DAJABON, Dominican Republic — Every Monday and Friday morning, the bi-national market town of Dajabon fills up. Thousands of Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic and line the streets of Dajabon with everything from clothes to diapers to food. They wait for the Dominican buyers who arrive on buses, motorcycles and in SUVs from cities all over the country, lured by the cheap prices offered by Haitian sellers.
Markets like Dajabon are a lifeline for many Haitians. A 2010 earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital, killing more than 200,000 people. A subsequent cholera epidemic just months later resulted in at least 9,000 more deaths. Government failure followed the disaster, and most Haitians were forced to fend for themselves. Unlike Haiti, the Dominican Republic was left largely untouched by the earthquake even though the two countries share the same island.
Felix, a 34-year-old Haitian at the Dajabon market who like many who spoke with Al Jazeera declined to give his last name, agreed the main complaint of demonstrators was the lack of electricity, but rising prices are also driving protest. “The cost of living is too high,” Felix said. “Everything is expensive.” More than half of Haiti’s 10 million residents live on less than $2 a day, so even a small increase in the price of goods can have a big impact.
Behind the soldier, Haitians could be seen washing in the shallow river that forms the border between the two countries. It’s known as Massacre River, for colonial era killings as well as the massacre of thousands of Haitians in 1937 ordered by former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Children played and chatted across a fence near the border.
The security crackdown is only the latest of many efforts by the Dominican government to control the flow of Haitian immigrants. Last year, the government decided to rescind citizenship from 210,000 Haitian immigrants, many of whose parents had been given government permits to work in Dominican fields in past decades. The move was widely criticized by human rights groups, but those who lost their citizenship are unable to appeal. “The Dominican Republic is not considerate of Haiti, they don’t care about us,” Wilfride said.
Felix agreed, saying most Haitians want closer ties with the Dominican Republic, but the sentiment is not shared across the border. While many analysts say that hardline anti-Haitian views are held mainly by a small, nationalistic elite, graffiti reading, “Haitians get out” is a common sight in the capital, Santo Domingo.
Rigobto Nunez, a Dominican man living on the street closest to the border with Haiti, predicted that the security situation would only get worse unless Haiti’s economy improves. “Here the people have jobs, but across the border they have nothing,” he said.