Following the political upheaval in Haiti in recent weeks, the Dominican Republic is moving ahead with plans to build a fence along its border with Haiti, which extends for about 236 miles.
President Luis Abinader announced the project earlier this year and said the barrier would help curb illegal immigration, drugs and the flow of stolen vehicles between the two countries, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Abinader promised it will be complete within two years, although details of the budget have not been made public yet.
Speaking to the United National General Assembly last week, Abinader expressed his grave concern over the insecurity in Haiti following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.
"Since we took office (Aug 2020), we have been announcing the possibility that the Haitian situation could spill over the borders of that country, becoming a factor of insecurity in the region," said Abinader. "Hence, the need for this community of nations to urgently assume once and for all, the Haitian crisis as one of the highest priority and of permanent follow-up," he added.
Political unrest, rising violence and kidnappings have exacerbated an already dire economic situation in Haiti. Abinader called for "urgent" action by the international community to help Haiti.
"Given the current division among the Haitian leadership, and the dangerous presence of criminal gangs that control a good part of its territory, Haitians alone will not be able to pacify their country, much less guarantee the conditions to establish a minimum of order," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez in Washington on Tuesday, though little was revealed about the nature of the talks. Blinken applauded some of the reforms undertaken by the Dominican Republic “to encourage greater transparency and foster the rule of law,” a reference to Abinader’s highly publicized efforts to tackle corruption.
“Of course, we’ll have an opportunity to talk about Haiti and what we can do together to help find long-lasting solutions to the challenges the Haitian people are facing," Blinken added.
The election of Abinader, a social democrat, marked a major break with past conservative governments. That opened the possibility of closer relations with the like-minded Biden administration. More than two million Americans of Dominican descent live in the United States, which makes it the fifth-largest Latino group in the country, according to a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center.
The Dominican Republic, which has a population of about 11 million, has already constructed some short stretches of 14-foot high cinder block wall covered with razor wire along the border, but work on the full fence is officially due to start next month. Abinader has said the barrier in some "conflictive" sections would include a double-fence along with motion sensors, infrared systems and facial recognition cameras.
Israel's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Daniel Biran, said this week that his country is interested in participating in the bidding process for a "technological wall" on the Dominican-Haitian border.
Biran, during a visit to the Listin Diario newspaper, indicated that Israeli companies have experience in the construction of this type of wall, referring to the wall erected between Israel and the Palestinian territorities.
The border between the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti dates back to the division of the island between France and Spain in 1697. In 1791 Haitian slaves launched the Haitian Revolution, gaining independence from France in 1804. However, Haiti invaded and annexed the Dominican Republic in 1822 with the intention of unifying the island. The Dominicans waged a war against the Haitians and gained independence in 1844, with the reestablishment of the border.
Apart from the instability and extreme poverty in Haiti, one of the historical factors has been the exploitation of underpaid Haitian workers, or 'braceros', in the Dominican sugar industry.
The Dominican Republic has also come under widespread criticism for its policy of denying citizenship and identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent.
It is estimated that about 500,000 Haitian migrants are living in the country, according to the Organization for International Migration (OIM). Many of them are undocumented, creating a long-running xenophobia among many Dominicans towards darker-skinned Haitians. In January, the government agreed to help Haiti provide identity papers to its citizens living in Dominican territory. At the same time, it continues to expel large numbers of Haitians on a daily basis.