The apparent lynching of a Haitian man in the Dominican Republic could add “more fuel to the fire” amid rising tensions between the two Caribbean nations, analysts said.
“Right now, whether this murder was racially motivated or not, whether it was a lynching or a personal vendetta, it doesn’t matter much at this point,” said Ernesto Sagas, associate professor in the ethnic studies department of Colorado State University and author of "Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic."
“It comes at a very unfortunate moment because tensions are particularly high when it comes to the presence of Haitian workers in Dominican Republic, so this is adding more fuel to the fire,” Sagas told Al Jazeera.
Dominican authorities retrieved the body of the victim, identified by local media only as “Tulile” on Wednesday, after he was found hanged in Santiago’s Ercilla Pepin Park. He was discovered dangling from a tree with his hands and feet bound, Dominican Today reported, and worked in the park shining shoes.
Police quickly ruled out racism in the death of the Haitian man, according to local media. Instead, they said that the crime’s motive was to steal money from the man, who apparently had won $130.00 from a lottery ticket.
“For the Dominican authorities to rule out racism as a factor less than 24 hours after a man of Haitian descent was hanged in a public space is not just irresponsible policing, it is an outrageous example of discrimination endemic to the Dominican Republic,” Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, told the Huffington Post.
The murder comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two nations.
This week, a crowd of Dominicans burned a Haitian flag in Santiago, the Domican Republic's second most populous city. They called called on the government to take a stand against what they perceived as an “invasion” of Haitian migrants into the country, Haiti Libre reported.
In the capital, Santo Domingo, anti-Haitian graffiti can be seen, reading, “Haitians get out.” The latest downturn in relations between Dominicans and people of Haitian descent was sparked by a 2013 Supreme Court that rendered some 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless, prompting international condemnation.
According to the ruling, children of Haitian migrants — brought into the country during the early 20th century to work in Dominican fields — born in the Dominican Republic since 1930 had no right to stay in the country.
Anti-Haitian sentiment has been on the rise ever since, Sagas said.
“Haitians are utilized by the Dominican Republic as cheap labor, and as such they happen to be the scapegoats of Dominican society,” Sagas said. “When the economy is doing well, Haitians are tolerated. When the economy is not doing well, they need to be deported.”
The next presidential election in the Dominican Republic is in 2016, and the issue of immigrants from Haiti ihas often been used in the past to criticize political opponents.
“It is a political strategy that has worked before, to distract the people from other issues and rally the troops,” Sagas said.
Sagas referred to the anti-Haitian sentiment as a “monster that rears its ugly head” at politically or economically sensitive times. It is not the first lynching of a Haitian person in the Dominican Republic, according to local media. In 2009, Dominican police said a "inflamed throng" hanged and beheaded a Haitian man in Santo Domingo, according to Dominican Today.
“Poor Haitians are the scapegoats of Dominican society,” Sagas said.