Border walls are back

Dominican Republic revives the idea of a border wall with Haiti.

The Dominican Republic has announced plans to build a wall on its 380 kilometre border with Haiti. President Luis Abinador said that construction would start in the second half of 2021, yet this incredible development has barely made it into the mainstream news.

A regional trade consultant in the Dominican Republic gave us the local context, “What people don’t realise is that Haiti invaded the Dominican Republic in the 1800’s and held the people captive. Liberation Day is liberation from Haiti, not from Spain. Therefore, people feel very strongly about immigration from Haiti.”

“What people don’t realise is that Haiti invaded the Dominican Republic in the 1800’s. […] Therefore, people feel very strongly about immigration from Haiti.”

Regional trade consultant, Dominican Republic

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and 500,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, which has a population of 10.5 million. President Abinador claimed that a wall would reduce illegal immigration, drug-trafficking and smuggling of stolen goods.

The trade consultant confirmed that illegal migration is a problem, “The border is very porous. People travel over mountains and through rivers, they don’t just take the border road. It is rough terrain too so it is hard to patrol effectively which is why there is a problem with arms and drug trafficking.”

The idea of a border wall here has been around for a decade and in 2019 the Dominican Republic even built 20 kilometres of it. Despite this, President Abinador’s announcement came as a surprise to many. Prior to assuming office, he had promised to regularise the situation of illegal Haitian migrants, estimated to be 5% of the total migrant community.   

Therefore, it is unclear if President Abinador is fully committed to the project or if he sees the measure as a move to appease conservative sectors of the population. Allaying the fears of conservative Dominicans could allow the government to grant more rights to Haitians already living in the country.

A local business executive does not believe a wall will be built any time soon, “It’s just speculation. There were talks about a whole range of strategies to curb immigration and the wall was just one of them. As far as I know, there is no active project to begin construction.”

“It’s just speculation. There were talks about a whole range of strategies to curb immigration and the wall was just one of them.”

Business executive, Dominican Republic

The trade consultant agreed, “I don’t think a wall will be built any time soon and I don’t think it will stop illegal migration. There is no money to build it and I don’t think the President really wants to, he just wants to show some of his supporters that he cares about the issue. 60% of Dominicans are unhappy with Haitians coming in, but the other 40% see cheap labour so they don’t mind.”

The concept of a border wall has been widely criticised as it will not address the root of the problem which is blatant economic inequality between the two nations. José Serulle Ramia, former Haitian ambassador to the Dominican Republic said that both countries would benefit from stronger cooperation on eco-tourism, free trade areas and agribusiness.

According to both of our sources, many Dominicans feel the rest of the region is against them, “Others in the region don’t care about our problems. We are not a rich country ourselves, we can’t solve the problem alone. Unfortunately, the international geopolitical view is that Haiti is suffering discrimination by the Dominican Republic.”

Building a wall is unlikely to change this international geopolitical perspective. The immigration issue needs to be addressed but both sides need to find a more diplomatic solution that ensures mutual benefit.

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