The Mass Deportations of Haitians in the Dominican Republic Is Anti-Black History Repeating Itself

Photo: Toni L. Sandys/ The Washington Post/Getty Images.
When I first read Edwidge Danticat’s “Create Dangerously,” I was struck by her understanding that the proverbial “immigrant artist at work” is forever charged with bearing witness when our root homelands are plagued by poverty, systemic oppression, and state violence. “Every time there was a political murder, a young aspiring intellectual from the neighborhood would suggest someone put on a play,” she wrote about the legend of resistance in her native Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which shares a border with my parents’ country of origin in the Dominican Republic. As a young writer finding my voice under a violent tradition of forced migration inherited over eons, Danticat gave me license to speak with liberty and justice. However, when Dominican President Luis Abinader announced the enactment of Decree No. 668-22 in November 2022, it didn’t inspire me to write. Instead, it rendered me embarrassed. 
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In my own quiet fury, I lamented the ultimate genius of white supremacy: two African-Indigenous sister nations with a joint history, severed to the advantage of the ruling few, and obscured in popular discourse and general media.
Decree No. 668-22 established the Unidad Especializada de la Policía Nacional, a specialized unit aimed at preventing and prosecuting squatters of any private or public property. However, the unit targets bateyes, the sugar plantations essential to the country’s economy where humble communities of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent reside. Historically, these communities that have toiled for decades cutting cane and raising families, purchased the plots on good faith, a common practice across the country. 
“The way it’s done here, if you are not some wealthy foreign investor, there’s a transaction done on good faith between an individual seller and buyer,” Sirana Dollis, director of Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA), an organization that helps improve the quality of life in Dominican bateyes, tells Refinery29 Somos. “It’s always someone buying some small piece of terrain or plot from someone they know. All there is between them is a transactional exchange, but no legal protection.” 

"In my own quiet fury, I lamented the ultimate genius of white supremacy: two African-Indigenous sister nations with a joint history, severed to the advantage of the ruling few, and obscured in popular discourse and general media."

Marjua estevez
While common practice, Abinader’s new law has enabled “mass evictions” of individuals and families who have been living in these communities for 20-plus years, overwhelmingly Haitians and Black Dominicans. Since November, tens of thousands of Haitians have been forced back to the frontier.
In the Dominican Republic, Haitians and Black Dominicans have long felt how nefarious anti-immigration measures turn out to be. Less than 10 years ago, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court issued a decision that effectively denationalized an estimated 250,000 Haitian immigrants born in the Dominican Republic after 1929. 
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Now, through Decree No. 668-22, police have a blanket license to harass and boot anyone they deem to be Haitian; meanwhile, military, immigration, municipal authorities, and even everyday citizens are empowered to assume the prerogatives of detaining, beating, or catching people they believe to be Haitian, regardless of whether they’re documented or not. 
“If a person has a Black racial profile, they are already a candidate to receive the fury caused by those who have orders from above to attack immigrants,” Manuel de Jesus Dandre, a civil rights attorney and education activist, tells Somos through WhatsApp. “Protected by the decree, humble shacks or houses of certain value are razed and other assets stolen with impunity.” Dollis adds that the MUDHA headquarters was recently ambushed by police as well.

"If a person has a Black racial profile, they are already a candidate to receive the fury caused by those who have orders from above to attack immigrants."

Manuel de Jesus Dandre
De Jesus Dandre, a native of the Municipality of Villa Altagracia (Batey Básima) and a descendant of Haitian parents who entered the Dominican Republic to cut sugarcane, adds that white foreign families occupying land and businesses aren’t being targeted under Decree No. 668-22 in the way that Black communities in bateyes are. 
Since the onset of the 2020 pandemic, white immigrant families from Canada, Europe, and the U.S. have been able to take up refuge and residency at a soaring rate in the Dominican Republic. In a Dominican Today report published in September 2022, executive director of the Dominican Association of Tourism Real Estate Companies (ADETI) Michael Lugo shared that real estate tourism has been growing gradually as white foreigners find second homes in the country. The country’s only English online news publication also stated that the Ministry of Tourism (Mitur) announced an investment of $1.8 billion across 61 real estate projects presently under construction in various provinces with hard deadlines. 
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It is abundantly clear, then, that the Dominican state can find solutions to regulating land titles and enforcing due process for its own Black population, but it would rather not. Instead, the government has, at will, proceeded to evict or deport its most vulnerable members of society.
One such case is with Papucho, who is originally from Port-au-Prince but has been living and working in Dominican bateyes for more than a decade with his wife Anny and their three children. Some months back, Papucho, a registered employee at a company where he works as a pool man, was in a terrible accident that left him bedridden for weeks with broken clavicles. During his recovery process, his papers expired. Upon his return to work, he attempted several times to renew his Carnet, or permit card, while authorities sent him on a wild-goose chase from one province to the next. When he arrived at the capital of Santo Domingo to renew his Carnet, not long after Abinader implemented the new decree, he soon found himself apprehended and jammed into an overcrowded truck alongside hundreds of compatriots. Papucho — his family’s sole financial provider — was deported back to Haiti with no due process, forced to leave behind a very pregnant Anny.
Photo: Santiago Vidal/LatinContent/Getty Images.
“We were like sardines in a can,” Papucho tells Somos through WhatsApp. “There was a lot of shouting, unbearable heat. Our driver drove wickedly on purpose. We sped curves and thrashed against one another the whole way there, only to be thrown out like garbage once we touched Ouanaminthe.” 
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Papucho is attempting to reintegrate himself into the eastern part of the island, illegally, to again try to renew his papers so that he can be with his wife, who recently delivered their newborn child, and his children. Anny and the kids are protected under immigration law. “The law here says that persons with certain conditions cannot be expelled. That includes pregnant people, people who are elderly or aging, and children without parents,” Dollis shares on Zoom. But their security doesn’t guarantee Papucho’s. “This is a profoundly inhumane attack, an ethnic cleansing of sorts, upon the Afro-Indigenous populations of this island, in particular Haitians and those working the sugar plantations.” 
Abinader’s actions are so unjust, he warranted international condemnation for violating the country’s own law and the human rights of Haitians, including from the U.S. But it must be stated that the United States, which is itself guilty of extrajudicially murdering its own Black and Brown citizens every day, has also contributed to antihaitianismo in the Dominican Republic. After the U.S. military invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916, inequality heightened, contributing to the establishment of a political and economic system designed to benefit the rich and leaving the majority of Dominicans in destitution. Even more, this served as a precursor for the U.S. Marines’ installment of former president and evil dictator Rafael Trujillo, who slaughtered generations of Haitians and Black Dominicans over the course of 30 years. 
Today’s relations between the neighboring countries is a poignant reminder of how cyclical history can be. Haitian and Dominican narratives have been speaking to each other since the inception. What started out as a single nation of chiefdoms, what its original inhabitants of Tainos called Ayiti or Bohio, ultimately became a blueprint for the colonial divide-and-conquer we see today. 
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"The two sister nations, the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have always been divided by their respective ruling classes with foreigners perpetuating a false history that says Haitians and Dominicans made themselves enemies. That is not true."

Joseph Cherubin
After formerly enslaved Africans freed themselves from French rule during the Haitian Revolution in 1804, they freed their compatriots under Spanish rule. In fact, when the independent movement first overthrew the Spanish crown, the eastern side of the island became the Republic of Spanish Haiti. Cautious of white ruling, several provinces, including Puerto Plata, Dajabon, and Santiago, requested Haitian President Jean Pierre Boyer to abolish slavery there and unify the island under one flag rather than join Gran Colombia. Across Hispaniola, Boyer wanted to strip white wealthy families of their properties and redistribute it to empower the people of Ayiti with land ownership, job security, and military protection. He was also adamant about unlearning the ways of their previous white masters, which stripped the people of their Indigenous tongues, foodways, customs, and forms of worship. Despite this history, the 22-year Unification of Hispaniola is often painted as a Haitian invasion, a tale used to defend antihaitianismo.  
“The two sister nations, the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have always been divided by their respective ruling classes with foreigners perpetuating a false history that says Haitians and Dominicans made themselves enemies. That is not true. If you look at our history outside of popular discourse, you will find that Haitians and Dominicans have always needed each other. We are bound by blood and circumstance,” Haitian-Dominican activist and MOSCTHA president, Joseph Cherubin, says. “The newer generations of Haitians and Dominicans, here and abroad, should know they have the power to course correct this history and bring about radical change to our island.” 
Fresh off the anniversary of the Haitian Revolution, I think about Danticat's “The Farming of Bones,” a story about work-related migration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic that illustrates how interconnected we are in the face of obsessive political racial cleansing. I think about how Ayiti once before had to free herself against all odds and by whatever measures necessary, no matter what that looked like to the rest of the world. When I think about how we got here, how myself, my family, and so many others came to be, I understand that we are the beneficiaries of such radicalism and resistance. Should history repeat itself, may it be in the favor of all of Ayiti’s children. May it be in favor of our healing, reclamation, and togetherness. Indeed — L’Union fait la force, unity does make strength.
For ways to combat anti-Blackness and support the Haitian migrant community, visit here.  

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