DAJABÓN is the biggest of the border towns, and unsurprisingly holds the largest formal crossing and best regional market. The Spanish had a fort here from the mid-sixteenth century, but it was little more than a collection of small farms until 1794, when Touissant L’Ouverture slaughtered most of the locals and resettled the spot with Haitians (the river that flows along the border here has been called the Massacre ever since).
Dajabón is now firmly Dominican, but hundreds of Haitians pour into town on market days, typically held within the eight square blocks bordering the bridge (Mon–Fri 9am–4pm). Freelance Dominican entrepreneurs come from as far as Santo Domingo – buying bulk quantities of grain and produce from Dominican farmers, swapping them to the Haitians for clothing and household goods and then selling the Haitian wares to individual clothing and department stores in the major cities; many of the “designer” labels that you’ll find on the streets of Santo Domingo are actually Haitian counterfeits. The Haitians come across the “Friendship Bridge” at the western end of town – the women balancing huge bushels crammed with gym shoes on their heads while the men lift impossibly loaded wheelbarrows – and claim small patches of pavement for their impromptu shops.Read More
The Haiti earthquake
The Haiti earthquake
In January 2010, measuring 7.0 on the Richter Scale, the most powerful earthquake to hit Haiti in 200 years caused unprecedented devastation on the western side of Hispaniola, killing almost 300,000 people, injuring as many, and leaving an estimated 1.5 million homeless. The epicentre was located close to the capital, Port-au-Prince, reducing entire urban areas to rubble. The fact that 25 percent of Haiti’s civil service was wiped out in the disaster, combined with the country’s already fragile physical and social infrastructure, added to the usual panoply of problems that beleaguer large-scale relief efforts. Despite the Dominican Republic’s perennial acrimonious relations with its poorer neighbour, President Fernández garnered international plaudits for his immediate response to the earthquake, supplying medical services, volunteers and pledging vast sums of aid, including $40 million for a new university. He also championed the right of the Haitian government to maintain control of the aid efforts, while facilitating the arrival of supplies and relief personnel through the DR. Another positive outcome was that the disaster jolted the Dominican–Haitian Mixed Bilateral Commission out of its torpor as it met for the first time since 2000 to address issues of mutual concern. Though the anticipated mass influx of refugees across the border into the DR did not occur in the initial aftermath of the quake, over the last twelve months, around a million people are thought to have entered the country since a year on, despite sustained relief efforts, Haiti’s homeless remain in tented camps, with little prospect of improved living conditions, and, at the time of writing, escalating outbreaks of cholera adding to the misery. This increase in migration has already put a strain on the countries’ precarious new relationship as thousands of Haitians deemed to be in the DR illegally are being deported back over the border, on a scale unprecedented in recent years.