From 2003 through 2010, I directed a program for the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) to improve cross-border cooperation and trade in the Haitian-Dominican borderlands. It was a facinating experience as we worked on issues ranging from cross-border perceptions to cattle rustling to trade policy.
We identified four problems as the most significant challenges for the borderlands
- Mutual mistrust, misunderstandings, and the language barrier have caused both countries to ignore cross-border opportunities and treat their border region as if it were the end of the world rather than an important commercial crossroads, which has in turn hampered development in the borderlands.
- The lack of clearly defined rules of interaction and effective mechanisms for resolving cross-border problems are the greatest sources of conflict in the borderlands. Fees for crossing the border, customs, and market space rentals are not posted, encouraging arbitrary application. Because the enforcement of these fees is so inconsistent and because of the innate mistrust between the two sides, the person paying the fees assumes the worst of the person collecting the fees. The arbitrary enforcement of visa requirements and random roundups of undocumented workers are other significant sources of conflict.
- Poor physical and legal infrastructures are the greatest hurdles to increasing cross-border trade and production in the borderlands. Although Haiti and the Dominican Republic are one another’s second largest market for agricultural and nationally manufactured goods, access roads to the border are in bad condition, both countries’ customs and inspection facilities are terribly outdated, and neither country has laws that facilitate imports across the border.
- Poverty and the consumption of natural resources are underlying sources of conflict between the two countries in general. Dominicans are out-migrating from the borderlands due to the lack of economic opportunities, while Haitians are moving from other areas of Haiti to the border region and migrating across the border.
The most successful efforts to resolve these problems came from initiatives that focused on technical issues and began with small successes and built towards the bigger problems. For example, PAHO helped the Ministries of Health to develop a system whereby a tuberculosis patient’s treatment card was recognized in both countries. This allowed the patient to continue receiving care and to ensure that the disease did not relapse despite travelling across the border.
This was the key to the success of the PADF’s cross-border project. They worked with local leaders in both countries to identify specific local problems and to reach across to their cross-border neighbors to resolve it. A good example was cattle rustling. When the PADF began working with the ranchers, the Dominicans complained that Haitians were stealing their cows and Haitians pointed their fingers at the Dominicans. When the OAS/PADF brought the two sides together to discuss this issue, the ranchers came to realize that the cattle rustlers were actually a binational gang. Dominican rustlers would steal cattle from the Dominican ranchers and then sell them to Haitians rustlers who would smuggle the cattle across the border. Similarly, rustling of Haitian cattle was done by Haitians who sold the cattle to Dominicans. Once the Haitian and Dominican rangers and local authorities began cooperating, they were able to dramatically reduce the cattle rustling.
In the final year of the program, we published a series of papers to document our understanding of the borderlands. The most important of these publications are the following:
- The Haitian-Dominican Border in the Post-Earthquake Era: This report summerized all of our findings and was published in English, French, and Spanish.
- Sources of Conflict along and across the Haitian – Dominican border (Dr. Gerald Murray): In this study, Dr. Murray found that economic inequalities rather than cultural differences were the main source of conflict along and across the border.
- Dominican-Haitian Racial and Ethnic Perceptions and Sentiments:Mutual adaptations, mutual tensions, mutual anxieties (Dr. Gerald Murray): This study was done in parallel to the study on conflicts and focused on how Dominicans and Haitians view each other. He found that skin color was not a significant issue.