By Airi Price
The Dominican Republic (DR) is one of two countries on Hispaniola, an island situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Haiti, the DR’s only neighbor, stands to its west. Despite such isolation, the DR has begun construction of a wall at the shared border in February of 2022.
Dominican president, Luis Abinader, states that the undertaking is part of an effort to regulate the mass immigration of Haitians into the DR, as well as mitigate the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and other illegal goods. Abinader maintains that the project will prove favorable for both Dominican and Haitian security; however, the international community remains skeptical of the wall’s benefits to Haiti, as the country continues to struggle with numerous sources of displacement.
"The final product is set to span 102 miles, covering just under half of the 244-mile border"
The world has observed Haitians departing their country by the masses since as early as 2010. At the time, much of the country had been stunned by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 and displaced another 1.5 million, per UN News. The disaster was compounded by a cholera epidemic that readily spread throughout Haiti and undermined recovery efforts.
According to The Lancet, the outbreak resulted from the pollution of a communal river by Nepalese UN peacekeepers. Despite the publicization of such findings, no responsibility has been taken and the goals stated in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) have not been met. Though the mission ended in 2017, new cases continued to emerge until 2019. Reuters estimates that the epidemic infected at least 800,000 and resulted in the death of 9,750.
As public health conditions in Haiti recovered in 2021, underlying political and economic strains reached their climax. In July of that year, Haitian President, Jovenel Moïse, was suddenly assassinated in his home. Chaos surrounded every detail of Moïse’s murder and as such, exacerbated Haiti’s pre-existing corruption, vast debt, and economic turmoil. These conditions have only buried Haiti further into its position as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The DR, in contrast, presents a more prosperous economic and environmental landscape. As a popular tropical destination, the country profits largely off of tourism. While Haiti enjoys the same warm climate, it receives double the rate of natural disasters. Subsequently, environmentally-induced displacement has led to a rise in Haitian migration to host countries – including the US, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico.
Many refugees, however, do not make it off of Hispaniola and thus, seek resettlement in their neighboring country. As of 2021, the BBC estimates that 500,000 Haitians are living illegally living in the DR. The onset of COVID-19 inspired a temporary pandemic moratorium for forced repatriation but since its end in 2020, the Dominican Ministry of Defense has deported over 178,000 Haitians, per the Human Rights Watch.
To solidify their stance, the Dominican National Migration Council enacted a policy (in 2021) to prevent the entry of non-citizens whose presence in the DR may “result in an unreasonable burden on public finances.”
Ultimately, said measures were provisions for their most extreme anti-immigration strategy – the construction of a wall at the shared border. The project initially began in 2019, but was halted after the completion of just 14 miles. The final product is set to span 102 miles, covering just under half of the 244-mile border. Aljazeera adds that the wall will be topped with 12.8-feet high metal mesh and reinforced with 70 watchtowers, 41 access gates, and hi-tech surveillance systems (such as fiber optic wiring, movement sensors, security cameras, radars, and drones).
With such extravagant design, its construction is priced at USD $30 million, per The Haitian Times. Despite the considerable price tag, Abinader began to fill the foundations with cement on February 20th, 2022 – just a week shy of the 178th anniversary of Dominican independence from Haiti.
Though the two countries present distinct cultures and languages, their shared ethnic past has long-stood as a source of racial tensions and ambiguity in national identity. Construction of the wall is only the most recent development in the history of Dominican-Haitian conflict. The precedent of racially-motivated expulsion of Haitians from the DR was established in 1937, during the Parsley Massacre.
Along the shared border, Dominican soldiers targeted suspected Haitians, forcing them to recite, “perejil,” the Spanish word for parsley; should the individual fail to roll their “r” or give any indication of a Haitian creole accent, they were immediately slaughtered. As the BBC reported, this resulted in the undue death of up to 20,000 Haitians and darker-skinned Dominicans mistaken as Haitian.
NGOs and human rights groups on Hispaniola fear that the completion of the wall will embolden the anti-Haitian sentiment that has been strewn into Dominican society since the massacre. It is predicted that such marginalization will be perpetuated through the suppression of immigrant rights, denial of asylum, dismal wages and other forms of migrant worker exploitation.
Evidently, the wall will stand as a symbol of national regression – socially, economically, and diplomatically. In addition, it will be a tangible justification of the discriminatory policies already in place against Haitians in the DR, and perhaps invite further bloodshed between the two nations. As such, the international community calls upon Abinader to cease construction and instead, curb illegal immigration through the support of Haitian recovery efforts.