Driving the Seam of Hispaniola

The NY Times ran this story recently by Julia Alverez about a road trip along the Haitian-Dominican boarder. 

By JULIA ALVAREZ

NOVEMBER 28, 2014

I’ve never liked the idea of bucket-list travel. Why make another to-do list when faced with your own mortality?

But there is one trip I’ve wanted to make since so far back I can’t remember when I first became fascinated by the idea: traveling down the border that separates my home­land, the Dominican Republic, from its neighbor, Haiti, sharing the island of Hispaniola.

Sharing might not be the best verb to describe the often troubled relationship between the two nations. The island was originally a colony of Spain, until the western half was ceded to France as a consequence of Continental wars in the 18th century. After its independence from France, Haiti went on to occupy the whole island until 1844. Tellingly, it is this date, not that of their secession from Spain, that Dominicans celebrate as their national independence day.

A view near the Dominican town of Sabana Real, close to the Haitian border. AMADEO ESCARRAMÁN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

A view near the Dominican town of Sabana Real, close to the Haitian border.

AMADEO ESCARRAMÁN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

During my own childhood under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the “Dominicanization” of border areas became a national campaign. Incentives were offered to anyone willing to homestead in our version of the American Wild West.

A 1929 treaty had been signed, delineating where one country ended and the other began. This was news to some Haitians and Dominicans who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the border. Those who disregarded the treaty paid dearly eight years later, when Trujillo, furious over the violation of national sovereignty, ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians still living on Dominican soil.

This was before my time, but even as a child in the ’50s, whenever I misbehaved, I was threatened with El Cuco, the Haitian boogeyman, who would take me away to Haiti where I would become somebody’s meal. All of this only served to whet my appetite, then, and to this day, about the mysterious “other” country next door.

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