70 Years Ago in the Dominican Republic…
70 years ago, on the verge of World War 2, Nazism was spreading in Europe, the US, still struggling to emerge from the Great Depression, had yet to enact a 25¢ Federal minimum wage and Haiti had just come out of 19 years of US military occupation.
A little over 70 years ago, from October 2nd to October 4th 1937, 15,000 to 20,000 Haitian immigrant workers were massacred in the Dominican Republic. Most were slaughtered with bayonets and machetes by the Dominican army and some Dominican big landowners. Infants had their heads smashed against walls. Women were speared with pitchforks. Many who were attempting to escape back to Haiti were captured at the border and killed. These murders were ordered by Dominican dictator Raphael Leonidas Trujillo, in an effort to “cleanse” the border region and expropriate small peasants or “conuqueros” so that big landowners could take over their lands.
The international outrage brought on by this massacre was soon abated by an agreement between both governments, on January 31, 1938, to settle “these few incidents on the border between some Haitians and Dominicans.” The Haitian government of Sténio Vincent capitulated completely and dropped all proceedings in international court. The Dominican Republic agreed to pay $750,000 in compensation to the victims. Eventually, $500,000 was paid, amounting to about $25 to $33 per murdered Haitian. No one was ever brought to justice.
A few facts stand out:
- To ensure plausible denial by the Dominican army, most of the victims were murdered without the use of firearms.
- The Haitian government was complicit in the cover-up and ensuing denial of justice to the victims.
- This ethnic cleansing pogrom was part of an ideological campaign by the ruling classes to scapegoat Haitian immigrants for the plight of poor Dominicans and build a Dominican national identity through this process. This has led to an enduring entrenched anti-haitianismo pervasive in Dominican culture, reinforced throughout school and systematically used as an instrument of exploitation.
The massacre which took place was organized by the ruling classes of the DR with the complicity of the ruling classes in Haiti, and the Haitian state itself received compensation (although minimal) from the Dominican state.
It was not the first time in the history of the relations between the two countries that reactionary policies were enacted by ruling reactionary nationalist classes. In 1822, the Haitian ruling feudal class, through its reactionary state, invaded and occupied the Eastern part of the island and was responsible for reactionary and repressive policies, such as the closure of schools and universities. There was a 22 year resistance to the Haitian occupation which culminated in the defeat of the occupation troops and the proclamation of independence of the Dominican Republic on February 27, 1844.
These struggles, under the leadership of the reactionary ruling classes in both countries, constitute the historical backdrop which they have used to build nationalist fervor in support of their rule. This same nationalist fervor, has been fed through the systematic state-enabled policies of super-exploitation and abuse of plantation workers of Haitian origin on the Dominican side of the island.
Over the years, the Dominican ruling classes, with the tacit complicity of their Haitian counterparts, have expanded these state enabled apartheid-like policies to furnish an abundant supply of low wage labor to what has become, de facto, two different wage scales throughout agriculture, the construction trades and everywhere else it can be taken advantage of: work to be performed by “illegal Haitians” and work to be performed by “legal” Dominicans. It is estimated that “illegal” Haitian workers generate about 30% of the production in the Dominican economy while they only constitute about 10% of the population.
The underlying mechanism which permits this is the economic and wage disparity between the two sides of the island. Poorer economic conditions prevailing in Haiti fuel the constant migration of destitute workers toward the Dominican Republic to constantly replenish the reservoir of unemployed labor in those jobs where extremely low wage scales have been set to keep them relegated to “illegal” Haitian laborers. And the high unemployment sustains this mechanism, even though the “legal” Dominican sector of the workforce is itself faced with high unemployment and severe hardship.
The ideological campaigns waged by the reactionary ruling classes to keep this apartheid-like two wage scale system depends on their ability to convince the “legal” Dominican labor sector that certain jobs are not fit for them, that they are only fit for lower paid “illegal” Haitians. Once convinced of this, it becomes OK to wage brutal repression towards these “illegal vagrants”. The “legal” Dominicans are then led to believe in their social privilege, their social status which isolates them from this higher level of exploitation and repression reserved for “Haitians.” Thus, having convinced “legal” Dominican workers of their “privilege,” one can understand what is at stake when periodic pogroms are waged to stoke “anti-haitianismo” and maintain this highly profitable state of affairs.
It also becomes very convenient to blame the “Haitians” for all the hardships “Dominican” workers face resulting from the anti-national and anti-popular policies of the Dominican state in favor of reactionary ruling class interests.
This also can explain why, even as they continue to denounce the “encroachment of Haitians”, the Dominican ruling classes and their state continue to enable the trade in migrant labor from Haiti.
State policies of systematic discrimination and brutal repression of the sector of the Dominican labor force which is of Haitian origin are enabled by systematic propaganda on both sides of the island to dehumanize Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian origin, within the framework of the general and systematic denigration of “peasants” and poor “destitute” people. This is taught in the schools, propagated by the media and permeates the dominant ideological doctrine.
In early October 2007, (in a rebuke of Diómedes Espinal de León, the bishop of the Mao-Montecristi diocese, in the Northwest of the Dominican Republic) Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez stated that Trujillo bears sole responsibility for the 1937 massacre and that the Dominican people owe no apology to Haitians for that event.
To this day, governing elites allied to the extreme right-wing big landowners and sugar plantation capitalists in the Dominican Republic are using brutally repressive measures to oppress, exploit and periodically expel a large Haitian immigrant population. For the most part, these immigrants came over as migrant workers and have stayed on. They number from half a million to one million, according to various estimates. For the most part, they have little or no legal status, and their children, born in the Dominican Republic, are denied birth certificates and Dominican citizenship. This has created a permanent source of cheap labor, conveniently cast aside and subjected with total impunity to the worst abuses.
Massive expulsions of Haitian immigrants have been on the rise in recent years. The most recent surge in deportations started when Haitian immigrants, migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent were scapegoated after 3 Haitians were hastily accused of the murder of a Dominican merchant, Maritza Nuñez, in Hatillo de Palma, in the northern province of Monte Cristi, on May 9, 2005. In the ensuing pogrom, at least three Haitian immigrants were lynched and many more were severely beaten.
According to Dominican authorities, an average of 20,000 immigrants are forcefully repatriated every year. Most are brutally rounded up by army and police, forced to abandon all their belongings and trucked to the border where they are dumped. Families are separated without any chance of reunion. The Dominican government pursues this expulsion policy under the guise of the “illegality” of the vast majority of Haitian immigrants. However, the Dominican government also systematically denies these immigrants the right to any process to legalize their status (even those who are born in the DR), and moreover, every year, as thousands of Haitian immigrant workers are repatriated, thousands more are recruited across the border to replenish the low-wage labor supply for the bateyes and the construction sites, jobs commonly frowned upon by native Dominicans. There is a de-facto collusion between Dominican and Haitian authorities to maintain this trafficking in cheap labor, fueled by the expulsions. It is reported that some high-level officials on both sides of the border are paid for each Haitian repatriated and each Haitian brought in. This fraudulent commerce in cheap labor also sustains a number of intermediaries and is fraught with corrupt and abusive practices. It is an example of the collusion between the dominant business interests and the governments of both countries to constantly drive down wages throughout the island.
On the Haitian side of the island, the thousands of migrant laborers who emigrate each year are an important safety valve in the face of a chronic structural unemployment rate of about 60% and the continued degradation of agricultural production. The continued recruitment of Haitian migrant workers is a testimony to the utter bankruptcy of the development policies of the Haitian ruling classes and the so-called international community, which is currently engaged in a long-term occupation and tutelage of Haiti.
Recently, the plight of Haitian immigrant workers in the Dominican Republic has become the subject of an international campaign. The International Human Rights Tribunal has ruled in favor of two children born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic, demanding that they be granted equal legal status and citizenship. Amnesty International has launched a campaign against the massive expulsions of Haitians and their systematic exploitation in the Dominican Republic. A photographic exhibition, “Slaves in Paradise” by Céline Anaya Gautier, a Franco-Peruvian photographer, exposing the misery of sugar cane workers has been touring internationally. A few films have also come out on the same subject, “The Price of Sugar” (Bill Haney), “ Sugar Babies” (Amy Serrano), “Child Slaves” (Karen Kramer), “Batey Zero” (Gérard Maximen), “Sucre Noir” (Michel Reignier), “Le Batey” (Yves Langlois), “L’empire du sucre” (Brian McKenna) and “Haïti Chérie” (Claudio del Punta). These films are also touring internationally, often as part of forums organized around this issue.
In New York, protests (including Dominican progressives) have been held in front of the Dominican Consulate and in front of the UN. Monthly informational pickets are still being held in front of the Dominican Consulate, on the first Thursday of every month, between 5:30 and 6:30 PM (see website).
As a result of this campaign, reactionary forces in the Dominican Republic have launched a counter campaign to denounce their denunciation as a vast anti-Dominican plot. Attempts have been made to bribe and/or intimidate the media into a more favorable coverage. “Happy” bateyes have suddenly begun to show up in media reports (i.e. Haitian Times…), and members of Dominican consulates show up at events exposing these injustices to intimidate organizers and participants. Father Pierre Ruquoy and Father Christopher Hartley, two Catholic priests who spent decades in the Dominican Republic working for the rights of the immigrant workers in the bateyes, were both subjected to death threats and other forms of pressure, and finally forced to leave the country by the high hierarchy of the Church. Sonia Pierre, a Dominican of Haitian descent who heads MUDHA, an NGO engaged in the struggle for the rights of Haitian Dominican women, was recently threatened with loss of citizenship for speaking out on these issues.
Sadly, reactionary forces in the Dominican Republic have greatly out voiced the Dominican progressive movement, which on the whole has remained conspicuously silent on this issue. The Dominican progressive movement has allowed the debate to be framed in nationalist terms, upholding the rights of a sovereign state to defend its borders, to regulate its policies and to deport illegal immigrants, albeit in a humane manner.
The challenge we face today is to debunk this nationalist problematic. We cannot allow the issues to be distorted in such a manner. The issue of immigrant labor, from a progressive working class point of view cannot be a matter of national sovereignty. National sovereignty in this context is nothing but ruling class propaganda to protect capitalist interests by pitting workers against each other in their policies of divide and conquer and promote imperialist hegemony.
Quite obviously, as they collaborate with each other to exploit us to the extreme, the ruling classes of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have shown over and over again that they care much more for their profits than for their “nation.” These are the same “nationalists” who repeatedly sell out their nation, sign “Free Trade” agreements and mortgage their country’s economy to the IMF, the IDB, USAID and the World Bank. These are the same “nationalists” who readily welcome foreign intervention to protect their interests.
As workers, we must demand justice and equality for all of us, or face the downward spiral of competing in the “Free Market” against the most exploited and the most abused.
In the age of capitalist globalization, capital knows no borders. Dominican and Haitian capitalists invest on both sides of the island to take advantage of our exploitation.
We too, as workers, must reject the artificial borders of nationality that have been placed on us to perpetuate our exploitation. The very language we use to phrase the issues has been compromised. Why do we speak of “Haitians” in the Dominican Republic when we are dealing with 5% to 10% of the population? Why do we speak of “Haitians” when dealing with workers who have resided in the Dominican Republic for over twenty years? Why do we speak of “Haitians” when we refer to their children born in the Dominican Republic? Why do we speak of “Haitians” when we refer to workers who have produced a considerable portion of the social wealth in the Dominican Republic? Clearly these workers are not “Haitians”. They are immigrant workers. Just as workers here in the US who emigrate from other countries are immigrants. They are simply labeled Haitians because it is a convenient way to isolate and discriminate against them while exploiting them and denying them any rights.
That is why, based on the same convictions that drive our demand for amnesty, legalization of status and the end to the persecution of all undocumented immigrants here in the United States, we also raise the same demands with regards to Haitian immigrants and migrant workers in the Dominican Republic. We must raise the same demands in defense of immigrant workers rights all over the world. Just as we battle here in the US for the rights of all immigrants, including those from the Dominican Republic, we must also stand up for the rights of immigrant workers the world over, including Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic.
The challenge we all share is to debunk entrenched anti-haitian racism as it persists today in the Dominican Republic, through the united struggle for our common rights and interests as a class. That is why, as workers, we must embrace the commonality of our condition: a common exploiter, a global imperialist system; a common quest, a world free from exploitation.
Originally Dominicans and Haitians were one people. We have been divided by colonialists, and reactionary ruling classes have pitted us against each other to reap their profits from our exploitation. The only hope for our future lies in the coordinated revolutionary popular struggle on both sides of the island, under working class leadership.