Much of the news media here in the U.S. has been focused on the so-called Canadian “trucker” protests supported by wealthy right-wing elites. The same people on social media cheering for the protesters and shouting about “freedom” are now applauding the president of the Dominican Republic (the DR), Luis Abinader, who announced Feb. 17 that he was ending COVID-19 public health restrictions—making the DR the first Caribbean nation to do so. This news was followed soon after by his announcement about building a wall between the DR and Haiti.
The combination sounds familiar, with echoes of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro (Trump’s evil alter-ego in Brazil), which isn’t surprising—after all, Rudy Guiliani had a hand in Abinader’s campaign, and the othering and racism against Haitians in the DR is longstanding. Additionally, shouting “Build that wall” gives Abinader a way to rally the public to ignore any problems at home, and focus on scapegoating Haitians.
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I admit to nodding my head in agreement with Elizabeth J. Chin, editor in chief of American Anthropologist, who offered this commentary about the wall announcement.
What’s wrong with this opening sentence? “Crime-plagued Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the Americas while the Dominican Republic, a popular Caribbean tourist destination, has prospered…”https://t.co/kzjz2PrKwj
Abinader’s statement, as reported by Reuters, made me cringe.
Many Haitians cross the border clandestinely in search of work in the fields or in the construction industry in the Dominican Republic.
“The benefit for both nations will be of great importance,” said Dominican President Luis Abinader shortly before pushing the button to begin pouring concrete into the foundations of what will be the wall in the province of Dajabón, some 230 kilometers northwest of the capital.
About 500,000 Haitians and tens of thousands of their descendants live in the Dominican Republic, a Spanish-speaking nation of about 11 million people, according to the most recent immigration survey conducted in 2018.
Germany’s public media organization, Deutsche Welle, offered this concise coverage of the wall, leaving Abinader’s assertions unchallenged.
The Dominican Republic is building a border wall with Haiti to stop irregular migration and the smuggling of goods, weapons, and drugs. pic.twitter.com/NdrquiZvBp
Critiques of the wall are not hard to find on Twitter.
Madness is afflicting nations everywhere just now. The money used for building this 164 km wall, 3.9 m high & with “fiber optics for communications, movement sensors, cameras, radars and drones” would be much better spent helping the poor people of Haiti.https://t.co/ybVOje6UGF
Al Jazeera’s report added a key detail about Abinader’s timing.
He started the project, which aims to build a 164-km- (102-mile)-wall, a week ahead of the anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti on February 27, 1844.
Without understanding the revisionist history embraced by the DR, you won’t get the symbolic impact of the timing of Abinader’s announcement. Dominicans have long been taught to revere their “freedom from Haitian rule,” and they look down on their neighbors.
Dr. Ernesto Sagás, author of Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic, and co-editor of The Dominican People: A Documentary History, and Dominican Migration: Transnational Perspectives, provides historical insight into this racist rewrite of history in his 1993 paper inThe Latin Americanist, “A Case of Mistaken Identity: Antihaitianismo in Dominican Culture.”
For over a century and a half, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have shared the island of Hispaniola. Their relationship, however, has rarely been amicable. In the Dominican Republic, this antagonism has led to the creation of a set of anti-Haitian prejudices called antihaitianismo. Antihaitianismo is actually the present manifestation of the long-term evolution of racial prejudice, the selective interpretation of historical facts, and the creation of a nationalist Dominican false consciousness. That process, of course, did not take place spontaneously. It was orchestrated by powerful elite groups in the Dominican Republic with strong interests to defend.
The Haitian occupation of Santo Domingo (1822-1844), although passively accepted by most of the population (and even celebrated by lower-class groups), was strongly rejected by the elites, who lost their privileges and administrative jobs to the occupation armies. Dominican elites further resented being at the mercy of individuals whom they considered inferior because of their skin color and social status. The great majority of Haitian army officers were ex-slaves themselves, with little or no education, and lacked the finesse and manners that elites regarded so highly. During the period of the Haitian occupation, many of these elite families left the country, a fact deplored by Joaquín Balaguer, who commented that Santo Domingo lost most of its “best” families at that time (Balaguer 1984, 59-60).
In the face of repeated Haitian attempts to recover their former territory, the presence of antihaitianismo among the general Dominican population of the mid-19th century is not surprising. The independence struggle was often expressed in an anti-Haitian form in order to promote nationalism. What is more difficult to justify is the perpetuation of these anti-Haitian attitudes long after independence. By the time of the War of Restoration (1865), Haiti no longer planned to re-annex the Dominican Republic. As a matter of fact, the Haitian government even helped Dominican patriots in their struggle against the Spanish. However, Dominican elites still professed their anti-Haitian prejudices, in part because they reflected their personal views about Haiti, and also because they employed antihaitianismo as an element of national cohesion and domination. These prejudices were reproduced at the popular level; being Dominican soon became identified with being anti-Haitian (Despradel 1974, 86). To this “nationalist” prejudice, Dominican elites added some of their old cultural and racial prejudices. Dominicans were portrayed as devout Catholics, while Haitians were voodoo sorcerers who believed in spirits and utilized black magic in mysterious ceremonies (Hoetink 1982, 181-192). Finally, Dominicans were somatically “white,” proud descendants of the Spanish conquistadores, while Haitians were truly black, the sons and daughters of African slaves. It was not long before Dominicans occasionally classified themselves as dark, but by no means black. Only Haitians were considered black. Therefore, race, culture, and nation were perceived as one by the Dominican elites. To be Dominican meant that one was Hispanic and not black, regardless of one’s skin tone.
Sharri K. Hall, from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, offers more on this racial reality in 2017’s “Antihaitianismo: Systemic Xenophobia and Racism in the Dominican Republic.” Be warned: Some seriously vile racism lies ahead.
Though those textbooks were written in the 20th century, antihaitianismo is still extremely present in the Dominican elite. Rhetoric from the government and from Dominican citizens suggests antihaitianismo ideals are still widely believed and practiced. It is present in modern political discourse (as evidenced by the unreasonable immigration policies in place today). It is present in the nation’s elite’s literature; Joaquín Balaguer’s La Isla Revés became a national bestseller though it detailed the “historical misfortune of [having to live] next to Haiti.”[xxv] Balaguer, who was president of the Dominican Republic six times and as such had significant cultural influence, perpetuated the idea of white Dominicans, beguiling that there is no black heritage or ancestry in the Dominican race.[xxvi] Manuel Núñez’s El Ocaso de la Nación Dominicana details that decisive steps must be taken against Dominican revisionists who hope to reveal the truth about Dominican history in order to retain the cultural identity of the Dominican Republic in the face of Haitian aggression.[xxvii] He calls the revisionists “anti-Dominican” and thus, pro-Haitian.
This hate is evidenced broadly by the government as well. The government blames the documentation problem and its inability to help more people from the immigrant population. Dominican law prohibits undocumented children from continuing in school past grade eight.[xxviii] They require Dominicans of Haitian descent to constantly carry a cédula. Though some might compare these to the United States’ permanent resident “green” cards, they more closely resemble South African apartheid “passes.” Requiring testimony from Dominican citizens to receive documentation is prejudicial. It states that valid testimony can only come from Dominicans – that Haitians cannot be trusted to give truthful testimony. Furthermore, it makes it almost impossible for Haitian immigrants to become documented because there are few Dominicans willing to testify for Haitians, both out of their own xenophobic prejudice and out of fear of persecution for supporting Haitians. Though the government promised there would be no mass deportations as a result of the immigration laws, by the end of 2015 there had been at least 10,000 deportations with more to follow.[xxix]
Most frighteningly, Dominicans of Haitian descent who voluntarily deported themselves after the controversial immigration laws claimed that they were more afraid of aggression from Dominican citizens than from the Dominican government. In the Dominican Republic, hate isn’t restricted to the government or the elites; hate is spewed on the radio, at domino tables, and on the streets. Narratives such as “Haitians eat dirt,” “Haitians are unsanitary,” “Haitians are ungrateful traitors,” are common amongst radio show hosts and civilians alike.[xxx] In response to a Haitian boycott of Dominican products, Dominicans asked what the Haitians would eat “since they produce nothing,” and that the Dominican Republic is the only nation that supports Haiti, although until very recently, the United States has overwhelmingly supported Haiti.[xxxi] Newspapers in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, print messages of the “invasion of a dark army whose greatest weapon [is their] high birth rate…” and the need to “defend the fatherland against uneducated savages.”[xxxii] Kreyol (Haitian) stations close to the border warned of ethnic violence against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent by gangs, which some deportees have taken to calling tigueres, thugs or tigers, and who were credited with having burned down homes, stabbed and victimized, and even on occasion killed Haitians. Threats to burn down Haitian homes come from employers, coworkers, and even neighbors. Haitians now living in the tent cities on the Haitian border tell stories of being chased from hills to live in poverty, but even then they would rather live without regular food than with the dangers that lurk across the border.[xxxiii]
Last year, PBS’ POV explored the current situation of those Dominicans who lost their citizenship and were declared Haitian—they’ve been made “stateless” by the DR’s removing of birthright citizenship. As PBS writes on YouTube:
Director Michèle Stephenson’s new documentary follows families of those affected by the 2013 legislation stripping citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent, uncovering the complex history and present-day politics of Haiti and the Dominican Republic through the grassroots electoral campaign of a young attorney named Rosa Iris.
Watch the powerful trailer:
I addressed this crisis in October 2013, with “If you are Black, get out: The crisis of statelessness in the Dominican Republic.” As I pointed out then:
Many readers here have ancestors—parents, grandparents and perhaps even great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States after 1929. They became citizens, and their children and grandchildren born here are now part of the tapestry of the U.S. Imagine what would happen if the U.S. Congress passed a law rescinding that citizenship currently based on jus soli, and demanded that all of you “go back to where you came from.”
This is just what is happening in our neighboring country of the Dominican Republic, where Dominicans who have some Haitian ancestry are now being forced into statelessness by the modification of jus soli, which is retroactive.
People without a country.
All of this history should explain just how the wall that is being built is bogus. It does make for good politics, however.
With the end of all COVID-19 precautions, it is also clear that President Abinader is playing to the tune of the tourist industry on the island, as Reuters notes.
SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 17 (Reuters) – The Dominican Republic ended all COVID-19 public health restrictions on Thursday, including a mask mandate and vaccine checks in public spaces, despite not yet reaching the government’s vaccination target of 70% coverage for adults.
President Luis Abinader made the announcement on social media and in a televised message late Wednesday.
“It’s time to recover all our freedoms and way of life,” he said.
“Freedumb” strikes again.
After Abinader’s announcement, I decided to take a look at current COVID-19 statistics for the DR. They illustrate—quite clearly—what most of us know: The epidemic is not yet over.
While tourist agencies in the Dominican Republic celebrate this news, look at the new case data from the COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins Universityhttps://t.co/o4sU5PusjM+ https://t.co/TmqVAbsGTi pic.twitter.com/HnG2JLWaoi
Abinader sets a shining example of what a leader should not be doing amid a public health crisis. Remind you of anyone?
Abinader chooses not to wear protective mask in public functions https://t.co/FqATcveNpe
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