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Sharing the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic and Haiti have never been the happiest of neighbors. With a history marked by mutual antagonism and conflict, the two populations have long viewed each other with wary eyes. Even now, with relatively warm relations between their governments, Dominicans and Haitians have yet to overcome this legacy of hostility and mistrust.

Fearful of Haiti's enormous poverty and dysfunctional state, many Dominicans feel their country has been unfairly called upon to bear the brunt of the Haitian exodus. According to a poll published in a local magazine a few years ago, 75 percent of the Dominican public supported repatriating the Haitian population, while only 5 percent thought that Haitians were "of use" to the country.2 Yet Dominican agriculture and, in recent years, the construction industry, are heavily dependent on the use of Haitian laborers. The very survival of the sugar industry, the Dominican Republic's second most important source of export earning (behind mining), relies on the many thousands of Haitian sugar cane cutters who labor for low wages in terrible conditions.

Given the 380-kilometer border that stitches the two countries together, and the continuing political and economic difficulties in Haiti, the question of Haitian migration is unlikely to recede in importance.

The Haitian and Dominican Populations

With some seven million and eight and a half million people, respectively, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are broadly comparable in population size, but Haiti has only half as much land as its neighbor.3 Linguistic, cultural, and perceived racial differences between the two populations crystallized during the colonial era, when the Dominican Republic was governed by the Spanish and Haiti by the French.4 Creole-speaking Haitians are descended from African slaves, while Dominicans - who also have African ancestry - speak Spanish, and many claim Spanish or other European ancestors. Even though there is no clear racial divide between the two countries, the Haitian population is generally considered "blacker" than that of the Dominican Republic.

There are no reliable figures on the number of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians currently living in the Dominican Republic, and the question is a controversial one.5 The Inter-American Commission, citing Dominican migration authorities, reported in 1999 that approximately 500,000 to 700,000 ethnic Haitians were living in the Dominican Republic.6 Other figures range even higher: "a million or so," was the Dominican Army chief's best guess.7 It is likely that half of these people, if not more, were born in the Dominican Republic.8 Of those born in Haiti, only a tiny fraction are in the Dominican Republic legally, on a visa or work permit.9 According to the Dominican authorities, many thousands of Haitians have bought false identity papers, complicating the task of distinguishing lawful residents and citizens from undocumented migrants.10

A Troubled History

Numerous real and perceived historical grievances complicate relations between Dominicans and Haitians. Dominicans, for example, still resent Haiti's twenty-two year rule of their country, a period portrayed as harsh and oppressive.

Anti-colonial struggles took place on both sides of Hispaniola in the early nineteenth century. The Haitians ousted the French in 1804, while in 1821 the Dominicans proclaimed their independence from Spain. This period of self-rule in what is now the Dominican Republic (then known as Santo Domingo) was short-lived, however. The following year, the Haitian army invaded the eastern portion of the island, holding it until 1844. The hero of Dominican independence, Juan Pablo Duarte, led the forces that drove out the Haitian occupiers and established the Dominican Republic as an independent state. It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that the Dominican Republic and Haiti brokered a fragile peace, agreeing to delimit the border that divides the island.11

In light of this troubled history - and of distorted versions of it disseminated through the schools and through state-controlled media since the time of Trujillo - some Dominicans are still quick to perceive a Haitian threat to the territorial integrity of their country. Even with the abolition of the Haitian military, the lingering memory of the Haitian invasion still fuels anti-Haitian paranoia.12

Sugar Production, Haitian Labor, and Economic Development

Sugar production on an industrial scale in the Dominican Republic began to develop in the 1870s. From the 1880s on, the industry relied heavily on seasonal, migrant labor, brought first from islands of the Lesser Antilles and later from Haiti.13 Haitian migrant workers typically lived in bateyes - company towns located next to sugar plantations.

Beginning in 1952, Haiti and the Dominican Republic entered into a series of bilateral agreements to ensure the continued supply of seasonal cane cutters from Haiti to the Dominican sugar cane fields. To manage the sugar mills and the contracting of Haitian labor, the Dominican government ultimately created the State Sugar Council (Consejo Estatal del Azúcar, or CEA).14 It was the job of the CEA to recruit, by force if need be, the necessary cane cutters for each harvest.15 But at the same time, in a seemingly schizophrenic policy toward Haitians, the Dominican authorities also began engaging in large-scale summary deportations. These deportation operations targeted seasonal workers, expelling Haitians from the country at the end of the sugar harvest.16

Although the profitability of the Dominican sugar industry has declined in recent years, Haitian labor remains a crucial contributor to the country's prosperity, particularly in the agricultural and construction sectors. The Dominican economy, in contrast to Haiti's, has expanded considerably over the past decade.17 Sugar is still one of the country's primary exports, but there has also been considerable growth in tourism and in free trade zones.

Haiti remains by far the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world. According to current estimates, Haiti's 1999 per capita GNP is less than one-quarter that of the Dominican Republic, and unemployment stands at roughly 65 percent.18 Given Haiti's abysmal economic conditions and political turmoil, it is no surprise that many Haitians now willingly flock to the Dominican Republic in hopes of a better life.

Racial Prejudice and "Anti-Haitianism"

Racial prejudice in the Dominican Republic runs deep. With independence, Dominican nationalists began constructing a separate Dominican identity, one that was defined in large part in solidarity against the perceived Haitian threat. Labeling themselves "Hispanic" and Haitians "black," a distinction motivated rooted in racial prejudice that ignores the Dominican Republic's racial diversity, Dominican nationalists emphasized their racial and cultural distance from Haiti.19

In line with such views, Dominican nationalists quickly launched efforts to "improve" the Dominican bloodline by encouraging European immigration.20 Early immigration legislation was facially discriminatory, with stringent controls to limit the entry of non-Caucasian immigrants.21

General Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator who assumed power in the wake of the U.S. occupation, flaunted his racism, making it clear that he considered Haitians to be inferior. In 1937, in a brutal abuse of power, he ordered the army to massacre all Haitians found outside sugar plantations. Casualty estimates vary, but even the most conservative accounts acknowledge that thousands of Haitians were slaughtered.22

Through the mid-twentieth century, Trujillo fed the Dominican population a steady diet of anti-Haitian propaganda, relying on the schools and the media to disseminate these ideas. Proclaiming himself the defender of the country's identity, he planted the seeds for stereotypes about Haitians that persist today in everyday Dominican discourse. Trujillo's crony, Joaquín Balaguer, who would ultimately inherit the presidency, launched similarly racist attacks, describing the Haitian as a "generator of sloth" who "is indolent by nature and applies no special efforts to anything useful unless it is forced to obtain its subsistence by that means."23

Even now, expressions of anti-Haitian sentiment are common at all levels of society. The influx of Haitian migrants, a popular target of resentment, is frequently characterized as a threat to national sovereignty. Inflammatory statements by government officials, such as former President Balaguer's now infamous call to Dominicans to stand in "sacred union" against a "peaceful invasion" of Haitian migrant workers, are a routine staple of the country's political culture. Those who sympathize with the plight of Haitians are often labeled anti-Dominican.

Besides discriminating against Haitian citizens, many Dominicans assume that all black people are Haitian, or have Haitian blood, which is regarded with equal resentment. It is also frequently believed that all workers on sugar cane plantations and all residents of bateyes are Haitian, although the labor pool in the sugar industry and the population in the bateyes is ethnically diverse, including second- and third- generation Dominico-Haitians and even Dominicans without Haitian ancestors.

Despite the country's glaring legacy of racism, the Dominican government has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the problem. In reports to intergovernmental human rights bodies, for example, rather than pledging to combat racism, the government denies that racial discrimination against Haitians exists. In a typical report, the government told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1999: "it is worth emphasizing that there is no racial prejudice [in the Dominican Republic] . . . [and] there is absolutely no foundation for the belief that there is discrimination against Haitians living in the country."24

Flag Burning Scare

If any reminder were needed, the April 2001 scandal over the alleged burning of a Dominican flag stands as stark proof of the existence of enormous resentment and prejudice against Haitians.

On April 13, 2001, the Dominican government collectively deported 137 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent who were falsely accused of burning a Dominican flag.25 In La Romana, on the eastern side of the country, groups of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians were observing Holy Week, the week before Easter, by celebratng the Gaga, a traditional Lenten festival.26 (The festivals are organized each year by the local communities and are officially sanctioned by the Dominican government. Many Dominicans take part in them.) As has been the tradition in past years, each group hung a Dominican flag at the festival.27

At some point during the festival, Julio Perelló, a journalist, reported to General Luis Dario de la Cruz Consuegra, a military official in La Romana, that the celebrants were burning a Dominican flag.28 Known as a nationalist, Perelló is reputed to be especially upset by the Dominico-Haitian community's use of Dominican symbols in its Holy Week activities.29 He has also repeatedly criticized the Dominican government for allowing the Dominico-Haitian community to dance the Gaga. Just three days before the festival, he appeared on a radio program in which he condemned Haitian cultural events, particularly ones in which Dominican symbols have been incorporated, as "immoral" and "damaging to the interests of the Dominican nation." He also called upon the people of La Romana to publicly object to the Dominican government's tacit approval of these events.30

Dominican officials then contacted Rómulo de los Santos, the deputy director of Haitian affairs of the Direction General of Migration.31 De los Santos promptly sent a contingent of Dominican migration agents to La Romana.32 With the help of local police officers, migration officials stormed into three of the celebrations, hit anyone who was dancing, and ordered everyone onto waiting police vehicles.33 The migration authorities immediately deported 137 people who were not able to present documents.34 They transported the remaining 106 to the Preventiva de Romana prison, where the people were detained on charges of having burned a flag.35

Dominican politicians quickly moved to capitalize on the incident by portraying it as a shocking reminder of the Haitian "threat." For example, Pelegrín Castillo Seman, a nationalist member of congress, warned in an article in El Siglo that the alleged flag-burning was a sign that "every day there are more [Haitians] and they are more organized."36 For several weeks, coverage of the alleged flag-burning dominated the local news.

Yet when the La Romana prosecutor, Dr. Elpidio Peguero, investigated the incident, he found no proof that the group burned a flag. In fact, the flag that was allegedly burned had apparently been treated with care.37 The local police officers who were monitoring the festival testified that the group never burned a flag.38 The local mayor, one of the festival organizers, agreed.39 The prosecutor concluded that the allegation was nothing more than a nationalist effort to denigrate the Haitian community, and he ordered the immediate release of all of the detainees.40

International Human Rights Standards

The Dominican Republic has ratified all of the major international and regional treaties relating to the protection of human rights.41 It has accepted the competence of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the body charged with monitoring the implementation of the ICCPR, allowing it to hear individual complaints of violations. Beginning in 1999, the Dominican government has also recognized the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the authoritative interpreter of the American Convention. It is not a party, however, to any of the treaties specifically pertaining to the protection of migrant workers.42

2 Shelley Emling, "Inmigrantes haitianos impactan a la economía dominicana,", March 30, 1997.

3 CIA World Factbook 2001, chapters on the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

4 Ernesto Sagás, Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic (2000), p. 22; National Coalition for Haitian Rights, Beyond the Bateyes (1996), p. 6.

5 See NCHR, Beyond the Bateyes, p. 14 (citing unofficial estimates ranging from 400,000 to 1 million).

6 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Dominican Republic, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.104 (1999), para. 350.

7 Human Rights Watch interview, Manuel E. Polanco Salvador, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, June 13, 2001.

8 NCHR, Beyond the Bateyes, p. 15

9 In 1999, the Dominican representative to the United Nations said that there were roughly 4,000 Haitian migrants legally in the country. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Summary Record of the 1365th meeting, U.N. Doc. CERD/C/SR.1365 (September 1, 1999), para. 4.

10 See, for example, "El consúl general de la República Dominicana detecta bandas que falsifican visas en Haití," Europa Press, December 18, 2001.

11 NCHR, Beyond the Bateyes, p. 7. The final demarcation of the border was done in the 1930s and 1940s.

12 Moreover, although Haitians do not have a Dominican occupation to remember, a similar paranoia can be found on the Haitian side. See, for example, "L'Armée dominicaine s'apprêterait à intervenir en Haïti," Haïti Progrès, November 10-16, 1999 (warning of a likely Dominican invasion of Haiti).

13 Samuel Martínez, Peripheral Migrants: Haitians and Dominican Republic Sugar Plantations (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), pp. 38-41. It was the United States that originally began encouraging Haitian immigration, to the dismay of many Dominican nationalists. Sagás, Race and Politics, p. 40.

14 The CEA was created in 1966 by Law No. 70.

15 The history of forced labor in the Dominican Republic has been well documented, including in several Human Rights Watch reports. See, for example, Americas Watch (now the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch), "Harvesting Oppression: Forced Labor in the Dominican Sugar Industry," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, June 1990.

16 In other words, the combination of forced recruitment and forced deportation was not as irrational as it might appear. The Dominican authorities rounded up Haitians at the beginning of the harvest and deported them at its end. See NCHR, Beyond the Bateyes, p. 23.

17 In 1999-2000, for example, the Dominican Republic's gross domestic product grew 7.8 percent, compared to 1.2 percent growth in Haiti (a figure that fell short of the rate of population growth). Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, April 2001, p. 34. Yet, partially due to the slowing U.S. economy, Dominican economic growth shrank sharply in the first half of 2001, with an estimated 3 percent growth for the entire year. Economic growth in Haiti was estimated to be 1 percent in 2001. Office of the United States Trade Representative, Fourth Report to Congress on the Operation of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act, December 31, 2001

18 Ibid. (estimating Dominicans' per capita income at $2,100, and Haitians' at $510).

19 Sagás, Race and Politics, p. 36.

20 Ibid, p. 38.

21 Americas Watch, National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, and Caribbean Rights, Haitian Sugar Cane Cutters in the Dominican Republic (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1989), p. 6 (citing Law 5002 of July 18, 1911, which stated that "[a]gricultural companies are forbidden from importing for their labor needs immigrants who do not belong to the white race").

22 See, for example, NCHR, Beyond the Bateyes, p. 8 (citing estimates ranging from 5,000 to 37,000 killed).

23 Joaquín Balaguer, La Realidad Dominicana: Semblanza de un País y de un Régimen (Buenos Aires: Imprenta Ferrari Hermanos, 1947), p. 104.

24 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Consideration of Reports submitted by States Parties under Article 9 of the Convention, Addendum, Dominican Republic, U.N. Doc. CERD/C/331/Add.1 (February 11, 1999), para. 6. Expressing concern over those comments, the CERD pointed out that "no country can claim the total absence of racial discrimination in its territory." Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Consideration of Reports submitted by States Parties under Article 9 of the Convention, Concluding Observations, Dominican Republic, U.N. Doc. CERD/C/304/Add.74 (April 12, 2001).

25 Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA), Resultado de la Investigación Realizada en Bateyes de Las Romana Respecto de la Supuesta Incineración de la Bandera Dominicana, por Inmigrantes Haitianos (undated).

26 Ibid, p. 7.

27 Ibid., p. 7.

28 Ibid., p. 6.

29 Ibid., p 5.

30 Ibid.

31 Human Rights Watch interview, Romulo de los Santos, Santo Domingo, June 4, 2001.

32 MUDHA, Resultado de la Investigación.

33 Ibid., pp. 2, 7.

34 Ibid., p. 6.

35 Ibid., p. 2; Human Rights Watch interview, Romulo de los Santos, Santo Domingo, June 4, 2001.

36 "Por qué quemaron la bandera?," El Siglo, April 22, 2001.

37 MUDHA, Resultado de la Investigación.

38 Ibid., p. 3.

39 Ibid., p. 5.

40 Ibid.

41 Among the treaties the Dominican Republic has ratified is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the American Convention on Human Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

42 There are three such treaties: the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1990, and will enter into force when it has been ratified by twenty states (the number of ratifications was sixteen as of September 2001); the Migration for Employment Convention (ILO No. 97), and the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention (ILO No. 143).

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