The Dominican Republic – Haiti Divide

Author: Regina Paulose

Most sad chapters in history involve a mix of bad (or an absence of) law and a tyrant. In 1930, Rafeal Leonidas Trujillo became the dictator of the Dominican Republic (DR). In October 1937, he ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians (estimates range between 9,000 to 30,000 civilians). Dominican soldiers were ordered to carry a sprig of parsley and ask people to say the word “parsley” in Spanish. Those who could not pronounce the word paid the price by being hacked to death with machetes or through other violent methods. The U.S. Ambassador to the DR labeled it “a systematic campaign of extermination.” Bodies of Haitian’s were dumped in what became known as “Massacre River.” These events became known as the “Parsley Massacres” or “El Corte.”



The motives of Trujillo remain a mystery. There are two main reasons which continue to surface. The first was Trujillo’s desire to expunge “dark skinned Haitians” from the DR and the second was to prevent “Haitian occupation of the region.”[1] Regardless of his precise motives, the orders to carry out these acts were heinous and resulted in crimes against humanity, specifically, genocide.  Several months after the genocide, “the military deported thousands of ethnic Haitians, killing a substantial number, in the Southern Border provinces.”[2] It was after this that “an official campaign of virulent anti-Haitian discourse” began.[3]

In 1938, blood thirsty Trujillo directed another eviction campaign against the Haitians in the southern frontier. Although many Haitians had warning and were able to flee “el desalojo” (the eviction), hundreds were killed during this campaign.[4] Despite these grotesque acts, Trujillo’s sentiment towards Haitians did an about face between 1948 and 1952 when the price of sugar rose and Haitians were “bought” to work as cane cutters and in the sugar mills. It is estimated that the DR paid the Haitian government approximately $3 million a year for the workers.[5]

Regardless of the appearance of normal relations, the treatment of Haitians did not change regardless of who was in power. “Anti-Haitianism has a long history as the ideology of national cohesion and domination for the ruling Dominican elite, but significantly during the 1990’s, racism and nationalism became the basis for a racist agenda in internal Dominican politics.”[6]

In 2013, the DR Constitutional Court “stripped citizenship” of children born of Haitian immigrants. The basis for the decision was a provision in the 1929 DR Constitution “which recognizes as a citizen anyone born in the country, should not apply to the children of parents who were not “legal residents” at the time of their birth, on the basis that their parents were ‘in transit.’” International human rights activists and scholars were quick to point out that the decision was in contravention of international law.


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Despite a public relations campaign geared towards justifying its decision, in 2015 the DR began formal expulsions, enforcing the 2013 decision. It is estimated that thousands of people during that time left to return to Haiti. Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul stated that the DR’s policy was creating a “humanitarian crisis.” Those who speak out against the policy were called “anti-Dominican.”  In 2016 the reports of violence and pervasive fear among Haitians in the DR have not subsided and the DR’s campaign to appear as if it is tackling a serious immigration issue has merely proven that its violent history could repeat itself if continued to be left unchecked.

Over 75 years have passed since “El Corte” and yet the apparent motivations for that genocide linger today. Discussions regarding the genocide are few and far in between. It is important that the international community engage in frank discussions regarding statelessness and racism and the larger implications it has in the DR and around the world.  This cannot be done creating more treaties. It must be done with the mind that governments that create stateless people are setting up a pretext for crimes against humanity to occur. Further, the DR has acceded (1983) to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The DR should be encouraged to cooperate and implement the recommended practices and suggestions by the treaty body given the current situation.



[1] David Howard, Coloring the Nation: Race and Ethnicity in the Dominican Republic, Lynne Rienner Publications, (2001), pg 157

[2] Richard Lee Turtis, Foundations of Despotism, Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History, Stanford University Press, (2003), pg 146

[3] Idem

[4] Turtis pg 169

[5] Michele Wucker, Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, Hill and Wang Publishers, (1999), pg 105

[6] Howard pg 155