify their families before deporting them to Haiti, a country they may have left when they were children.


Rapport between the two countries shifted after democracy was restored to Haiti in 1994. The border reopened and a sort of calm acceptance took hold, though there remained a sense of distrust and fear — of Haitians’ blackness, poverty and sheer numbers. Despite this, it is common today for Haitians to cross the border in search of work, or to buy and sell goods. The economic livelihoods of the border towns are dependent on the migration. In Dajabon, the Dominican Republic’s far-northwest border town, about 12,000 people cross the bridge from Haiti twice a week for market days.

All this may change, however, if, as has been reported, the United States beefs up its relations with the Dominican Republic by giving its 23,000-member army 20,000 M-16 assault rifles to seal the border. The United States also rotates as many as 900 soldiers every 15 days as part of joint military training exercises with the Dominican Army.

Distributing this kind of weaponry and manpower in the otherwise peaceful town of Dajabon is like unleashing an army of sharks on fledgling minnows. While there are illegal crossings, to date there has been no real reason for concern. The Massacre River, which separates the two countries, is as much a gathering place for washing clothes and bathing as a social spot for farmers to gather while their cattle use it as a drinking hole.

But in the name of national security, the United States is creating a potentially explosive situation, exploiting the Dominicans’ historic fear of ”the black Haitian” by offering joint exercises, military trainings and free weaponry. Say ”national security,” and the Dominican Republic (as countries all around the globe) rolls over and plays dead. The charge that terrorists will use the unprotected border to enter the United States through Haiti is flimsy. It may be true that more than 100 migrants from six countries have crossed the border, including 90 Chinese, 15 Pakistani and eight Russian, but there is no evidence that these immigrants intended to come to the United States, or that terrorism was involved.

The United States is trying to put an iron seal around Haiti to make sure that there is no mass exodus. The Coast Guard pumped up its surveillance after a boatload of more than 200 Haitian refugees reached Miami in October. Those Haitians are being denied due process by being held in detention, despite an immigration judge’s decision to release many of them on bond. With expedited removal and forced detention, there is no way to equitably present their case to an immigration judge. Their deportation is almost a fait accompli.

Because of fortifications of the border and army, increasing U.S. interdictions, and tougher restrictions on political asylum seekers in the United States, Haitians who flee a chaotic situation have few options. Instead of locking them out of the region, we should be working to find a political solution that would improve their conditions at home — or at least provide them safe haven via a dignified process.

Kathie Klarreich is a free-lance journalist who recently visited the Dominican Republic.