Dominican Republic Hosts Lively Border Market

Communications Officer Sara Fajardo is in the Dominican Republic reporting on CRS programs and sharing her experiences with us. This is her report from Friday, Feb. 20, delayed because she couldn’t get an Internet connection.

At 6 a.m., an hour before the first stirrings of twilight, my traveling companion, Rosalba and I stood by the banks of the Massacre River looking across to Haiti. It’s market day and on such days the Dominican government allows Haitians to enter freely into Dajabón to sell and purchase wares.

All around us we could hear roosters crowing, horn-blasting trucks, and the soft sound of people laden with goods moving through the gentle current of the river. An endless stream of Haitians, carrying everything from dolls, to chairs, to bundles of clothing, to dried fish, wade from one country to the other. Our guide from Solidaridad Fronteriza (Border Solidarity) Abelino de Jesús Tejada tells us that in Dajabón people say that there are two border crossing checkpoints, the official one that is guarded by immigration officers, and the river itself which boasts its own special type of “guard.”

Haiti crossing

Haitians cross the Massacre River into the Dominican Republic to participate in the twice weekly market on Friday, February 20, 2009. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

On market days the Dominican government opens its doors to Haiti at
8 a.m., but for many Haitians the border-crossing journey begins much earlier. Wading through the Massacre’s currents may be a messier voyage, but it is often the easier and more cost effective route. In order to avoid paying import fees or simply bring in goods that might not be on the list of allowed trade, Haitians shoes in hand, roll up pants legs and hike up skirts in order to brave the river. Makeshift “guards” wait along the banks on the Dominican side to charge an “entry fee.” Often they are Haitians collaborating with Dominican officers to make a little extra pocket money.

When the locked border doors finally swing open, U.N. peacekeeping troops who are stationed in the no-man’s land between the two countries, play traffic cops to the unending flow of people, wheelbarrows, and cargo making their way to market. Thousands upon thousands cross, moving swiftly as they maneuver around the large pothole in the middle of the bridge. Below them an equally large crowds continue to push their way across the Massacre.

Haiti crossing

A twice a week bi-national market lures vendors from both sides of the Massacre River on to Dominican Soil. Over 10,000 attend the market that spans several city blocks. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere; the Dominican Republic has one of the highest GDPs in Latin America. It’s hard to strike a balance when the disparity between the two nations is so high.

The Dominican government rightfully wants to defend its borders from an influx of Haitian migration, and Haitians understandably want to migrate to where they can carve out a better life for themselves and their families.

Both are reliant on one another. The border city of Ouanaminthe depends on the bi-national market to supplement its meager food supply, and the money that pours into Dominican coffers from such markets makes it the third most important factor in the economy after remittance checks and tourism.

Haiti crossing

Haitians and Dominicans alike peddle their wares at the bi-national market in Dajabon Dominican. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo

Solidaridad Fronteriza monitors like Abelino walk the teeming aisles of the bi-national market each week. Dajabón pulses with activity, the buy-sell-move-on-to-the-next-vendor frenzy makes it impossible to linger. Each step is an attack of sounds, smells, and colors, little girls offer candies, wizened old hands pour dried beans into bags. Abelino takes it all in, stopping to talk, jotting down notes. People know him by name, greet him with a handshake or hug. “Guards,” laugh when he intervenes in on an informal “crossing charge”, and sends someone into the market without paying the “fee.” It’s his job to observe crossings, check in with sellers, take complaints, help to see that the rights of vendors are respected, and ensure that all runs smoothly.

One of Solidaridad’s main goals is to create legal and safe venues for trade and migration. They do this in part by creating ties and opening dialogue between nationals from both sides of the river. Each week they broadcast a know-your-rights radio show in both Spanish and Creole. The office is always open to offer free legal counsel and teach people their rights. The hope is that eventually on market days, Haitians will no longer need to get their feet wet in order to step on Dominican soil.

– Sara Fajardo

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