Diaspora

Dr. Bertrhude Albert Discusses The Current Crisis In The Dominican Republic And Why Darker Skinned People Are Being Profiled – Forbes

Haitian-American historian and educator Dr. Bertrhude Albert
A few weeks ago, the United States embassy in the Dominican Republic issued an alert about the Haitian migrant crackdowns currently taking place in the Dominican Republic. The warning advises travelers of possible “increased interaction with Dominican authorities, especially for darker skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent.” To unpack the current issues between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Haitian-American historian and educator Dr. Bertrhude Albert sat down for an interview. In this interview, Dr. Albert breaks down the history between the two countries, the origin of the tensions and how the Forbes readers can provide support.
Janice Gassam Asare: Dr. Bertrhude, could you share a little bit about yourself for the readers that may not be familiar with you?
Bertrhude Albert: Certainly. I am a Haitian American who is dedicated to telling the true story of Haiti, who’s dedicated to bringing to light parts of Haitian history that aren’t often spoken about. I do that through storytelling on social media, specifically Instagram and TikTok. But that’s only part of what I do. My full-time job is actually working in Haiti. I co-founded a non-profit, P4H Global. We train teachers across the nation. Most of the year, I’m in Haiti and traveling throughout all 10 of Haiti’s departments, training teachers to transform Haiti’s educational system.
Asare: I love that. I think your videos are so informative, especially for non-Haitians to learn more about the history of Haiti, and like you said, the true story of Haiti. Recently, the U.S. issued a warning for darker-skinned individuals traveling to the Dominican Republic because there is currently sort of a migrant crackdown…they’re pushing Haitians out of the country. For the Forbes readers that are completely unfamiliar with this situation, could you share just a little bit about what’s happening in the Dominican Republic, and maybe a little bit of history between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and why there’s tension between these two countries?
Albert: For sure. We could go ahead and begin with the history of the [Dominican Republic] and Haiti. This is a very, very long history. There have been tensions between the two nations for a while, for over 200 years. Some Dominicans will go back to the Haitian occupation or the Haitian unification, when Haiti unified the entire nation together. That’s between 1822 to 1844. During that time, although Haiti, in the beginning, was invited to come inside of the Dominican Republic, by the end of the 22 years, Dominicans were really upset with Haiti. Specifically with the way that the Haitian president, Boyer, he redistributed land. He attacked Dominican culture by forcing Dominicans not to speak Spanish, but rather, to learn and speak French. Reducing the amount of different religious festivities and different cultural pillars. He reduced them in order to reduce the amount of places different Dominicans could come together to rally against the Haitian government.
But then you fast forward a bit, and you see, even in 1937, a lot of people didn’t know about this, didn’t speak about it, but in 1937, the Parsley Massacre. A lot of people are actually making reference to the Parsley Massacre right now because it’s eerily similar, the type of rhetoric, the type of things that we’re seeing happening in the DR. President Rafael Trujillo, he was acting off of the threat that he believed that the Haitian people were to the Dominican Republic. In October, 1937, he actually asked for the military to go out and kill any Haitian that they find in the northwest part of the island. It ended up being, within a week, between 12,000 to 30,000 Haitians died in less than a week. They call this the Parsley Massacre…you already begin to see what researchers called the antihaitianismo, the feeling of hatred or the feeling of negativity towards the Haitian people by Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. On the Dominican side, Haitians are seen and you start to see this rhetoric being repeated over and over, even now. Haitians are seen as a threat, as invaders because of the migrants that are going to Haiti and working on the plantation fields, working in different sectors. They’re seen as a threat because some Dominicans say that they’re taking the jobs of the Dominicans…it’s really deeply rooted, the tension between the two nations.
A Dominican soldier secures with a chain the gates separating Dajabon, in the northwest of Dominican … [+] Republic, from the city of Ouanaminthe in Haiti —separated by the Masacre River— on September 27, 2018. – Dominican Defense Minister Ruben Paulino Sem presented deportation statistics, according to which, in the first half of 2018, 79,842 undocumented Haitians were prevented from entering the country. (Photo by Erika SANTELICES / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP via Getty Images)
Asare: And so, what has happened recently?
Albert: On November 11th, 2022, the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, issued a decree 668-22. In this decree, he called for Dominicans to create this special force task, the special police force. This task force is responsible for essentially hunting down all of the…what they call invaders, which are the undocumented migrants. Now, this is pretty intense because even before this decree, Dominicans, they’ve been really cracking down on migrants. On migrants coming from Haiti that are undocumented. They say, according to the Dominican Republic officials, between July and October, there were almost 44,000 migrants that were brought back to Haiti. So, they were already, in October, starting to really pick up on bringing the migrants from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. But then on November 11th, things just were brought to another level with this decree.
About 2015, 2016, we see that the Dominican Republic, they start to change their policies to say, ‘Even if you’re born in the Dominican Republic, we’re not going to consider you Dominican if your parents or your grandparents came here undocumented.’ There are a lot of people born in the Dominican Republic that are stateless. They’re not Haitian because they weren’t born in Haiti. They’re not Dominican because now Dominican Republic won’t claim them. So, there’s this huge issue of statelessness.
The issue that we’re facing today is the discrimination that migrants are facing. Not only migrants are facing, but anybody that looks like they can be Haitian, they’re facing discrimination. That’s why the United States, they released a warning to all U.S. citizens, saying, ‘Hey, if you’re darker skinned, there’s a huge crackdown on Haitian migrants that’s happening. Darker-skinned people need to be extra careful because darker-skinned people that look like they might be Haitian, are being detained and they’re being delayed.’ Not only that, but some of them are being placed inside of detention centers. It’s a really difficult time for anybody that looks like they might be Haitian.
Asare: What do you think is the best way to move forward? What do you think the Haitian people can do, if anything?
Albert: Yeah, that’s a really good question. The bigger picture, and this is something I’m giving my entire life to, in working in Haiti, is improving the quality of life in Haiti. I think the underlying deep-rooted structural, systemic solution is for us to improve the quality of life in our country. I will be clear that I’m not claiming that every single Dominican is discriminating, is racist. Granted, to be racist, you got to be white. I’m not claiming that at all. There’s got to be that power dynamic and most Dominicans are not white. So, I’m not claiming that at all, but I do think that it’s a very…the antihaitianismo is very real and very strong in the Dominican Republic. Improving our situation is going to make them feel like there’s opportunity.
Asare: What do you think that the Forbes readers can do? Are there causes that you recommend we support? During times like these, it’s really difficult to figure out which nonprofits are actually legitimate. Especially when it comes to Haiti, I think about the Red Cross and the misallocation of funds. What do you think that the readers can do to really support this particular issue when it comes to Haitian migrants, what’s happening right now in Haiti, and then the darker-skinned Haitians and darker-skinned people in general really being pushed out of the Dominican Republic?
“The bigger picture, and this is something I’m giving my entire life to, in working in Haiti, is … [+] improving the quality of life in Haiti.”
Albert: Beautiful question. Really, really great question. I think the easiest and most important thing in this stage is for us to ensure that this is a story that is spoken about, and ensure that this doesn’t just die down next month. Because it’s not going to die down next month in the Dominican Republic. This is something that has been going on for years. Specifically, the mistreatment, the inhumane treatment of Haitian people in the DR. It’s been going on for many, many years. It’s just now picking up, especially with the decree of the president. I think that, number one, talk about it. Bring awareness. As we bring awareness, there’s that social pressure. I think number two…I really do think that a strategy is investing in local Haitian run businesses. Investing in the local Haitian economy. Investing in Haitian agriculture. Investing in organizations that are already working to improve the sustainability of Haiti. Already working towards strengthening Haiti’s agricultural sector, strengthening Haiti’s educational sector.
I want to encourage Haitians and Dominicans that, the story’s not over. Although there have been deep-rooted tensions between the two countries, we are one island, and there is incredible hope for the situation. The fact that we’re seeing a lot of Dominicans speaking out against this…you’ll see so many Dominicans…the Dominican diaspora that are so vocal about the issues that are happening. That, in and of itself shows that there’s a new generation. There is a new generation of Dominicans that are committed towards walking alongside of Haitian, a new generation of Haitians that are committed to identifying the problems and working towards change. This is not the end of the story. Unity is still possible…I truly believe it’s in our future. We’ve just got to keep moving forward together and commit to each other, commit to seeing our island rise as one.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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