This article tells a detailed story of how the crisis on the Dominico-Haitian border developed, beginning with stories of the people now living in camps on the border. It ties these individual stories to the larger story of how the Dominican Republic first began stripping citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent, making clear the devastating impact of these discriminatory actions on both individuals and society in the two countries.
Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.
Deportations and violence have driven tens of thousands of people of Haitian
descent from their homes in the Dominican Republic — while the world is silent.
Jonathan M. Katz, The New York Times
January 13, 2016
At the far southeastern tip of Haiti, just outside the border town of Anse-à-Pitres, there was a farm. When the farmer’s grandfather bought the land years ago, he arrived with a cow that birthed twin calves. It was a sign of good fortune — a gift from God — so he named the land the “gift ranch,” or Parc Cadeau.
The property was delineated on the west by a partly paved road and on the east by the babbling Pedernales River, which marked the border with the Dominican Republic. In between was a grove of mesquite trees. Whenever money was tight, the farmer would cut down trees to sell as charcoal. But each tree he cut down made the farm less productive, which made money even tighter. Eventually there were almost no trees left, and the loose topsoil blew in dirt storms that kicked up with every gust of wind.
Last summer, people began to show up at the farmer’s mud-walled shack. They could speak Haitian Creole, but often with a Dominican accent. They said they had come from the Dominican Republic, where the government was planning to expel anyone of Haitian descent, by force if necessary. They told stories of vigilantes carrying machetes and axes. The threats reminded them of their grandparents’ stories of 1937, when Dominican soldiers massacred anyone living along the border they thought looked or sounded like a Haitian. “Every time there is a deportation, there is a massacre,” one refugee said.
The farmer said they could set up camp on his land. He figured they would move on or go back home soon. But the people didn’t move. More arrived every day. At bigger crossings farther north, many of the tens of thousands fleeing across the border went on to the Haitian interior. But in the far south, around Anse-à-Pitres, the chalky mountain roads are harder to cross, so the migrants set up camps just past the border.
They were dropped off by caravans of brightly painted Daihatsu trucks or came on foot, carrying pots, pans and mattresses, balancing suitcases on their heads. They built shelters with frames made of branches and covered them with whatever material they could find. One family made a wall out of a pair of XXL Levi’s jeans. Another stretched out a dirty Snuggie, its left sleeve hanging out like a limp windsock. Someone found a huge purple-and-yellow vinyl poster bearing the smiling face of a Dominican congressional candidate and used it as a waterproof roof.
By fall, 2,000 people were living in the dirt in Parc Cadeau. The settlement had become large enough to split into two camps and permanent enough to produce community leaders, a wicker-walled church and a school. The farmer threw up his hands and went back to selling charcoal.
One morning in November, Peres Yves Jean and Mirlene Lamour sat at the entrance to their shelter in Parc Cadeau. The structure was of the same cardboard-and-sticks construction as their neighbors’. Lamour had found a comforter and sheets to make a roof; atop it, a doll’s head gazed up at the sky. The couple spoke softly to each other, the way people learn to when they live in places where they don’t want to be overheard.
Jean was 35, but he had the parched, worn voice of a man twice his age. Lamour, 33, rested her head on her hands. She liked to keep up her appearance, but it was hard to do in Parc Cadeau. The leopard-print scarf around her braided hair had begun to fray in the sun. Her fingernails bore the chipped purple remnants of a manicure applied long ago.
The subject of the conversation, as usual, was money. There was no work for Jean and Lamour in Anse-à-Pitres and certainly not in Parc Cadeau. Lamour had resorted to selling their possessions — the sheets, her plate, even her mirror — for food. The family had originally brought two mattresses for six people to sleep on. They had had to sell one. “I can’t hold on anymore,” she said, exhausted.
Their language was a blend of Haitian Creole and Spanish. Jean and Lamour were born in Haiti but had lived in the Dominican Republic most of their lives. In happier times, they told Haitian jokes to each other and danced to Dominican bachata on the radio. Their seven children were all born on Dominican soil — some literally on the soil, in a little palmwood cabin on a farm outside Los Patos, a town in the Dominican southwest. They had lived there until the previous spring, when the trouble began.
In the summer of 2015, as overloaded fishing boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, lines of displaced Syrians snaked north across Europe and the American presidential debates were consumed by arguments over refugee quotas and Latin American immigrants, the Dominican Republic became embroiled in a migration crisis of its own. But this was a different sort of crisis — one of the country’s own making.
People of Haitian descent make up by far the largest ethnic minority in the Dominican Republic, though estimates of their numbers vary widely, from half a million to more than a million, out of the country’s population of 10.4 million. Some were born there, some immigrated, others move back and forth along the mostly unmarked and unguarded border. They are all lumped together in the Dominican imagination as, simply, haitianos, and many of them make up an underclass that is the backbone of the country’s labor force, tending its farms, cleaning its floors, building its houses and skyscrapers, staffing its all-inclusive resorts.
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