By Daniela Raymond
Last month, workers in Haiti resumed construction of a canal near the Massacre River that flows along the border of the Dominican Republic. This has prompted the Dominican Republic to close its borders over conflict on river access to the two historically combative countries.
Haiti has resumed building the canal to help alleviate a drought hitting Haiti’s Maribaroux plain. Dominican President Luis Abinader has stated that the canal will redirect the river’s flow of water, putting stress on Dominican farmers and the enclosing environment. Concurrently, the Haitian government has persisted that the building of the canal falls within their rights to Massacre River and they have the fundamental freedom to use its natural resources.
The conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is far from recent news. The river in question is one of the major sites of conflict between the two. Seventy-four, years ago the river was a scene of mass slaughter of Haitians that has been ingrained in the population’s collective memory, but often seems forgotten by the rest of the world.
It is estimated that between 9,000 and 20,000 Haitians were slaughtered in the Dominican Republic under the order of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The tragedy was nicknamed the Parsley Massacre because Dominican soldiers holding a sprig of parsley demanded suspected Haitians to pronounce the Spanish word for parsley —“perejil.” The word was difficult for native Haitian Creole speakers, which unfortunately cost them their lives at the border. Dark times continued to follow for months and years after. Thousands of families were rounded up, tortured and killed simply for being Haitian.
Before this closure of the border, it was open for full passage both ways from Monday to Friday. Each day, the bridge that links the town of Dajabon on the Dominican side and Ouanaminthe is filled with waves of people bringing goods to the markets. The border closure has paralyzed a key economic lifeline for Haitians who buy and sell goods.
The closure also affects the millions of people who live in Haiti, but cross the border daily for work. Right-winged Dominican politicians and racist propaganda have stirred up a considerable amount of anti-Haitian sentiment and prejudice against Haitians has become commonplace. Despite the hostility, large numbers of Haitians had continued to cross over the border to find work up until the border closure.
The Haitian government has responded stating that it has a right to the shared river and that construction is in line with a 1929 treaty. Currently, construction has continued and the border remains closed. Both countries will suffer economically and likely worsen the humanitarian situation in areas close to the border. Haiti is the Dominican Republic’s third biggest consumer and trading partner, putting an extra strain on their economic system.