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Haitians, Dominicans try to move beyond Parsley Massacre's long shadow

The Parsley Massacre, which killed thousands 75 years ago, profoundly altered relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Recently, hundreds of people gathered on the border to address its legacy.

By Ezra FieserCorrespondent / October 9, 2012

In this April 2010 file photo, Dajabón, Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti is a huge market town and an economic generator for both countries. Haitian vendors cross the border to sell here.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor


Dajabón, Dominican Republic

In the long-strained relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, perhaps the darkest moment took place near this border town in October 1937. Dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the killings of thousands of Haitians, whose bodies were dumped in the aptly named Massacre River that separates the two countries.

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Seventy-five years have passed since the so-called Parsley Massacre killed upwards of 12,000 Haitians and Dominicans who tried to come to their aid. Yet in spite of its importance, the massacre was largely forgotten, not discussed or taught in Haiti and widely misinterpreted in the Dominican Republic. Scholars and activists, however, say its effects lived on, forever changing the relationship between Haitians and Dominicans, neighbors on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

Last week, however, led by members of the Haitian and Dominican diasporas living in the US, hundreds of people gathered along the border to recall the massacre and address its legacy. The three-day Border of Lights initiative was highlighted by a vigil in which hundreds of Dominicans and Haitians met on opposing sides of the river and sent candles adrift in its shallow waters.

“None of our governments have paused for a moment of silence in 75 years to say that this was a sad and painful chapter in our history and we have to learn from it in our daily dealings as a state, and as part of a total island,” says Edwidge Danticat, an acclaimed Haitian author who helped organize the event.

“It's important to reflect on both sides of the border what this history means in terms of our dealings from now on,” Ms. Danticat says, “how we see each other as island neighbors, consumers and producers, and in some cases as binational family members and generally as human beings.”

‘Institutionalized’ anti-Haiti sentiment

Prior to the massacre, Haiti and the Dominican Republic enjoyed years of good relations. Removed from the power centers of Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince, the border was peaceful and fluid.

That changed, however, over five days in early October 1937 when, acting on President Trujillo’s orders, soldiers killed thousands with machetes, bayonets, and rifles. Trujillo's exact reason remains unknown, although historians have speculated it was part of his effort to control the border and "whiten" the country.


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