Haiti: death stalks Dominican border

At least 24 undocumented Haitians died as they were being smuggled into the Dominican Republic in a small truck near the northern city of Dajabon on Jan. 10. The victims died of asphyxiation while riding with about 45 other Haitians in the unventilated truck, according to Dominican police, who said the smugglers threw out some of the bodies while the truck was still moving. Eleven of the bodies were found on Jan. 10 in La Mina de Cacheo, and 13 more were found on Jan. 11, police said; both communities are in the northwest. Police detained two Dominicans who allegedly drove the truck, according to police spokesperson Gen. Simon Diaz. (AP, Jan. 11) On Jan. 12 Dominican sources put the total number of deaths at 25. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Jan. 13)

According to some witnesses, Dominican soldiers had been pursuing and firing on the vehicle. Twenty other Haitians were injured. Some jumped from the truck after it came under fire from the military vehicle pursuing it, according to the reports. Early reports quoted witnesses as saying the gunfire caused the truck to crash. Some of the wounded Haitians told local media that the smugglers began throwing some of the Haitians off the speeding truck when they saw they were being pursued by soldiers. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs, Jan. 12 from EFE)

Haitian radio also carried reports that many bodies had bullet wounds; Cibao police chief Luis Dario de la Cruz Consuegra denied the reports. As of Jan. 15, 16 Dominican soldiers were still in detention while the authorities continued an investigation into the incident, according to Armed Forces Secretary Sigfrido Parez Perez. Initially some 60 soldiers were detained. Recently Dominican soldiers have been deployed in “Operation Cowboy,” which is said to be an attempt to reinforce monitoring at the border. (ED-LP, Jan. 13, 15)

Two Haitians were killed and 11 wounded in protests in the Haitian border city of Ouanaminthe, near Dajabon, on Jan. 12 as Dominican authorities attempted to turn over 24 of the bodies to members of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); four MINUSTAH members were reportedly injured. Haitian protesters blocked the Dominican vehicle carrying the bodies and assaulted it with stones and, according to some reports, gunfire. The protesters blocked the return of the bodies because they hadn’t been prepared properly for burial, according to Colette Lespinasse, coordinator of Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), and Yannick Etienne, spokesperson for the labor group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”). MINUSTAH fired shots in the air in an attempt to disperse the crowd. One young man was killed by a bullet, and another died after being run over by a MINUSTAH vehicle. The 24 bodies were returned to the Dominican Republic, where they were buried in a mass grave. (ED-LP, Jan. 13; AlterPresse, Jan. 12)

On Jan. 13 dozens of Haitian protesters used barricades and burning tires to enforce a boycott of the Dominican-Haitian market usually held in Dajabon. A MINUSTAH armored vehicle withdrew after being attacked with rocks and clubs. (ED-LP, Jan. 14)

Dominican immigration officials said they repatriated 500 undocumented Haitians on Dec. 24. The immigrants, who were detained over the three previous days in the northern city of Santiago, were mostly children, women and adolescents who had been begging at traffic lights and in plazas or shining shoes and cleaning windshields, according to the authorities. Many were allowed to get their belongings and to contact relatives before being deported. Human rights observers were present during the repatriation. Elias Dominguez of the Santiago Human Rights Brigade told the Spanish wire service EFE that the treatment the immigrants received from immigration inspectors and Dominican soldiers was “pleasant.” (El Diario-La Prensa, Dec. 26 from EFE) Thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian origin were deported during 2005, 3,000 in May alone.

EFE reported on Jan. 6, citing official sources, that some 500 Haitians had been deported over the previous three days. They were detained in sweeps in communities in Santiago province, where many Haitians live. (AlterPresse, Jan. 6)

The interim Haitian government confirmed on Dec. 15 that it had named Fritz Cineas as its new ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Cineas began his career as diplomat under the regime of dictator Francois Duvalier (“Papa Doc,” 1957-1971) and served several times in the cabinet of Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc,” 1971-1986). According to the Dominican daily Listin Diario, the Dominican government welcomed the nomination. Haiti had had no ambassador in Santo Domingo since Guy Alexandre resigned in December 2003, two months before the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (AlterPresse, Dec. 14, 16)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 15

See our last post on Haiti, and ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic.