DR-Haiti conflicts overshadow deeper connections between Hispaniola’s neighbors.
NEW YORK—Hispaniola, home to the Dominican Republic (DR) in the eastern two-thirds and to Haiti in the western third, is the Caribbean’s most populous island with 23 million people. It houses two nations whose similarities are obvious in their colonial names – Santo Domingo one the side once ruled by Spain, Saint Domingue on the other ruled by France. They share common ancestors culturally and similar strongmen dictators who sent their peoples fleeing in the mid-20th century. Their economies depend on each other for different reasons.
Yet, going by the reactions over viral videos of mass deportations and social media spats over the latest bans by high-ranking officials, it’s a wonder Haitians and Dominicans don’t walk around spitting into each other’s eyes at every opportunity. As is often the case, the animosity amplified online belies the majority of everyday interactions Dominicans and Haitians partake in real life. In conversations about Haitians and Dominicans, the usual rhetoric about a Haitian “invasion” fails to capture the factual history and the experiences of Haitian various Haitians who contribute to the DR’s economy, including Haitian business owners or entrepreneurs settling there. Talks of Dominican racism also unfairly throw ordinary Dominicans in with the lot of agenda-prone operators often behind the hatred on display.
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In reality, the nations share a fascinating history – past and present. Wondrous developments that prompted our publication to dive into this complex relationship that existed even before either side of Hispanioa became independent nations. With the generous support of the Pulitzer Center, we sent two staff reporters – Onz Chery and Marvens Compère – to explore a few key questions:
- What’s fueling the latest rise in tensions between the two nations?
- To what extent is it the relatively well-off Haitian untouchable by migration offices versus the low-income Haitian laborer blamed for the ever-feared “Haitian invasion?”
- How can we move away from clickbait rhetoric toward more meaningful conversations?
We purposely stayed away from the bateys, as we and many other outlets have covered Haitian lives on DR plantations over the years. We chose instead to focus on the story unfolding today, while it’s still possible to help shape the narrative, if not outcomes.
We’ll present our series in two parts, starting this month. Since June is celebrated in the U.S. as Caribbean Heritage Month, it’s fitting to make this contribution now for those curious about our homeland’s place in the region. We’re pleased to present the initial batch of stories, which explores the island’s colonizer-based divisions, the Haitian liberation movement, Haiti’s occupation of then-Santo Domingo, pivotal socio-political developments for both nations, migration policy toward “illegals” and how Haitians with means are received today. The second part due in September 2023, during Hispanic Heritage Month, will explore Dominican perspectives further, reconciliation and friendship efforts and recommendations for constructive narratives.
We’ll then wrap up in the fall with an exciting forum to be held in partnership with the Haitian Studies Institute at Brooklyn College.
Already, we’ve learned so much from the field reporting in the DR, scholars, colleagues, families and friends who participated on this first part of the series. Among the key findings:
- The two neighbors share a symbiotic relationship as deep as the fault lines running beneath the entire island. However, the “scaffolding” of negative narratives has weakened cultural connections and permeated government policies and some personal interactions.
- The kidnapped Africans in Ayiti Kiskeya Boyo, the island’s original Taino name, were the first brought to the New World. Many fled to the western side – modern-day Haiti – and fought back, becoming a beacon for anti-slave rebellions across the hemisphere.
- Expeditions such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ brutal beheadings in the east to thwart the French and Haitian rule over the entire island are two major occurrences Dominicans elites used to sever ties and eventually massacre 17,000 to 35,000 Haitians.
- Current repatriation efforts, from a country where Haitians make up just 5% of the population, appear to be a policy sham and, in many instances, a lucrative migration scam.
- Still, the relationship that exists today is much less volatile than news headlines tend to show. Despite unspeakable massacres, terrifying dictatorships on both sides that sent thousands fleeing from both sides of the island, and divergent economic paths, some Dominicans and Haitians still refer to each other as cousins. With affection.
Our special report better reflects the mutually beneficial relationship possible between Haiti and the DR. Ultimately, we hope our report helps turn around the mindsets of those who cherish one side of the border, but discount the experiences of the other side. To be responsible children of Hispaniola, we must push for mutual respect at every opportunity, for the sake of both nations’ indelibly entwined futures.