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Chapter Six

Historical Background

1 min read

Despite many Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians coexisting peacefully for decades, old fears – including of a ‘Haitian invasion’ – have increased in the Dominican Republic. This has caused discrimination against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico. It shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Migration in the island has been an ongoing issue for centuries, as it was not only invaded by different countries (Spain and France) but also settled by various communities (Lebanese, Cocolos or Chinese, among others) on both sides of the island. The indigenous community of Taínos soon disappeared.

From the 1920s on, Haitian migrants moved to the Dominican Republic on a seasonal basis to work as sugarcane cutters for either state ­owned or private companies. Haitian migrants were mainly young or middle ­aged men. Over time, they settled in slums next to sugar plantations called ‘bateyes’, bringing their Haitian families or marrying and having children with Dominican women. They integrated into Dominican communities, becoming the most numerous minority group in the Dominican Republic.

The Haitian community in the Dominican Republic was an important source of cheap labour from the 1920s, but migration continued even after the Dominican sugar industry began to decline from the 1980s. Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent continued to play a crucial role in Dominican economy in agriculture, tourism and construction.

In January 2010, the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola suffered one of the worst earthquakes the world has seen. Dominican society and government showed their solidarity and opened the border to help affected people, and started to invest in Haiti. However, despite many Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians coexisting peacefully for decades, old fears – including of a ‘Haitian invasion’ – have increased in the Dominican Republic. This has caused discrimination against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Discrimination occurs based on their skin colour, Haitian ­sounding names, or living conditions, barring them from access to basic education, health care, work, travel and justice, as well as preventing them from getting married or registering their children. However, this discrimination is not recent; in 1937 between 15,000 and 30,000 people were killed by the regime of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the so ­called ‘Parsley Massacre’ by the Dajabón river. Regime officials asked migrants to pronounce the Spanish word for parsley (Perejil): those unable to pronounce the word in the same way as Spanish­ speakers due to their French accents were then killed.