Discussion in 'Haiti' started by FLATFOOTFLOOGIE, Jun 26, 2006.



    Jun 14, 2006
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    Project MUSE - A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed: The 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic

    This a very informative article on a very little known and talked about masscre of over 15,000 Haitians inspired by the Dominican government in 1937. Here is an excerpt from this very long and informative article.

    The Haitian Massacre
    The frontier world in which border control was an anathema and a monoethnic nation inconceivable collapsed in the wake of the Haitian massacre. This [End Page 612] massacre followed an extensive tour of the frontier region by Trujillo that commenced in August 1937. Trujillo traveled by horse and mule through the entire northern half of the country, both the rich central Cibao region and northern frontier areas. Touring these provinces, traditionally the most resistant to political centralization, reflected Trujillo's concerns with shoring up political control at the time. The Cibao was the locus of elite rivalry with Trujillo in these years. And because the northern frontier had been a traditional area of autonomy and refuge for local caudillos, the U.S. Legation in Santo Domingo assumed that the August 1937 tour was intended to "cowe [sic] opposition." 78 Much like earlier frontier tours, Trujillo shook hands and distributed food and money; attended dances and parties in his honor; and made concerted efforts to secure political loyalty in many heretofore intractable lands. 79 Yet, the conclusion of this tour was entirely unexpected. On 2 October 1937, during a dance in Trujillo's honor in Dajabón, Trujillo proclaimed, "For some months, I have traveled and traversed the frontier in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, 'I will fix this.' And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue." 80 Trujillo explained his ordering of the massacre as a response to alleged cattle rustling and crop raiding by Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This was the first of a series of shifting rationalizations that misrepresented the massacre as stemming from local conflicts between Dominicans and Haitians in the frontier.

    Some Haitians heard Trujillo's words and decided to flee. Others had already left following news of the first killings, which occurred at the end of September. 81 A few recalled clues that something ominous was brewing. Most were incredulous, however, and had too much at stake to abandon their homes, communities, and crops for what sounded, however horrible, like preposterous rumors. Yet on 5 October 1937 these rumors were confirmed after a U.S. official in Dajabón filed a grim report. More than two thousand ethnic [End Page 613] Haitians had crossed into Haiti from the northern Dominican frontier. They had not been forcibly deported, but rather were escaping bands of Dominican soldiers slaughtering ethnic Haitians. Already some five hundred had been killed in Dajabón alone. 82

    A few Dominicans from the northern frontier recalled that at first Haitians were given 24 hours to leave, and that in some cases Haitian corpses were hung in prominent locations, such as at the entrance of towns, as a warning to others. And during the first days of the massacre, Haitians who reached the border were permitted to cross to Haiti over the bridge at the official checkpoint. But the border was closed on 5 October. After this, those fleeing had to wade across the Massacre while trying to avoid areas where the military was systematically slaughtering Haitians on the river's eastern bank. 83

    Many Haitians were captured while trying to make their escape. In interviews with refugees in Dosmond—a colony near Ouanaminthe set up for those who escaped the massacre—one woman vividly recalled the details of her Dominican-born family's ill-fated flight. With still visible scars covering her shoulders and neck, she recounted:

    At four in the morning . . . we started to march towards Haiti. While we were walking, some Dominicans told us to be careful and not go through Dajabón, since they were killing people there. . . . When we arrived at the Dajabón savanna, we saw a guardia [soldier]. When we saw him, I said, "Mama, we're going to die, we're going to die." She told me to be quiet. Then a guardia screamed, "You're under arrest.". . . One guardia on a horse was tying people up. When he saw that . . . people were beginning to run, he started killing them and then throwing them into a hole. He killed everyone. I was the only one who was saved. They thought I was dead because they had given me a lot of machete blows. I was soaked in blood—all the blood in my heart. After all these tribulations, its thanks to God I didn't die. . . . They killed my entire family. . . . We were 28 . . . I was the only one to survive. 84
    Documents reveal how in other cases Dominican troops sought to deceive those targeted for slaughter by disavowing the state's murderous intentions and simulating some semblance of normalcy, presumably to avert panic and [End Page 614] efforts at escape. Many victims were led to the border by soldiers with the understanding that they were being deported to Haiti. In some cases, deportation papers were actually processed. 85 The Guardia then informed the "deportees" that their numbers were too great to cross over the bridge so they would be led through the woods in groups of four or six to the river. Once in the woods, most were killed. Women and children were reportedly less successful than men in escaping and hence composed the majority of those murdered. 86 In other cases, soldiers called Haitians to local meetings and told them not to believe rumors of deportations. The troops reportedly announced that it was Trujillo's wish that Haitians continue to work the land. A group of some 50 guardias, some disguised in civilian clothes, then surrounded and massacred the Haitians in attendance. 87 The army's use of dissemblance expedited the killings. Otherwise, Trujillo's army, which totaled around 3,000 active troops and perhaps 12,000 trained civilian reserves, might not have been able to slay such a large number of Haitians scattered throughout the countryside. Many more would have escaped across the border. 88

    Few Haitians were shot, except some of those killed while trying to escape. Instead machetes, bayonets, and clubs were used. This suggests again that Trujillo sought to simulate a popular conflict, or at least to maintain some measure of plausible deniability of the state's perpetration of this genocide. The lack of gunfire was consistent with civilian rather than military violence. It also reduced noise that would have alerted more Haitians and propelled them to flee.

    The soldiers who perpetrated this massive slaughter shattered forever the prevailing norms of nation and ethnicity in the premassacre frontier world within which Dominican-born Haitians were more or less accepted as Dominican citizens and as members of a multiethnic national community. Those norms were clear in the testimony of many elderly Dominicans. When asked how Haitians were identified in the slaughter, Lolo, who had been the alcalde pedáneo of Restauración at the time of the massacre, responded by contrasting state practices of identification before and after the massacre: "There were [End Page 615] many that they didn't know. But if they had their birth certificate, they presented it. But here they didn't check that. If they checked that, all the Haitians here would have remained because they were all recognized here [as Dominicans citizens]. Only the elderly persons were Haitians. Those that they threw out in 1937 were not Haitians. Most were Dominican nationals." 89 One such Haitian-Dominican, Sus Jonapas, similarly recalled how a baptismal record showing Dominican birth had exempted one from the migration tax, but "when they started killing people, they were no longer interested in whether or not you had a baptismal record." 90 And another Dominican-born Haitian, Emanuel Cour, a school teacher living in Ouanaminthe in 1988 who had been fifteen years old at the time of the massacre, remembered, "Those who came over to the Dominican Republic as adults kept their Haitian names. But those who were born there generally got Dominican names. They were Dominican. But when the knife fell, no longer were any distinctions made." 91 Dominican birth (or the appearance thereof), a critical determinant of ethnic Haitians' membership in the Dominican nation prior to the massacre in the frontier, was rendered suddenly meaningless. The outside military units that led the genocidal operation imagined and imposed an absolute distinction between Haitians and Dominicans on a frontier society in which many people had divergent national and ethnic identities as well as multiple and intermixed cultures and ethnicities.

    Still, the basis on which Trujillo's genocidal army would draw their imagined absolute distinction between "Haitians" and "Dominicans" was not obvious. Were Haitians whose families had lived in the Dominican Republic for several generations and who spoke Spanish fluently still "Haitian"? 92 And how should children of Haitians and Dominicans be identified? It is often recalled that the Guardia used Spanish pronunciation as a supposed litmus test for deciding who was "Haitian." Many soldiers demanded that those captured utter perejil (parsley), tijera (scissors), or various other words with the letter "r." Supposed inability to pronounce the Spanish "r" was then represented as an indicator of Haitian identity. This practice may have been borrowed from local guards who had used it in the past to determine whether ethnic Haitians would be required to pay the annual migration tax (as records of birthplace were not necessarily or easily available). Anyone who pronounced the "r" [End Page 616] clearly was presumed to have been born in the country and would not be taxed. Ercilia Guerrier, who lived in Restauración, recalled being stopped prior to the massacre by Dominican soldiers checking to see if immigrants had paid their tax: "You were going to the market or to Loma de Cabrera, you run into the guards, they say to you, 'Stop right there!' And so you do that, you stop. 'Say "perejil!' And so you say, 'Perejil, perejil, perejil!' 'Say claro, '¡Claro, claro, claro!'." Asked if it was ever necessary to produce a birth certificate or baptismal record to avoid the migration tax, Guerrier replied, "No, no. As soon as you could say that ["perejil" or "claro"], you didn't have any problems with them." 93 Thus when lacking records of Dominican birth, fluency in Spanish allowed many persons of Haitian descent to pass for Dominican citizens. Jonapas also recalled, "If you spoke Dominican well, [Dominicans] said you were not Haitian." 94