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28036: (news) Chamberlain: Dominican-Haitians in Limbo (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By JONATHAN M. KATZ
DAJABON, Dominican Republic March 2 (AP) -- As many as 1 million
Haitians have fled across the border with the Dominican Republic, braving
harassment, deportation threats and attacks by their uneasy neighbors. Many
now hope Haitian President-elect Rene Preval can work miracles and bring
The Haitians hope Preval, who began a two-day visit to the Dominican
Republic on Thursday, will create enough jobs and peace so they can again
imagine a future for themselves in the poorest country in the Western
"Here I have no value," said Milenia Fis Pie, 20, a Haitian student born
in the Dominican Republic. "If there was light, water, work and respect for
youth in Haiti, I would go there to live."
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a 243-mile border on the
Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but the countries have long had an uneasy
coexistence. Independence Day here celebrates not liberation from colonial
ruler Spain, but the end of two decades of Haitian occupation in the 19th
And with the Dominican economy estimated to be more than 4 times larger
than its neighbor, many Haitians pay smugglers to cross the border
illegally in search of work.
The bloody rebellion that ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide two years ago was fomented in part by Haitians plotting across the
border. And with Aristide gone, still more Haitians fled to the Dominican
Republic, worsening tensions.
When Dominican President Leonel Fernandez visited Haiti in December,
protesters angry over the Dominicans' treatment of Haitian migrants started
rioting. At least three people were wounded by gunfire during clashes with
police in Haiti's capital.
The protests came amid a rash of violence between Dominicans and
-- In January, Dominican mobs enraged by reports a Haitian worker
sexually assaulted a toddler torched at least four Haitian homes in Monte
La Jagua, a central Dominican mountain town.
-- In December, villagers in Villa Trina -- about 81 miles north of the
capital, Santo Domingo -- burned about 20 shacks occupied by Haitian
migrants in retaliation for their alleged involvement in the killing of a
-- In May, Dominicans beheaded two Haitian migrants in the northwestern
town of Hatillo Palma after a Dominican woman was killed. The government
then deported at least 2,000 Haitians in response to the violence.
Dominicans are not prejudiced or xenophobic, said Inocencia Garcia, the
Dominican Foreign Ministry's head of relations with Haiti. She insisted
that authorities adhere to immigration law when they deport illegal
A visit to Dajabon, a border town on the Massacre River, shows just how
porous the frontier is.
The river was named for a 17th-century battle between the Spanish and
French. But today most remember it as one of the places where at least
20,000 Haitians were killed in 1937 by the forces of Dominican dictator
Gen. Rafael Trujillo.
Thousands of Haitians flowed across the concrete bridge or waded through
the shallow river's gray waters one recent day to attend a market in
Dajabon. Several wore Preval hats and shirts.
Some later tried to penetrate the market-day immigration controls at the
far end of town to look for work farther inside the country.
Luis Cabrera makes the five-hour round trip from the Dominican town of
Santiago twice a week to sell clothes at a blue tarp-covered booth.
Haitians are a huge part of his $725 market-day take, but he said the
market gives too many an opportunity to cross deeper into Dominican
"They are invading the country, sometimes without papers," Cabrera said.
Haitians often come for menial jobs at coffee plantations in the
country's interior to houses in Santo Domingo. They soon find themselves
caught between the Dominican need for labor and a Dominican nationalism
that wants them out.
Some establish homes and have children, but the next generation's lives
are little better. A Dominican Supreme Court ruling in December barred
children of illegal immigrants from becoming Dominican citizens.
"The Haitians are good when we need them and they're bad when we have to
give them their rights," said the Rev. Regino Martinez, a Dominican who
heads the Jesuit Refugee and Migration Service in Dajabon, where he has
lived for 32 years.
Fis Pie, who lives in Esperanza, a town between Santiago and the border
at Dajabon, hopes Preval will be able to fulfill his campaign pledges to
help the poor and bring peace to Haiti.
"I want God to help the president, because it will help all of us if
there is calm," Fis Pie said.