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Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Race, Politics And Historical Bitterness

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Hispaniola. A Caribbean island divided by old great power rivalry by European superpowers. Today still divided by race, language and attitudes. On one side of the divided island is Haiti that's 90 percent Black (African descendants) while the neighboring Dominican Republic, the other side, is Spanish speaking. But the differences do not end there even if both races and people share one divided island. Haitians are more Afrocentric and relate easily to their Black brethren in the wider Caribbean and the United States.

By contrast, the people of the Dominican Republic have been forced-fed to embrace their European/Spanish ancestry and to eschew anything and all things African and Black. It is this mindset that drives today's national xenophobia against Dominican-born Haitians now elevated to governmental policy. The thing is that the Dominican Republic is better off -- slightly - economically than Haiti. That's a fact. But not by miles. The nation is still a poor, struggling developing country -- just as its neighbor.

To be sure there are degrees of poverty and want. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with serious socio-economic challenges, an uneducated and under educated population and a political system prone to self-inflicting pain. Today in the Dominican Republic as tourists flock to pristine beaches, swanky hotels and shopping malls, they have very little knowledge that a few miles away thousands of poor dispossessed Haitians are under armed guard on plantations harvesting sugarcane, most of which ends up in US kitchens. Called "Bateys" it is the Dominican Republic's closely guarded secret of neo-slavery.

A Batey is place of unmanageable abject, grinding poverty -- a Haitian sugar cane village of shacks, dirt roads, and shoeless and naked children. There is no running water, no electricity, no school for young children, no medical or health facilities. There are no paved roads or street lights; just shacks, rows and rows of barely livable shacks. Sugar cane workers work from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, cutting sugar cane by hand with machetes. For all of their toil and sweat, men may make $5 per day, back breaking day after day.

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These dirt poor Haitian families live in shacks about eight-foot-by-ten-foot in a structure of scrap pieces of wood -- nailed gingerly to the supporting "beams," which actually are just branches and sticks. The roof is a combination of scraps of metal, banana tree leaves, and random pieces of trash that have been tossed up there to try and keep the rain out. Even slaves in 19th century America fared better and these Haitians in 2016.

Each year, as the sugar harvest approaches, as many as 20,000 Haitian workers are recruited with the promise of steady work at higher pay than they can earn in Haiti, the poorer of the two countries. With the complicity of military and immigration authorities, these destitute immigrants are loaded onto trucks, stripped of their identification papers, and transported in the middle of the night to the Bateyes, where many are housed in concentration-camp-like barracks. Estimates of the population of undocumented Haitians living in the camps range from 650,000 to one million.

The Dominican Republic's government wants to kick out vast majority of these stateless Haitians. They are neither Haitian nor Dominican. They are exploited daily, are forced into abject poverty, and are the faces of Dominican shame. These vulnerable, defenseless Haitians and their children have been trapped in an endless cycle of modern-day slavery by a government bent on revenge for what it sees as historical wrongs committed in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and the knowing collusion of big sugar companies many of them incorporated in the United States.

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Indeed, the animosity and resentment against "Dark skinned Haitians" go back centuries. And today, it is payback time today for Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

You see, Haiti was once a French colony, with its economy based almost exclusively on plantation slavery. What's now the Dominican Republic was Spanish. There were slaves on both sides of the island, but the society and economy on the Spanish side were more diverse, with cattle ranches and mines just as prevalent as sugar plantations. Under the brutal slave oppression of the French, Haitians rose up and in 1804 defeated the French forces and declared their independence as the world's first Black Republic.

Meanwhile, the landed white French gentry fled the young Haitian Republic for the neighboring Dominican Republic. But Haitian military power was strong enough to invade the Dominican Republic and put it under Black rule for the next 20 years. But the pressures of European and American powers combined to kill the Haitian Republic. Unfair and burdensome levies were imposed on the Haitian government.

Infact, Haiti was ordered to pay France the astronomical sum, by 1804 standards, of $150 million Francs, as restitution for revenues lost due to slavery. That figure was reduced to $60 million -- still a burdensome bill. What that meant was that a struggling agricultural economy found it very difficult to pay up. The Haitian government therefore levied heavy taxes on the Dominican people and its military confiscated food, property and goods from them often at gunpoint. This only helped to deepen the resentment between the two countries and races - one already smarting from the humiliation of having been invaded by a Black army.

For a people more socially and racially aligned to Spain and Europe and who rejected their African heritage this was the final humiliation. It what's at the root of hostility to Black Haitians today even though the country still needs them to cut sugar cane -- an activity that most Dominicans do not want to do because its back-breaking labor and is still reminds them of slavery and their African past. Dominican's today, cognizant of this history, are still stung by it.

Relations between the countries through the early 1800s were long, complicated and bloody. But the key event was the long War of Independence fought by Dominicans against Haiti, which began in 1844. It's the longest war in the Republic's history. By 1930, when Dictator Rafael Trujillo seized power, he elevated and deepened anti-Haiti sentiments to a national level putting the focus on his country's European heritage. He presided over the most intensive and brutal pogrom against Haitians to date.

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Such a racist and bigoted national policy culminated in the mass murder over a few days of 20,000 Haitians in 1937. This was coupled with other persecutions and brutal repressions including forced deportations, imprisonment, beatings and extrajudicial killings.

So much so that in 2007, a United Nations Report compiled by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, described what it called a "profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination in Dominican society, generally affecting blacks and particularly such groups as black Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians."

The scathing report continued: "While there is no Government policy of racism and no legislation that is on the face of it clearly discriminatory," it said, there clearly was a "discriminatory impact" from "certain laws, particularly those relating to migration, civil status and ... citizenship."

 

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)
 

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