The island of Hispaniola is not big. A mere 30,000 square miles, it is smaller than South Carolina, the 10th smallest state when it comes to land area (ipl2).
This small island, however, houses two, completely different worlds. On one side, there is the Dominican Republic. Filled with lush forests and stunning beaches, this country is a popular tourist spot. On the other side of the border, you have Haiti. Compared to its neighbor, Haiti is a barren wasteland, due to deforestation and poor farming practices.
In a country comparison by Index Mundi, it is found that in Haiti, the average lifespan is about 64 years, or 14 years less than the Dominican Republic. Also, the literacy rate is 60 percent, compared to the Dominican Republic’s 90 percent, and the inflation rate is over four times that of its neighbor (“Haiti vs. Dominican Republic”). To sum it up, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are two very different countries sharing a small island.
The question is how, how did these two neighbors end up so unlike each other? Believe it or not, the differences can be traced all the way back to 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.Part 1: ColonizationWhen children are taught about Christopher Columbus in elementary school, they learn about how Columbus landed in the islands off the coast of mainland North America. In fact, the first island that Columbus landed on was the island of Hispaniola, in 1492. A Time magazine article writes that after establishing dominance, he dubbed it La Isla Espanola, or the Spanish island (Silver). As it was a colony, Spain was interested in the resources on the island, but they were more interested in the conquests in Mexico and Florida. A timeline by Brown University explains that at around the 17th century, French settlers established a presence on the Western part of the island, and in on September 20, 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France in the treaty of Ryswick (Shen). The two colonies shared the same name, but in a different language. The Spanish owned the colony of Santo Domingo, while the French named their colony Saint Domingue.
Unlike the Spanish, the French were far more invested in exploiting the island for its resources, and by the end of the 18th century, had over 500,000 African slaves, which greatly contributed to the darker population of Haiti today (Silver). The French farmed cash crops, such as coffee and sugar, and even in harsh and cruel conditions, the slaves toiled under the white and mulatto (mixed) hierarchy. By the end of the 18th century, both the slaves and the mulattoes (also known as the affranchi) were more than frustrated with the racist society that they were forced to live in.The Dominicans fared slightly better, to say the least. As previously mentioned, the Spanish were more invested in Mexico and Florida, so they did not bring in as nearly as many slaves as the French, and many Spaniards intermarried with slaves and locals, producing a population of mixed-race people, with only a few slaves. An article written by Deutsche Welle says that many believe that the lack of ethnic differences among the Dominican population to be one of the factors why the D.
R. was so much more stable than Haiti (Deutsche Welle).Part 2: IndependenceHaiti:Haiti gained independence at the start of the 19th century. It started in 1793, when the French abolished slavery in Haiti as a way to appeases the angry slaves. An article by Encyclopedia Britannica writes that apparently, Napoleon intended to restore slavery almost a decade later, and in 1802 a black army, led by former slaves Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe, marched to the French and in 1803, the French commander surrendered (The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). The people of Saint Domingue decided to rename the new country Haiti, the native word meaning “land of the high mountains”. Unfortunately for the new country, it had some problems right from independence.
Given that Haiti was the world’s first black sovereign nation, it was ostracized by the surrounding countries, who feared that Haiti’s independence might inspire slave revolts in their own countries. An article by National Geographic writes that France later demanded 93 million francs as repayment for materials and property that was seized and destroyed during the war for independence (Bourne). Furthermore, Haiti’s population was still deeply fragmented by race and socioeconomic status. To put it simply, Haiti had a rough start, and the effects are still evident today.Dominican Republic: Turning to the east, the Dominicans fared slightly better, but still had some trouble starting out. In 1795, Spain gave the rest of the island to France, giving them control (Wiarda). Given how France was treating the western third, the Dominicans were subjected to much worse treatment than they experienced while under the control of the Spaniards.
During the Haitian struggle for independence, the Haitian army and its people started to overrun the eastern part of the island itself, much to the displeasure of the Dominicans. When the Haitians managed to evict the French army, though, the Dominicans were able to kick the Haitians out of the eastern side of the island as well. After the island of Hispaniola was no longer under French rule, Spain returned to Santo Domingo after a short while, but the Dominicans grew tired of the the Spanish rule and declared independence in 1821. Unfortunately for the Dominicans would, their country would not become fully independent until 1844, as Haiti immediately occupied Dominican soil as an attempt to unite the two nations.
While in the new country of the Dominican Republic, the Haitians confisticated property and generally mistreated the general population, which could be one reason why the two countries dislike each other so much today (Wiarda). Eventually in the 1830s a group of Dominicans led by Juan Pablo Duarte formed a secret society to fight Haitian rule, and achieved independence from Haiti in 1844.Part 3: Geography A quick google search of the Dominican and Haitian border will bring up images that show how different the two countries look. Generally speaking, the Dominican Republic is the green side while Haiti is the brown side. Part of this may be due to actual geographical reasons: the mountains of the island cut off Haiti’s rainfall, giving the country a semiarid climate, which makes it harder to farm (Silver). However, most of the problems are man-made.
The French exploited Haiti’s natural resources, and farmed the country for cash crops, which destroyed the soil, and the severe deforestation continued to happen after independence. Haiti was not actually able to pay off the 93 million franc debt in money alone-most of the debt was repaid in timber (Silver). Furthermore, the article by Deutsche Welles explains that “Since no Haitian city has a regular electricity supply, for many residents wood remains the most important source of energy. That is one reason why the island’s forest cover has largely disappeared (Deutsche Welles).” To add even more, trees are essential to keeping the soil intact. Thanks to the huge lack of trees, the fertile topsoil eroded away, leaving bedrock behind.
According to National Geographic, the food production per capita from 1991 to 2002 fell 30 percent. And in a country where farming makes up 60 percent of the countries workforce, having poor soil will lead to a poor economy (PBS). Part 4: Economy The Dominican Republic is not an astoundingly rich country by any means. In a list by Statistics Times.
com, it ranked 69th in the world by GDP (“List of Countries by Projected GDP.”). Compare that to Haiti’s 141st place, one should get a clear idea of how poor Haiti is.
If it did not, then imagine this: according to The World Bank, on average, a Dominican adult will make about eight times more in a year than a Haitian adult (World Development Indicators | DataBank). In fact, many Haitians are employed in the Dominican Republic, laboring as plantation workers and maids. One could compare them to Mexican immigrants living in the U.S., and just like Mexicans, Haitians are treated poorly and often held as scapegoats when the Dominican economy is doing poorly. Part 5: Shaky Relationship The relationship between the two countries has always been rocky. From the Haitian Occupation of the Dominican Republic to the Parsley Massacre, to say that the countries dislike each other would be an understatement. For those who do not know of the Parsley Massacre, it is what it sounds like: a massacre.
In the 1930s, the Dominican Republic was going through a bit of an economic slump. The then-dictator, Rafael Trujillo, figured it was the Haitian immigrants’ faults, even though it was not. His solution? Kill the immigrants.
However, the method of execution was particularly cruel. Soldiers would go up to people near the border, hold up a sprig of parsley (hence Parsley Massacre), and ask them what it was. If the people replied with a Spanish accent, trilling the r, then they would let go. The Haitian language is French Creole, so the Haitians who were confronted by the soldiers were unable to trill the r, and were promptly killed. Also, thanks to Haiti’s mostly black population, many darker skinned people were also targeted, and many darker Dominicans were slaughtered as well. An article by Rutgers University estimates that approximately 20,000 people were killed (Finkelstein).
Thankfully, there have been no more massacres since then, but in 2010, the Dominican government made a decision that revoked the citizenship of Dominicans whose parents were immigrants. An article by the New York Times explains that the decision was also retroactive, meaning it affected people who were born before the law was created (Archibold). The article also explains that this decision has made over 200,000 people stateless, and even if there have not been any mass deportations yet, the move has deprived those of Haitian descent of rights and privileges that come with citizenship. Finally, there is just the general issue with racism. Due to the Dominican Republic’s mostly light-skinned population, they often look down on the darker-skinned Haitians, and often use the term “Haitian” as an insult to a person with dark skin. It is crazy to think that such a small island is home to two completely different worlds, and how the actions of centuries ago can have such an impact on today.
As these two countries continue to exist, one can only hope that they be careful in their actions to protect future generations, and try to heal the rift caused generations before them.