History and Hope on the Haitian/Dominican Border

All the communities where we live have histories, though we are not be aware of them. My city, the border town of San Diego, CA, was settled by various Kumeyaay Indians about 12,000 years ago. Cabrillo followed them around 1540, later followed by the Spanish Padres, later followed by the U.S who conquered California in 1847. Our local culture still reflects all these layers, in addition the more recent growth of the US military presence, and our economic interconnection with Tijuana and Baja.

Haiti/DR border area is an equally fascinating and at times tragic collection of cultures, political intrigue and conflict. For anyone interested in a quick historical overview of the respective histories of Haiti and the DR, you can’t do much better than Jerrod Diamond’s book Collapse. For in depth history of Haiti, Loreant Dubois’s Haiti: The Aftershocks of History is a must read.

In terms of Plant With Purpose’s work on the border, the most recent and relevant historical chapter happened during and after the U.S.’ occupation of Haiti the 1920’s, when roads constructed by corvee labor rapidly increased the exploitation of Haiti’s forests.

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This increase in deforestation was followed by the border conflicts of 1937, when the Dominican Dictator Trujillo sent his troops to expel and kill Haitians living on the border areas of the DR. (They actually rounded up Dominican farmers to do the killing with machetes, the absence of bullet wounds supposedly giving them a kind of deniability…) In all, about 37,000 Haitians were killed, and Trujillo continued to scapegoat Haitians until he was assassinated in 1961.

In addition to the massacres, Trujillo sent Dominican farmers to settle the border, to create a kind of human shield against Haitian encroachment. Today, theses communities are economically interdependent and socially intertwined, but a great deal of the old suspicion and even hatred remains. When conflict arises, these feelings and prejudices emerge. Several times in the last few years, there have been killings over various disputes related to land use and failed business transactions related to share cropping agreements, etc.

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In Plant With Purposes role, we seek to model shared Haitian-Dominican leadership through our work with farmers groups and local churches. Most recently we have expanded into Village Savings and Loan groups (VSLAs), which provide a platform for collective savings, agricultural innovation and small loans for farm and family needs.

 

Not only are we seeing the lives of families improve, but the relationships in the broader community are getting more peaceful, as the groups also provide a mechanism to resolve conflict. Far from being blighted and hopeless, these communities are becoming places that have dreams of more prosperous and peaceful future. Even better, there is a way forward to see those dreams realized.

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