Luis Abinader, President of the Dominican Republic, has announced the closure of all borders with neighboring Haiti, effective from Friday, September 15th. This drastic decision comes in light of a dispute over a canal being excavated by a Haitian farming group, which aims to utilize water from the Massacre River, a river that delineates the border between the two nations.
The canal project, which had been halted since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, recently resumed. The International Crisis Group noted that the canal’s continuation was due to the Haitian government’s inaction, especially given the drought affecting the agricultural area of the Maribaroux plain.
President Abinader’s move to close the borders signifies the failure of last-minute talks between the two countries. He stated that the borders would remain closed “until necessary.” This move is anticipated to significantly impact the economies of both nations, with Haiti expected to bear the brunt of the consequences.
Historically, the relationship between the two countries, which co-inhabit the island of Hispaniola, has been tense. The Dominican Republic has accused Haiti of attempting to divert water from the shared Massacre River, which would adversely affect Dominican farmers and the environment. In response, Haiti’s government asserted its sovereign right to exploit its natural resources, referencing a 1929 treaty that allowed for the shared use of the river.
The Dominican Republic’s decision to close its borders is not unprecedented. The country had previously sealed its borders following the assassination of President Moïse. Relations have been strained over issues such as border security and the treatment of Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers, many of whom are escaping the rampant gang violence in Haiti.
The recent border closure has already led to significant disruptions. In Dajabon, a key economic hub for Haitians, trade activities have been paralyzed. Haitian businesses have highlighted the severe economic repercussions, noting that perishable goods are spoiling, leading to millions of dollars in losses.
International bodies have weighed in on the situation. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously urged countries to suspend any returns to Haiti due to the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis. The United States embassy in Haiti has also advised American citizens against traveling to Haiti, citing safety concerns.
Despite the international outcry, the Dominican government remains resolute in its decision, emphasizing its right to establish border policies in line with its constitution and international law.
The current situation underscores the longstanding complexities and challenges faced by both nations. As the Dominican Republic takes measures to control its borders and address its concerns, the Haitian people find themselves caught in the crossfire, facing uncertainties on both sides of the border.