Tensions along the Haitian-Dominican border often revolve around environmental issues, as Haitians seeking arable land and wood for fuel venture onto Dominican lands that are often part of protected forests. This was once again the scenario yesterday as violence erupted in northwestern Dominican Republic after authorities destroyed plots planted with fruits and vegetables by Haitians on Dominican protected land. The Haitians burned tires and blocked the highway that connects Dajabón province with the southwestern part of the country. An official in the Dominican army’s Cesfront border-security corps told Efe that the protesters set upon the soldiers with machetes and stones, so the military had to respond “prudently.” One of the protesters was hit by pellets.
The Environment Ministry’s top official in Dajabón, Ana Carrasco, defended the destruction of the provision plots, saying that many Haitians have occupied land in the country to grow crops, “destroying woodlands indiscriminately.” She claimed it was the fourth time the Haitians have been removed from that protected area. Timon Claude Salcime, spokesman for the demonstrators, said that in his country they have no land to till and for that reason have crossed into Dominican territory, where they have occupied “abandoned” terrain to grow crops so they can make a living.
With only 1% of its land still covered in forests, Haiti faces an unparalleled environmental catastrophe. Decreases in rainfall, loss of topsoil, and galloping desertification has left most of the peasantry without land to cultivate. The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, has recently stepped up its environmental protection efforts and has one of the Caribbean’s highest number of forest acres under protection.
Dominican officials estimate that around 1 million Haitians live in the country, most of them illegal immigrants who work in agriculture and construction. The Dominican Republic has often been criticized for its treatment of Haitians.
AP Photo: Haitians carrying goods to sell cross the Massacre river into the Dominican Republic in Dajabon, Friday, April. 13, 2007. The Massacre river forms the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic.