Haiti needs to solve its internal conflicts in order to build a good relationship with the Dominican Republic.
This reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — From a ruthless massacre in 1937 to now a disputed canal that led to shared borders closing, Haiti and its neighbor have a one-of-a-kind, toxic relationship steeped in conflicts that go centuries back. But one thing many Haitians and Dominicans agree could be a significant step towards more neighborly relations is the one Haitians want most of all: A safe, stable Haiti.
“The first thing is that Haiti needs security for its society [citizens] and to strengthen its institutions,” said Mayobanex Pepin, president of Movimiento Duartianos Unidos, a self-described patriotic organization in the Dominican Republic.
“If there is no peace in Haiti, it will not have a harmonious relationship with the DR,” Pepin, 51, said in a written translated interview with The Haitian Times. “You have to solve your internal problems. No one will seek friendship with a neighbor who kills his children.”
Pepin is referring to the ongoing gang violence that has left at least 2,400 dead in Haiti so far this year, The Human Rights Research Center (CARDH), most of them in a capital region of about 2 million, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
His sentiment that Haiti must prioritize cleaning its own house, to use an idiom, is not uncommon among some ordinary Dominicans, some Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent interviewed. Anything other than a functioning Haiti is a non-starter in building better relations, they said. Even having talks, which some in the formal sector insist works, will not be fruitful unless Haiti functions.
To Sam Guillaume, the head of communication and advocacy for the Support Group for Returnees and Refugees (GARR), both can work. His said tensions can ameliorate if both countries respect the diplomatic laws and follow the treaties, while Haiti focuses on solving its crises.
“If the country is stable,” Guillaume said. “If people are investing, if there are jobs for the land’s children, the amount of people crossing the border will decrease until there won’t be an influx of Haitians in the Dominican Republic anymore. That’s how the tension we have will decrease.”
Over in the Dominican Republic, Starlin Hernandez, 24, shares the same view.
“The first step for us to end this conflict is for you to resolve the crisis in your country,” said Hernandez, an accountant, in a written translated interview. “The Dominicans will never see you as equal as long as you continue to be mired in violence.”
Erinel Mena, a Haitian construction worker, also believes Haiti must address and work on its problems for the two countries to have a good relationship.
“If we have good agriculture, if things are functioning [in Haiti] like in all of the other countries, we will be living a good life and won’t have to bother our neighbors,” Mena, 28, said.
Most recently, the Organization of American States (OAS) and Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry are among those calling for dialogue between officials of both countries. Edwin Paraison, founder of Zile Foundation, a group that aims to create friendship between Haitians and Dominicans, is among many who have been advocating for dialogue and recognizing the nations’ symbiosis for much longer.
“When talking about a solution, the first thing we need is dialogue,” said Paraison, a former consul of Haiti to the Dominican Republic. “The second thing is being aware of what’s called interdependence. We need to open more windows of cooperation.”
Smith Augustin, a former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, sees great value in dialogue in situations such as the Rivière Massacre crisis.
“We only have a diplomatic dialogue left to come up with a serious bilateral negotiations,” said Augustin, writing in the publication AlterPresse.
“If, in the worst case, the Dominican authorities nevertheless refuse to engage in dialogue by insisting on stopping the work, the Haitian government will be able at that time to resort to an arbitration tribunal or to the mediation of a third State or other government. A competent international organization.”
In Hernandez’s view, dialogue should be the follow-up to the solution.
“After resolving the insecurity situation in their territory, we will be on equal terms and we can negotiate how to make both countries take more advantage of tourism,” Hernandez said.