Friday, November 29, 2013

Behind the "deportations"

Musings from an armchair journalist.. stuck in the Capital.. longing for a field assignment......

Neiba is small city, perhaps 50,000 inhabitants, located in a valley between two mountain ranges and several rivers and an overflowing brackish below sea level level which is home to one of the world's endangered species, the American crocodile. The crocodile has more international supporters than the farmers of Neiba, who rely primarily on the traditional crops of coffee and plantains and whose land is being eroded by the mysterious rise of the waters of the lake.

The only advantage that Neiba has over other small towns is that it is one of the few places where grapes can be grown. Grapes, along with apples, used to be imported only at Christmas and have come to mean luxury, Christmas all year, to the Dominican people. Now, there are local, rather than just imported grapes for consumption. There is even a small local wine industry.

Neiba is also home to many Haitian immigrants as are all the mountains of the southwest. Where there is a coffee harvest, there are always Haitians who come to work to pick the beans, just as they go to the cities to build skyscrapers. And the mountain ranges are so vast, and so very inhospitable for those who do not know how to live without electricity and water, that those who do not know how to do so have not usually bothered these Haitians. No one goes to hunt them down and deport them, no one arrests them while they were working. The Haitians have simply been left in peace.

But things have tipped now on the balance of how many Haitians are in the Dominican Repubic. There are never figures on how many illegals are here. Even though their skin hue may be exactly the same, as it is in many areas such as Samana and the south, Dominicans and Haitians swear that can always tell one another apart, even just by the walk, or perhaps the dress, or some instinct. 

The balance tipped. The fire ignited. And the pot boiled over in Neiba when someone killed a seventy year old local Dominican couple, coffee growers, at their home. Killed them by machete, which is known as a Haitian weapon because Dominicans use guns. Guns are the weapon of choice here in the Dominican Republic. It is against the law to carry a concealed weapon, so it is common to see a man riding on his motor cycle with a pistol in his belt. It is to be assumed that most home owners have a gun in their homes. 

Just as it is  assumed that anyone who is killed with a machete (hacked to death would be phrase used whether or not that was true) was killed by a Haitian. So, when that older couple was killed, a younger Haitian, probably a Haitian who worked for them, who may or may not have had anything to do with killing, was knifed to death by a Dominican mob. Knives are a weapon without nationality. At first the reports were that he was lynched. But lynching is not Dominican style public justice, it is Haitian style. 

Over 200 Haitians in the town, with or without proper passports or visas,sought refuge from mob violence in the police station.  A few days later they were escorted to the Haitian border, about an hour away, and returned to their homeland.  Now the police have the name of the actual murdered and have asked the Haitian authorities that he be extradited to face trial and justice here in the Dominican Republic, which will most likely be a very safe option for him as there is no death penalty here, and he has taken away the source of livelihood for these 200 people and their families and most of the other Haitians in Neiba and his life will be in danger in Haiti.

When I lived in Las Terrenas, a popular Frenchman was macheted to death by his former young Haitian lover whom he had dropped and left with nothing. The lover came back with a friend, killed the Frenchman, and stole his high end motorcycle. The local police started questioning the local Haitians to find out where the Haitian had gone. The rule, which I was told, was that if you are seen talking with the Dominican police after a crime here, your family in Haiti will be killed. There are very few Haitians in the Dominican prison system. These particular Haitians were found. The family of the Haitian who was seen talking to the police in Las Terrenas were all killed.

But there were 200 Haitians who were voluntarily in police custody in Neiba and only killer.