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5492: 1937 massacre remembered (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By SUSANNAH A. NESMITH
DAJABON, Dominican Republic, Nov 12 (AP) -- As the sun set orange on the
Massacre River, at the site of a 1937 ethnic cleansing, the Dominican band
struck up a belated serenade to peace.
Across the rain-choked border creek that Sunday in October, hundreds of
Haitians strained to hear and see the Dominicans, their rivals for
centuries, on the other bank.
It was a poignant moment in the tortured and tangled relationship
between the two countries that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
But like many a worthy cause, it fell victim to politics and the weather.
The night before the concert, the stage constructed in the middle of the
river was washed away by rain -- so the performance had to be held on the
Dominican Republic side.
And what Dominican officials hoped would be a joint endeavor with the
Haitian symphony orchestra turned into a solo performance when Haitian
officials declined to send their musicians and Haitian President Rene
Preval stayed away without explanation. His Dominican counterpart, Hipolito
Mejia, showed up but left before the concert began.
"This is a song to peace," Giovany Cruz, the Dominican undersecretary
for culture, told a reporter. "This is the river that they crossed to
invade us. This is the river we crossed to kill them. And it's here that we
Historical accounts say the Massacre River got its name in 1728 after
Spanish colonists slaughtered a band of French pirates. It was by no means
the last massacre on the island. In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael
Trujillo ordered his country cleansed of Haitians. Estimates of the dead
range from 12,000 to 34,000.
Relations between the countries have always been tense, punctuated by
invasions and massacres that often revolve around race.
Though the 9 million Dominicans and 8 million Haitians share African
ancestry and a history of slavery, the mainly brown-skinned Dominicans
ruled by the Spanish distrust their darker and poorer neighbors. Haitians
were ruled by the French until they staged the world's only successful
slave rebellion to become independent in 1804.
Trujillo was a well-known racist. He would wear pancake makeup to hide
the fact that his grandmother was Haitian, and periodically tried to
recruit single European immigrants to "whiten" his country's gene pool. The
week before the 1937 massacre, Trujillo visited the border town of Dajabon
and is said to have been astonished by how many dark people there were
Some say racism wasn't the only factor. In the middle of a deep
recession, Dominicans feared competition from Haiti and from Haitians in
their country; the slaughter may have helped Trujillo defuse tension at
Dominicans are a society still traumatized by Haitian occupations of the
early 19th century. They mark their independence in 1844 for the day a
22-year Haitian occupation ended. Juan Pablo Duarte, a leader of the
anti-Haitian resistance, is a national hero.
The two countries have harbored each other's ousted dictators and have
even involved themselves in plots to topple each other's governments.
There is still little cooperation. Mail has to go through Miami, and
only in the last year or so did a regular thrice-weekly air service begin
between the two capitals. Two weeks ago, the Dominicans refused to return
seven Haitian police officers who fled across the Massacre River after
being accused of plotting to overthrow Preval.
Many Dominicans say they are facing another invasion, this time by
laborers unable to find work in their more impoverished homeland.
"We are a poor country," said Altagracia Garcia, a housewife in the
capital, Santo Domingo. "We have to send them back to their country
otherwise we will become another Haiti."
So Dominican authorities continue to mount politically popular mass
deportations of desperate Haitians, ignoring human rights groups'
complaints and their own need for Haitians to do lowly paid jobs that
Dominicans spurn. Haitians cut the cane in conditions not far removed from
slave labor, and form the backbone of the construction industry that has
been pivotal in the Dominican Republic's recent economic boom.
The deportations often take on a racial tone, with Dominican soldiers
rounding up the darkest-skinned people they can find -- and occasionally
sending a dark-skinned Dominican over the border by mistake.
In June, the army killed six Haitians and a Dominican who were said to
have crossed the border illegally and run a roadblock. The event drew
little scrutiny here.
The Haitian government has offered no explanation for its non-appearance
at the concert, and the Haitian media never announced it in advance.
Still, the turnout among Haitians living along the border was
impressive. They stood up to 10 deep in the narrow space between the water
and a banana field, applauding their national anthem and the Dominican one
Then Master of Ceremonies Yaqui Nunez announced "a hymn that unites us
in this moment:"
And the symphony orchestra played Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."