Haiti Never Occupied the Dominican Republic: Time to Put The Myth Aside
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Haiti has never occupied the Dominican Republic, yet this myth continues to be part of school education on both sides of the island. The Dominican government propagates the myth to help present Haiti as a belligerent nation against which Dominicans must be wary. The image of a bellicose black nation next door helps the Dominican ruling class infuse into the Dominican population racial animosity for their neighbor. That animosity recently expressed itself in the 168-13 Court decision to exclude people of Haitian descent from Dominican citizenship.
On the Haitian side, the myth is maintained because it helps portray Haiti as having been a powerful country which conquered and ruled over another nation. The myth glorifies the country as a great empire much like the European, Central American, and African empires of the past which were more influential in their region then they are today. This grand delusion makes Haiti’s current poverty and minor role in global affairs more palatable.
The reality is that Haiti’s distinction is not from having been a conquering power, but rather from having been a small island nation that abolished slavery and miraculously survived amidst powerful slave-trading nations who opposed its existence. From its birth, Haiti has been pre-occupied with trying to exist. The country’s founders focused much of their diplomatic efforts on trying to convince France, Spain, England, and the United States that Haiti was no threat to them and that it sought only to preserve itself.
When France repeatedly threatened Haiti with invasion through the 1820’s, the Haitian government avoided a war by agreeing to pay France 150 million Francs, valued today at 21 billion dollars. Yet, some historians accuse Haiti of having invaded the Dominican Republic during that same era. What sense would it have made for Haiti to invade a territory supposedly belonging to Spain while simultaneously emptying its coffers to appease France?
The misconception that Haiti invaded the Dominican Republic distorts events that took place on the island between 1795 and 1844. Shortly after the start of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, Spain ceded its part of the island to France in the 1795 Treaty of Basel. This resulted in the entire island becoming one single French colony. It is that colony that became an independent state in January 1804. All Haitian Constitutions published since independence through 1867 have referred to the entire island as the nation of Haiti because it was the entire island that won its independence from France. This is stated in Article 1 of the Constitution of 1805 where the country of Haiti is defined as the island of Haiti. To say that Haiti invaded its eastern part is like saying that Haiti invaded itself.
Although all early Haitian constitutions stated emphatically that the island of Haiti was indivisible, the country could not deter enemies from inside and from outside the nation. Among the enemies of the Haitian State was the French General, Jean Louis Ferrand, who had been stationed by the French in Monte Cristi but refused to follow the orders of his superiors to surrender. After Dessalines declared the island’s independence in 1804, Ferrand took over the city of Santo Domingo and declared that young children living in the western part of the island would be kidnapped to serve as slaves in the area that he controlled. As a result, Dessalines blockaded Ferrand’s forces in the city of Santo Domingo. He was forced to abandon the blockade when news reached him that a French invasion on the western side was eminent. Dessalines then left Santo Domingo to address this greater threat.
Dessalines’ assassination in 1806 left the menace posed by Ferrand unresolved. Ferrand eventually killed himself when his partisans turned against him. During the next 16 years after Dessalines’ death, the island fragmented into various spheres of influence. King Christophe ruled from Cape Haitian. President Petion ruled from Port-au-Prince. Governors Ramirez, Urrutia, and Kindelan ruled in succession from Santo Domingo. However, none of these leaders declared the east a separate state from the island of Haiti. Finally, in 1822, Nunez de Caceres declared the independence of the eastern side of the island as “Spanish Haiti.” Concerned that Nunez de Caceres planned to re-establish slavery, other leaders on the eastern side asked Boyer to help establish order. Under Boyer’s leadership and with popular support, Nunez de Caceres and his partisans were forced to surrender. Boyer reunited the entire island as dictated by the country’s Constitution which called for the preservation of one indivisible island without slavery.
Boyer never colonized nor conquered nor invaded the eastern side of the island because that portion of the island was already a part of Haiti. Revisionist historians constantly accuse Boyer of having invaded the eastern part of the island which supposedly belonged to Spain. If this were true, it would have been tantamount to Boyer declaring war on Spain. What sense would it have made for Boyer to fear war and buy peace with France while declaring war against Spain? The truth of the matter is that Haiti never attacked any Spanish owned territory.
Boyer’s government became unpopular when it levied taxes on the island’s population to pay France, but it took a natural disaster to topple his government. In 1842, while the country was still under an American embargo, a powerful earthquake struck Haiti and crippled Boyer’s administration. The disarray empowered rebel groups throughout the island. An opposition group sprung in the south while in the east, a separatist movement led by Juan Pablo Duarte gained momentum and eventually led to the eastern side of the island declaring its independence in February 1844.
President Tyler of the United States responded by saying that the United States, France, and Spain must quickly recognize this new nation in order to limit the influence of Black people in the Caribbean. The United States quickly recognized Dominican independence but waited 20 years later to recognize that of Haiti. With the eastern separatists backed by world super-powers, Haiti could no longer maintain the integrity of the island as one nation despite several subsequent efforts to reunify the island.
Even years after the eastern side became the Dominican Republic, there was no defined border between the two countries. It was not until 1929, under US occupation that the border was created. The US occupation force was selected from the US south. The argument was that southern whites knew best how to control Negros. The border was drawn in a way that favored the lighter skinned Dominicans. Haiti was forced to overlook the 1795 Treaty of Basel that gave the entire island to France and return instead to the earlier 1697 Treaty of Ryswick which gave 2/3 of the island to Spain and 1/3 to France. That treaty predated and ignored the outcome of the Haitian Revolution.
The history of how the island went from being one country to being two independent nations is reflected in Haiti’s Constitutions. Toussaint’s 1801 Constitution defined the entire island as one colony. From 1805 to 1849, all Haitian Constitutions refer to the country as the island of Haiti. Between 1867 and 1957, all Haitian Constitutions avoided the term island so as not to seem threatening to their new neighbor and refer to the country as the territory of Haiti without defining its boundaries. The first Constitution that acknowledges the existence of two countries on the island is the Constitution of 1987 which states that the country is bordered to the east by the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic is a country that sprung from Haiti. Today, Haitians and Dominicans who can trace their family’s history to the earliest days of the Dominican Republic will find that they have much in common. Indeed, the very founders of the Dominican Republic, among them, Duarte and Santana, were once Haitian citizens.
A Bookmanlit Publication. Edited October 24, 2013. This essay updates our previously published essay of April 2010.
Archibold, Randal C. Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court. New York Times. October 24, 2013
Constitutions of Haiti 1918-1987. Each individually published by the Haitian Government
Derby Lauren. Haitians, Magic, and Money: Raza and Society in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands, 1900 to 1937. Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 36, No. 3 (Jul. 1994) pp. 488-526. Cambridge University Press.
Gilles, Yvrose. Bicentennial: Haiti’s Gift to the World. Davie, Florida. Bookmanlit, 2004
Louis Joseph Janvier. Les Constitutions D’Haiti 1801-1885. C. Marpon et E. Flammarion. Paris, 1886
Pons, Frank Moya. The Dominican Republic: A National History. Third Edition. Princeton, New Jersey. Markus Wiener Publishers Princeton, 2010.
Price-Mars, Jean. La Republique D’Haiti e La Republique Dominicaine, Tome I. Port-au-Prince Haiti, 1953
Price-Mars, Jean. La Republique D’Haiti e La Republique Dominicaine, Tome II. Port-au-Prince Haiti, 1953