On 18 February, the reconstructed Dajabón market, located on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, was inaugurated. With $7.1 million in funds from the European Union, the revamped market is expected to boost trade between these two countries and better conditions for Haitians after the earthquake.
Of the many markets already along the border, the choice to rejuvenate Dajabón was strategic, to say the least. The bridge linking the Haitian town of Ouanaminthe with the Dominican town of Dajabón traverses Massacre River, where up to 30,000 Haitians were murdered under Dominican President Rafael Trujillo during the 1937 “Parsley Massacre.”
Though relations between Haiti and the DR have improved substantially in the last 75 years, the border remains a focus of ever shifting tensions between these two countries. According to Bridget Wooding, Director of the Observatorio Migrantes del Caribe, the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is “instrumentalized” for the political, social, and economic aims of these two countries, at the expense of those living upon, and traveling across it. For Wooding, those who pay the highest price for the border’s instrumentalization are Haitian women.
Haitian women converge at the border to sell goods at border markets, and to cross into the DR, where they seek temporary employment as domestics, laborers, or sex workers. Since the earthquake, the number of women frequenting the border between Haiti and the DR has risen dramatically. Accordingly, the conditions along the border for women have become increasingly unstable.
After the earthquake, 200,000 Haitians crossed into the DR. After the initial waves of migrants, the Dominican Republic tightened its border regulations and immigration policies. These border regulations were justified by the need to defend national security, Haiti’s cholera epidemic, and the preservation of social services.
“These measures are in accordance with the natural and sovereign right of any country to control entry into its territory,” the Dominican Embassy tells MediaGlobal.
But border regulations have caused an increase in illegal, informal border crossings. The “Fanm nan fwontyè, Fanm toupatou
” report, written by Wooding and Allison J. Petrozziello and released by the Observatorio Migrantes del Caribe, states that unregulated border crossings correlate with higher incidences of violence against women, through human trafficking schemes, border patrol abuses, and smuggling operations.
Nevertheless, says Wooding, in the absence of alternatives, informal border crossings have become overwhelmingly normalized, and stubbornly internalized. Despite acknowledged risks of robbery, rape, and murder, women are consistently compelled to cross.
Dr. Maria Cristina Fumagalli, Professor of Caribbean Literature at The University of Essex, claims the Dominican military greatly benefits from informal border crossings between Haiti and the DR. “They let Haitians in and then ask for money, more and more at each point until they reach the last one where they ask an exorbitant sum – if the Haitian cannot pay s/he is sent back and has lost all her/his money.”
Poorer Haitians thus have the economic incentive to cross the border, but lack the ability to do it safely. Dr. Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, professor of Hispanic studies at Vassar College, says that by contrast, “The middle classes have an easier time going in and out from Haiti to the DR. They have property in the DR, relatives, they have houses, they’re known at the border, it’s easier for them to cross.”
When the DR closed several border markets in January 2011, due to the cholera epidemic, it was again poor Haitian women who paid the price. “Sellers were desperate,” explains Fumagalli. “We saw Haitians (mostly women) arrive at the market from far away with huge parcels on their heads only to be told that the market was to remain closed.”
Wooding adds: “With the cholera outbreak, more extortion went on, people were crossing more dangerously than before.”
While the Dominican embassy maintains that “programs to combat the continuing spread of the disease have largely succeeded in controlling the pace of the outbreak,” Wooding questions the necessity these programs. “It was unclear if what was happening had anything to do with public health, and eventually the measures were dropped,” she says.
For Wooding, several forces profit from arbitrary border regulations and border instrumentalization. “The military, migration officials – who may allow migration provided they can get their cut in it – the smugglers, and the traffickers.”
And though there is a lot of excitement over the Dajabón market, it too participates in a system of inequality along the border. “Although these are called binational markets,” says Wooding, “in reality they’re border markets because they take place almost but exclusively at the moment on the Dominican side.”
Dominican authorities thus collect taxes from the Haitian sellers, and Haitian women must undertake expensive and dangerous journeys across the border.
Ulrick Gaillard, CEO of the Batey Relief Association, describes Haitian women living on the border as “a population that doesn’t have a voice in the system to protect them, to help enhance their lives.”
The Batey Relief Association has implemented a micro-finance program for women in Haiti’s isolated and poor southeastern border region. Gaillard hopes to increase the agency, pride, and security of women, and their communities. “When you look at it in a very cultural way, the Haitian women are the foundation for the survival of the country. So if they are not well, the country will not be well.”