Hurricane Joaquin may be getting all the attention, but another rough patch of stormy political weather has been lashing the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in recent months.
This summer, officials in the Dominican Republic (DR) began deporting Haitian migrants and Dominican-born but undocumented people of Haitian descent. That decision has received wide attention, and the DR government of Danilo Medina has been criticized by human rights activists.
For some Haitians, the deportation order invoked memories of the notorious Parsley Massacre of 1937, when Dominican President Trujillo ordered troops to kill thousands of Haitian migrants living along the border of the two countries.
The rekindling of old racial conflicts under the new DR deportation policy may be a populist attempt to stoke support during stagnant economic times in advance of 2016 presidential election in the DR. The Obama administration has reportedly leaned heavily on Medina’s government to ease the deportation order.
Tensions between Haiti and the DR had already been simmering.
Haiti’s government badly needs to raise cash. The loss of customs revenues due to widespread smuggling (often involving inferior quality goods) along the Haiti-DR border has long been a concern of the Haitian government. And so, in search of more tariff income (and likely also in retaliation for the deportation order), in August Haitians blocked a road to the DR border, further paralyzing commerce and trade.
In a recent meeting between Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul and Secretary of State John Kerry, Kerry discussed the $30 million in U.S. foreign aid for Haiti’s ongoing presidential and legislative election process and reportedly pressed PM Paul about the border trade dispute.
Kerry, however, did not use the meeting to push the Haitian government to clean up the rampant corruption in Haiti that has hindered job creation and economic freedom in that nation. Neither did he press Paul’s government to ensure that Haitians have proper documentation of their citizenship available so they can avoid victimization by thuggish DR military or law enforcement officials, who reportedly threaten to deport undocumented Haitians if they are not paid bribes.
The Obama administration should take an even-handed approach and promote the rule of law and policies that create greater economic freedom on both sides of Hispaniola.