Dominican Republic closes border with Haiti, further stoking tensions

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti —The Dominican Republic had already begun constructing a wall at its border with Haiti. Then it cracked down on immigration, deporting tens of 1000’s of Haitians again to their impoverished and gang-ravaged nation.

Now it’s closing the border fully.

President Luis Abinader introduced the Dominican Republic will shut all of its land, air and sea frontiers with Haiti beginning Friday morning, amid a festering dispute over Haiti’s plans to assemble a canal off a river that separates the 2 nations.

The announcement Thursday afternoon considerably escalates tensions between the 2 nations, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and a protracted historical past of strained ties. The closure of Haiti’s solely land border threatens to worsen the disaster in a rustic getting ready to collapse.

Ida Sawyer, disaster and battle director at Human Rights Watch, mentioned shutting the border can be “yet another demonstration of how the world is failing and abandoning the Haitian people.”

“A border closure would essentially lock Haitians within their country amid extreme levels of violence, including large-scale killings, kidnappings and rapes,” she mentioned in an announcement, “and with much of the population struggling to feed their families or access clean water and health care.”

In an announcement on Thursday, Haiti’s ministry of tradition and communication mentioned it had taken notice of Abinader’s “unilateral” choice, which got here as a technical delegation from Haiti was assembly with its Dominican counterparts to discover a resolution to the dispute.

“The government of the republic of Haiti will take all measures as of law to protect the interests of the Haitian people,” it mentioned.

At concern within the dispute is a canal off the Massacre River, which might irrigate greater than 7,400 acres of land in Haiti’s Maribaroux plain when accomplished.

Dominican officers argue that the deliberate canal would violate a 1929 treaty that governs the truthful use of waterways alongside their shared border. Under that treaty, each nations could equitably use these waters for irrigation, business and agriculture, however could not alter their “natural course.”

They alleged this week that the canal’s building has been promoted by enterprise executives and politicians who shouldn’t have the backing of the Haitian authorities, which they cost is incapable of resolving inner conflicts as legal organizations take management of the nation.

Abinader, who’s looking for reelection for president subsequent yr, mentioned he’s activating troops to implement the closure. He referred to as the canal mission “nonsensical,” a “totally inadequate construction without any type of engineering” and a “provocation that this government is not going to accept.”

But Haitian officials argue that the canal project is not in violation of the treaty, and critics of the closure charge that nationalist politicians in the Dominican Republic are seeking to capitalize on anti-Haitian sentiment to drum up support ahead of next year’s elections.

“The canal issue is just an element to reactivate hatred,” said the Rev. Germain Clerveau, a Haitian priest living in Haiti near the Dominican border.

Dominican Republic sending children, pregnant migrants back to Haiti

Disputes over the canal have bubbled up earlier than.

In 2021, after one such conflict, Haitian and Dominican officials signed a joint declaration that established a binational technical group responsible for managing water resources along their shared border. They said the work that had been started on the canal did not “consist of a diversion of the river bed” and did not violate the 1929 treaty.

Work on the canal ceased later that year after Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July. Almost 65 percent of the work on the canal was complete, said Maismy-Mary Fleurant, a Haitian lawyer who was a consultant to the Haitian embassy in the Dominican Republic during the 2021 dispute. Local farmers resumed construction this year.

Fleurant, a former officer with the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, called the border closure an “aggressive and hostile act toward a neighboring state with which we share an island and are not at war with.”

“These actions are not driven by concerns for international law,” he said, “but rather by local politicians aimed at demonstrating who can be the most vehemently anti-Haitian. Unfortunately, Haitians consistently bear the brunt of these local political maneuvers.”

Parts of the border were already closed, and Abinader had threatened to block off the rest of it if the two countries couldn’t come to an agreement over the canal. The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo warned U.S. citizens this week that if the frontier was closed, the U.S. government would not be able to facilitate entry into the country from Haiti.

As of Thursday, the main airline offering flights between the two countries and buses operating across the border both announcedthe suspension of trips. .

Rev. Osvaldo Concepción, a Jesuit priest who works closely with Haitians in the Dominican Republic, said some members of the Haitian community are planning on returning to their country due to fears of anti-Haitian violence.

Abinader mentioned he plans to maintain the border closed so long as mandatory.

“As you know, the Haitian government has a control problem in its territory,” Abinader said. “And if things are uncontrollable there, they will be uncontrollable for the Haitian government, but they will not be uncontrollable for the government of the Dominican Republic.”

Haiti was already the poorest country in the hemisphere before Moïse’s assassination . Since then, much of the country has descended into lawlessness, with gangs controlling large swaths of its capital and blockinghumanitarian aid.

Haiti’s compounding crises have pushed thousands of refugees across the border into its more prosperous neighbor, a country with a long history of xenophobia against Haitian immigrants.

Officials there have argued that the inflow is straining native assets. Abinader has in latest months deported 1000’s of Haitians, together with lots of of pregnant women and unaccompanied minors, in obvious violation of worldwide conventions and bilateral agreements.

The Dominican Republicdeported more than 170,000 people in 2022, government data shows, more than double the number from the year before. Most were Haitians.

The U.N. refugee company on Thursday condemned the treatment of pregnant and postpartum Haitian women in the Dominican Republic. When they seek medical care, the agency said, they’re subject to intimidation, detention and deportation.

Senators’ departure leaves Haiti without an elected government

The Massacre River is itself a symbol of the history of thorny relations between the two countries. It was named after an 18th century battle among European settlers, but is best known today as the site of the 1937 massacre of thousands of Haitians ordered by then-Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Haitians and Dominicans living near the border generally coexist in peace, said Concepción, the Jesuit priest. Mixed-nationality families live on both sides of the frontier, and hundreds of millions of dollars of formal and informal business takes place along the border each year.

William O’Neill, the U.N.’s expert on human rights in Haiti, warned this week that the country is “almost at a total breakdown” — a situation that closing the border would worsen.

“That would be almost lights out for the economy of Haiti,” O’Neill said at the Wilson Center in Washington on Wednesday.

Milostène Castin, a local leader leading the charge for the canal in Haiti, said “the peasants are determined to persist” in the project.

“Abandoned by the current government, the peasants are defending their rights,” said Smith Augustin, a former ambassador of Haiti to the Dominican Republic, “and the Dominicans are using this as an opportunity to humiliate Haiti once more. The ongoing situation is perplexing and lacks rationality.”

Coletta reported from Toronto and Schmidt reported from Bogotá. Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed to this report from Caracas, Venezuela.

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