'Things are too hot' in Haiti-Dominican border, migrant says

As Haitian leave Dajabon, uncertainty grows among business owners

Haitians in Dajabon, Dominican Republic, are heading with their belongings to Haiti. Many are fleeing a potential government crackdown on undocumented migrants.
Haitians in Dajabon, Dominican Republic, are heading with their belongings to Haiti. Many are fleeing a potential government crackdown on undocumented migrants. (JOSHUA PARTLOW/THE WASHINGTON POST)

DAJABON, Dominican Republic – Haiti's northern border has experienced some of the worst moments in the troubled relationship with its island-locked neighbor.

When sugar prices fell in the 1930s, the Dominican Republican government sought to drive out Haitian cane cutters.

Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered a bloody military campaign that became known as "The Harvest," with soldiers using machetes and shovels to slaughter more than 10,000 Haitians along the Massacre River.

Leonilda Jus moved with her aunt from Haiti to the Dominican Republic decades after that, in 1974, but the jobs available were the same.

Jus grew up cutting sugar cane, picking tomatoes, digging onions. She gave birth to 12 children there, nine of whom survived, and eventually moved from the outskirts of the capital to the northern city of Santiago. The sugar cane industry has shriveled, but her sons found jobs in construction and on farms.

On Saturday, two of them, Thony Dume, 29, and Felix Mondesir, 24, worked on an addition to the rented shack in Ouanaminthe where they had moved four days before, to make room for more relatives coming from the Dominican Republic.

"It wasn't a problem living there before. The police and many others knew me," Dume said. "But now things are too hot."

On March 2, before deciding to move, Dume stood in line at one of the government's immigration offices to register himself — Ministry of Interior and Police No. DO-29-000345. That gave him 45 days to prove he had the right to live in the Dominican Republic, even though he was born there.

During that time, he needed to get written documentation from seven neighbors to vouch for his long-term presence in the country, plus testimony from a corner store where he shopped, and proof of residency from his landlord, in addition to a birth certificate or other government papers, none of which he had.

To hire a lawyer to complete the process would cost up to $900, he said, equal to what he could earn in five months at his job milking cows in Santiago.

Instead, he got on a bus and headed for Dajabon.

MAP | Quanaminthe, Haiti - Dajabon, Dominican Republic

Over the years, the Dominican border town has grown into a bustling commercial center, with vendors from throughout the country selling their wares at the market to Haitian customers. The shoppers crowd the border bridge with goods stacked on their heads, loaded into wheelbarrows and motorcycle carts.

"They make our economy dynamic," said Ana Carrasco, 53, a Dominican who retired from local government to run a restaurant in Dajabon. "People come to buy eggs, chicken, spaghetti. If they don't buy it in this market, they don't eat. Hunger doesn't have a flag, nor a border, nor a color, nor politics. It's hunger. It's necessity."

Until last week, when they could no longer cross the border into Dajabon, Carrasco used Haitian laborers to work in her restaurant and clean her home. She said she supported the registration effort but worried about the harm the policy might cause to the economy.

Dominicans in Dajabon have come to rely on the shadow services offered by Haitians. All day at Carrasco's restaurant, Haitians drop by with their offers and wares: shoeshine boys, girls selling baby clothes, a woman who sells brand-name tampons at half the price the stores charge.

"This issue affects my business, because my employees can't come to work," Carrasco said. "But we have to resolve this — the country should be able to know who they are. You have to do it, for everyone's sanity. No matter what the cost, it needs to happen."

Other Dajabon business owners have more to lose. On the 1,700 acres of Hiroshi Rodríguez's rice farms, the manual labor is done by trucked-in Haitian workers, because, he said, "Dominicans don't want to work."

On separate occasions over the past two months, soldiers and immigration officials have come and taken his workers away. He finds it particularly frustrating because soldiers, he said, take bribes from the farmers to let the day laborers pass the highway checkpoints.

"This makes me enraged," he said. "They don't let me work, but they're trafficking Haitians.

"The government is going to have to recognize that all the companies need them," he added. "Pretty soon, this is going to explode."

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