Editor’s Note: The following is the author’s analysis and was originally published in Eurasia Review.
On December 16, two diplomats from the Haitian Embassy — Williamson Jean and Jackson Lorrain — were stopped en route from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, to a farm in the province of Monte Cristi, where they planned to hand over 11 passports to the hundreds of Haitian workers awaiting their arrival. The Dominican army confiscated the passports and computer equipment used to produce personal identity cards, all of which belong to the Haitian state. The arrest took place despite the fact that Jean and Lorrain presented a diplomatic ID, the authenticity of which was later confirmed by a senior Haitian consulate official, François Guerrier.
These incidents occurred against a backdrop of growing tensions between the two countries, with the Dominican Republic stepping up border surveillance and implementing a series of measures to curb irregular migration from Haiti.
The current hostilities between the countries that occupy the island of Hispaniola are deeply rooted in the historical soil of racism and imperialism. The Treaty of Ryswick of 1697 formalized French control over the western third of Hispaniola – at the time a Spanish asset – under the name of Santo Domingo. In 1797, Spain ceded the whole island to France. A precious tap of wealth, Santo Domingo supplied two-thirds of France’s overseas trade and was the largest individual market for the European slave trade. It was a greater source of income for its owners than all of the thirteen British colonies in North America combined.
The half a million slaves who supported the dazzling opulence of the French commercial bourgeoisie rebelled in August 1791, two years after the French Revolution and its ripple effects in Santo Domingo. The collective British, Spanish and French efforts to crush the rebellion sparked a war that lasted 13 years and ended in the humiliating defeat of the imperial powers. William Pitt the Younger and Napoleon
Bonaparte together lost some 50,000 soldiers in the campaign to restore slavery and the elaborate structures of exploitation. The defeat of the latter’s expedition in 1803 led to the creation of the State of Haiti on January 1, 1804. Frightened by the establishment by Haiti of a black republic resolutely opposed to the barbarism of European civilization, the Dominican elites develop a national identity that defines Dominicans as white, Catholic and culturally Hispanic, as opposed to Haitians, whom they characterized as black, animist and culturally African. “Antihaitianismo,” or anti-Haitian racism, became stronger with Haiti’s occupation of the Dominican Republic, which lasted from 1822 to 1844.
President Jean-Pierre Boyer, under whom Hispaniola was unified, feared that the French would use Dominican territory as a base in an attempt to reconquer Haiti. His decision also obeyed a constitutional ideal: the fusion of the whole island in the face of foreign aggression. Although the occupation of Haiti was greeted positively by poor Dominicans, the Dominican ruling class did not like being ruled by people they saw as inferior. So, shortly after Boyer was overthrown in 1843 and General Charles Rivière-Hérard took power, a small group of activists from Santo Domingo overthrew the unified regime. Rivière-Hérard attempted to oppose the separation and sent troops east, but he was more focused on consolidating power at home and was unable to succeed due to internal instabilities. On February 27, 1844, the Dominican rebels drove the last Haitian troops from the capital, ensuring independence.
The myth of the “Indio”
The struggle for Dominican independence was heavily marred by anti-Haitian myths. One of these myths concerned the Dominican “Indio”. Even though the indigenous Taíno people were mostly killed after the Spanish conquest, Dominican rulers insisted that the ancestors of the Dominicans were natives and Spaniards, not enslaved African laborers. Why were indigenous peoples chosen as the central symbol of Dominican identity? Taínos are neither white nor black – an attribute capable of accommodating the ambiguity of the Dominican mulatto, a slang term for someone of mixed European and African descent. The battle lines were now drawn according to this racial pattern – the Indian versus the Haitian, who came to be seen as the true black.
These conflicts intensified over the following decades, preparing a context of disunity favorable to the imperial project of the United States, which threatened the two nations of Hispaniola with a possibility of intervention if they did not contain “the upheavals and the banditry ”.
Under these pretexts, the American Empire invaded the Caribbean island. First in 1915 in Haiti, then entering the Dominican Republic in 1916. The occupation of the Dominican Republic, which lasted 8 years, triggered the creation of a class of compradores, local populations who served as a subsidiary for companies. foreigners who owned Dominican sugar cane plantations through their dominance in the National City Bank of New York, which managed the country’s finances. A social architecture as strictly exploitative as this required an authoritarian government – an imperative fulfilled by the Guardia Nacional Dominicana (Dominican National Guard, or GND). The US Marines tasked Rafael Leonidas Trujillo with leading the GND in 1918 and appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the National Army in 1927. In 1930, with the support of his army, Trujillo supported a coup against the then president, Horacio Vasquez.
Under Trujillo’s ruthless dictatorship – which lasted until 1961 – anti-Haitianism solidified. In 1937, during what is now known as the Parsley Massacre, Trujillo aimed to whitewash the Dominican Republic by expelling Haitians. Trujillo, who was known to lighten his own skin with makeup, ordered the deaths of those who refused his order to leave. These Haitians were recognized by their inability to pronounce “perejil”, Spanish for “parsley”. Most Haitians could not ring the Spanish “r” because the French “r” was different. This massacre left nearly 30,000 dead. These mass killings were followed by the production of propaganda in favor of an anti-Haitian ideology. Dominican history books have begun to overemphasize the Haitian occupation – the demonization of the dark-skinned “other” has become commonplace.
In 1962, Juan Bosch ran for president of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), inaugurating the first democratic government of the post-dictatorial era. Seven months later, he was overthrown by a coalition of oligarchs, the old Trujillist army and the Catholic Church. Faced with a popular revolt, the putschists requested the support of the United States, which sent their soldiers in 1965, killing 5,000 people. After the defeat of the democratic revolution, Joaquin Balaguer, disciple of Trujillo, led a repressive government. An anti-Communist lackey in the United States, as well as a close aide to the dictatorial regime of Francois Duvalier in Haiti, Balaguer’s 12-year reign was responsible for the incarceration, torture and murder of 6,000 people.
In the late 1970s, the PRD took office. After that, the reins of the national government alternated between the PRD, the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and, briefly, the Christian Social Reform Party (PRSC) – associated with Balaguer.
Anti-Haitianism under neoliberalism
While the PLD has become largely dominant, the PRD has become the main official opposition in the country. With the growing impact of neoliberal globalization, the progressive legacy of the struggle against trujillismo and balaguerismo has been abandoned in favor of a shift to the right towards anti-Haitian Hispanophile identities. In 2010, the former center-left PLD convened a constitutional convention, largely to exclude a new group from the birthright-citizenship clause: the children of anyone “residing illegally in Dominican territory”.
The injunction targeted Haitians and served as a model for the regressive decision of the Constitutional Court of September 23, 2013. It declared that nearly 500,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic were illegal, and therefore liable to deportation. The judgment extended to the descendants of Haitian immigrants who arrived in the Dominican Republic as early as 1929. Systematic stigmatization allowed the Dominican bourgeoisie to force Haitians to conditions of semi-slavery in the sugar cane plantations, of deport tens of thousands of Haitians without a tribunal. hearing and denying citizenship and access to public services to children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents. During the mass expulsions of Haitians, some dark-skinned Dominican citizens were identified as Haitians and deported to Haiti without being able to prove their citizenship. This is emblematic of a larger problem facing the black and mulatto masses of the Dominican Republic: either to assume Indian identity and Hispanic culture, or to be excluded from the body politic.
In 2014, when former President Hipólito Mejía left the PRD to form the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), Luis Abinader, a 52-year-old businessman with no public service experience, jumped on the bandwagon. In 2020, he was elected president, ending the 16-year domination of the PLD. Dominicans of Haitian origin – who represent 7.3% of the population – had trusted the administration, hoping it would end their condition of statelessness.
Abinader, however, continued to expel thousands of Haitians. He also began building a 118-mile border wall between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The estimated cost is over $ 100 million. Given the negative impact of the pandemic on tourism, construction and the flow of remittances, erecting a xenophobic wall should be the last thing on Abinader’s agenda. The government’s maintenance of such an exclusionary project indicates that it is fundamentally anti-people by nature, using anti-Haitianism to distract public attention from its destructive, market-driven economic policies.
Yanis Iqbal is a freelance researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India. He can be contacted at [email protected]