Haiti-Dominican Republic: A fragile Coexistence

Publié le par hort


By Elizabeth Eames Roebling

PEDERNALES, Dominican Republic, Jul 12 (IPS) – The border between Anse a Pitres in Haiti and Pedernales, in the Dominican Republic, both seven hours from their respective capitals, is barred only by a chain that pedestrians can easily cross.Unlike some other crossings that are tightly controlled, Haitians pass freely back and forth during the week. No immigration checks occur until buses are stopped at the fort leaving the town.

Still, relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are so delicate that the theft of a motorbike, which precipitated a melee along the Pedernales River last week, drew the intervention of the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti and representatives of both the national governments. The governors of Pedernales and the Departmente du Sud Est from Port au Prince met last week on the southern border to publicly demonstrate that there was no conflict between the two nations.

In the Jul. 4 incident, a Haitian was accused of stealing a motorbike from the Dominican side. A number of Dominicans crossed into Anse a Pitres and started to beat him up. A lot more Haitians arrived to aid the accused. In the end, there were as many as 200 people gathered on the banks of the river fighting with rocks and machetes. Local residents, including Ramon Mateus, director of Plan International, and Frederico Oscaldo, the Haitian consul in Pedernales, insist that the altercation, in which eight people were wounded, was merely infighting among gang members. "It is an organised gang of delinquents who regularly steal motorbikes from the Dominican side and sell them on the Haitian side. This is an ongoing problem," Oscaldo said.

Mateus, whose office works to promote friendship between the residents and dispel any ideas of "anti-Haitianismo", added that, "The people in Anse and Pitres are country people, not sophisticated. They could not be regularly stealing motorbikes without the cooperation of people on the Dominican side." This belief was shared by Marino José, owner of the Hotel Dona Chava, a lifelong resident of Pedernales who himself has never crossed over the border into Haiti. "Certainly it is a gang of delinquents," he said. "The Haitians could not be doing it alone. They could not be wandering about stealing without someone catching them."

José said that young Dominicans have crossed over into Haiti to get their bikes back. But if the bikes have been seized by the Haitian authorities, which often happens if they discover that a Haitian has a bike with Dominican identification plates, they require them to pay a "recovery fee" that is sometimes more than the bike is worth.
There is also a large population of Colombian nationals living in Pedernales who own several apartment buildings, and a concrete company, along with a dock with a ship on the deep water port of Cabo Rojo. The company has not been producing concrete for the last year. The 20,000 residents of Anse-A-Pitres, which has no electricity, live primarily through fishing, although few of their boats have motors so that they do not catch as much as the motorboats which leave from the Dominican side and can go further out.

Many of the women go into Pedernales during the day to perform domestic labour in Dominican homes. A wage of 50 dollars a month is typical, and there are many more people looking for work than there are jobs available.One Haitian woman working at a local hotel is paid 65 dollars a month for seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Mateus challenges the local custom of keeping young Haitian girls to do housework in Dominican homes for room and board only, with no salary. "I have been at meetings with Dominican women, high-level women, who have these girls of 13 years old at their homes. They do not pay them. They do not send them to school. I say to them that this is a form of slavery. They say that it is not, that they are giving them a place to live and food. But if you are not sending them to school and not paying them, what do you call it?" he said.
On market days in Pedernales, Mondays and Fridays, the consul on the Haitian side and his assistant and two customs officials on the Dominican side eye the goods coming out of the market and determine the duty on the spot. There are no set customs duties posted. Neither official could give an estimate of how much money changed hands during the two market days every week.  

Marino José says that the director of customs is building a new house. "The front door alone costs 50,000 pesos. His salary is only 15,000. How is this possible? I have watched them collect the customs. There is no paperwork, no records." Recently there has been a tightening of controls on Haitians arriving without proper passports and visas. Three hours before the local bus from Santo Domingo arrived in Pedernales, the bus driver received a phone call.  

"Two or three, you say?" he commented. At the next military checkpoint, he turned to the fare collector and pointed out one of the guards, saying: "Go talk to that one." When the fare collector got back on the bus, he told the driver: "He says we can only bring in two and he wants 300 pesos each." The driver said: "That means that we will charge them 1,200 pesos" -- about 36 dollars. Jose says that the military men at the border checkpoints are paid the minimum wage, about 120-150 dollars a month. If a bus stops and is not carrying any undocumented Haitians, the officer will say to the driver: "You are not bringing anything.
You are not bringing a livelihood."


(ANSA) - Rome, July 20 - Italian director Claudio Del Punta is hoping his new, hard-hitting film about the exploitation of Haitian sugar plantation workers in the Dominican Republic will focus public attention on abuses that have been repeatedly denounced by human rights groups. "Haiti Cherie throws the spotlight on a tragedy that has been going on for many, many years," Del Punta said in an interview with ANSA on Friday.

He said he was thrilled Haiti Cherie had been selected for next month's Locarno Film Festival, where it will be the only Italian movie vying for the event's prestigious Golden Leopard. "This should get people talking about the film and the problems it exposes," he said.  “The festival is interested in films dealing with strong social issues so I can't think of a better place for it to debut," said the 47-year-old Tuscan filmmaker.

Del Punta shot the movie in the Dominican Republic, where at least 500,000 Haitians toil on the country's sugar plantations in conditions described asmodern-day slavery by international human rights organisations. It recounts the tale of a Haitian couple and a 14-year-old boy who decide to escape their desperate lives on a plantation and make their way back toHaiti. The main actors - Yeraini Cuevas and Valentin Valdez who play the couple and Jean Marie Guerin who plays the youngster - are all Haitians who actually work and live on the plantations. The director stressed that while the film's plot was fictional, the experiences suffered by the characters were completely realistic. "I wanted to show what life is like in the 'bateyes'," Del Punta said, referring to the encampments set up on the outskirts of the sugar plantations where the cane cutters are forced to live.

The workers live crowded together in the communal bateyes which usually lack running water, toilets, electricity and cooking facilities, as well as health care services and schools.  There are some 400 bateyes scattered across the Dominican Republic. The cane cutters toil for up to 14 hours a day for what human rights organisation Amnesty International has termed "derisory wages" (typically the equivalent of $2.5 a day), while some are paid in vouchers which can only be used at plantation stores. The freedom of workers to leave the bateyes is also often restricted, turning them into virtual prisons that are patrolled by armed guards.

A March 2007 report by Amnesty International detailed its long-standing concerns regarding discrimination, racism and xenophobia against Haitian migrants livingin the neighbouring Dominican Republic and particularly its bateyes. According to a 2005 world anti-slavery report funded by the European Union, claims of batey abuses by international authorities range from "murder to maltreatment, from mass expulsions to flagrant exploitation, from deplorable living conditions to the failure to acknowledge workers' rights".

Del Punta highlighted the contrast with the thriving tourist industry in a country visited by five million people, mostly Westerners, every year. "They go for holidays in luxury resorts without realising that just 30 minutes away from these amazing beaches, a situation exists that is akin to the 1800s".

He said the blame lay with the Dominican government, military and industrialists. "They all share responsibility because they're the ones reaping the benefits. This is knowing discrimination by a country towards its weaker, poorer neighbour," he said. "I appeal to journalists to talk about this problem. The only solution is applying political pressure to the Dominican Republic to stop these abuses," he said.

Del Punta filmed Haiti Cherie - his fifth feature movie - between December 2005 and March 2006. Initially unable to gain a producer's interest in the movie, he financed it entirely by himself, taking out a bank loan and shooting in digital. The only person he took with him from Italy was the sound technician - the rest of the crew and cast he found locally on his arrival in the Dominican Republic. He said a lot of the filming had to be done secretly and that twice he was kicked off plantations by troops. "It was okay for me because I'm white and Western but for the actors it was very dangerous," he said.

Amnesty International praised the initiative.  

Riccardo Nuri, spokesman for the Italian branch of the London-based organisation, told ANSA: "It's important that a film has taken on this highly serious problem. "Cinema is a powerful tool for bringing issues which are often ignored by the traditional media to the public's notice".
Del Punta is now hoping participation in the Locarno Film Festival, which runs from August 1-8, will help him find a distributor for Haiti Cherie. Asked if the actors would be attending, he replied: "Unfortunately no. They don't have a passport and are unable to leave the country. They are living in the bateyes and have never even seen a film in their lives".

Publié dans African diaspora

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