Divided island: How Haiti and the DR became two worlds

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15:52   |   Oct 17, 2017


Divided island: How Haiti and the DR became two worlds
Divided island: How Haiti and the DR became two worlds thumb Divided island: How Haiti and the DR became two worlds thumb Divided island: How Haiti and the DR became two worlds thumb


  • Let's pause here.
  • I'm driving on the road that separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic.
  • Right here.
  • It's the border that divides two very different countries.
  • If you're born in Haiti, you're 2.5 times more likely to die
  • as a baby than if you're born in the DR.
  • You'll be almost ten times poorer and
  • you can expect to have a much shorter life.
  • I came here to find out how the two
  • countries that share this one island can be so different, with a politically
  • volatile and impoverished Haiti on one side and the stable and relatively rich
  • Dominican Republic on the other.
  • How did this line produce two totally different worlds?
  • My journey starts here, at this beach village in southern Haiti, where Haitian
  • merchants, most of them women, are preparing for a nighttime boat ride.
  • The women boarding this boat have one goal: to make it to the border where they will
  • be let into a Dominican market, to buy and sell goods before returning to their villages.
  • It's international trade at its most informal. We're taking these boats
  • because the next door mountain range makes the land journey almost impossible.
  • These worn-out wooden boats have been making this exact journey twice per week
  • for decades and yet the process remains chaotic and unorganized as if it's
  • happening for the first time.
  • All of this energy, time, and effort all to transport
  • a handful of goods that, in most countries, would be shipped in bulk
  • inside one of these.
  • We make this seven-hour journey to the border town arriving around, 4 am.
  • The sun rises and we walk to the border market. This market was established right on the border
  • as a partnership between the two nations, to give vendors from both sides
  • a place to buy and sell on equal footing.
  • As we approach the border I quickly realize that's not what's happening here.
  • So I'm looking across the border right now,
  • into the market and you can see that Dominicans are already setting up.
  • This is one of the big complaints of the Haitians: they're stuck on this side
  • waiting to cross the border and the border guards are just delaying it and
  • meanwhile the Dominicans are able to set up and get the best spots.
  • These Haitians come from miles away on this grueling boat journey, that I know now firsthand
  • is very grueling, and they get to the border and the guards stop them for no reason.
  • They're supposed to open it up for everyone at the same time.
  • The guards keep the Haitian women from crossing, not letting anyone know how
  • long it will be. The tension grows and then finally, hours after the Dominicans
  • were allowed to enter, the guards open up the bridge.
  • They buy and sell for the day, before returning to the boats to make the journey home.
  • The grueling boat journey, the senseless discrimination, it embodies
  • the asymmetry that exists on this island. Watching it happen, it's impossible not
  • to ask how it got like this.
  • There are a few key things that explain how this
  • island produced two very different countries, but if you want to get at the
  • very root of it you have to go back to when this island was owned by two
  • European powers: France and Spain. This island is actually the first place that
  • Christopher Columbus set up a colony in the new world on his first voyage back
  • in like 1490. France wanted a piece of this island because it was rich in
  • resources like sugar and coffee, so they fought a war with the Spanish and they
  • ended up splitting the island in two: one side would be the Spanish colony of
  • Santo Domingo and the other side would be the French colony, with the same name,
  • Saint-Domingue, just in French. And that is the most important part of understanding
  • this whole thing, is how these imperial powers treated their colonial posessions.
  • The French exploited the land. They brought in tons of slaves and
  • they were interested in making Saint-Domingue solely an economic producer.
  • They destroyed the soil from aggressively harvesting the same crop year after
  • year, and they created a group of very resentful, overworked, and abused slaves
  • that eventually rebelled.
  • The Spanish had a different approach. After establishing
  • domination on this island by massacring the indigenous population, they didn't
  • exploit it like the French did.
  • Instead they went to places like Mexico and Peru, to look for gold.
  • So they didn't bring nearly as many slaves onto this island,
  • and as a result they weren't nearly as profitable a colony.
  • Instead, the Spanish integrated with the remaining indigenous population,
  • by recognizing the native leader's authority and intermarrying with the locals.
  • The result was a smaller and more racially mixed population,
  • with a sustainable economy and a political system,
  • something totally absent from France's colony.
  • This becomes really important in the early 1800s, when independence comes around.
  • Haiti declares independence, fights off the French, and basically
  • declares itself the first black, former slave republic in the world.
  • They do so with very little framework for a society and for a government and they also do so
  • with land that has been exploited, year after year, with the same crop which
  • basically destroys the fertility of the land.
  • And to add to all of that, because
  • they were this first black Republic, the world essentially isolated them.
  • The United States didn't want to recognize the independence of a black nation.
  • They thought it might become a slave empire and seek revenge.
  • The French showed up on Haitian shores soon after independence, and said you owe
  • us a debt for all of the assets that you stole from us when you became independent,
  • all these economic assets, you owe us that debt and you have to pay
  • it over the next thirty years. This crippling debt Haiti did pay back over
  • years, but it really hampered their development.
  • This history doesn't exonerate the dictators and corrupt politicians that have plagued Haiti's
  • development since its independence, but it helps explain them.
  • Suffocating embargoes and the independence debt, as well as the lack of any tradition or
  • investment in governmental institutions, guaranteed Haiti's failure from the
  • moment it was born, and a racist world made sure of it.
  • That racism isn't just
  • embedded into Haiti's history, it is in fact very alive today.
  • As I drive up the border, by coincidence my driver is also a Dominican border patrol official.
  • We have hours in the car, where he slowly and cautiously tells me about how
  • immigration policy has changed in the Dominican Republic in recent years.
  • "Regularization Program".
  • That's a euphemism. He's talking about a
  • policy of targeting anyone of Haitian descent, even citizens, rounding them up
  • and deporting them. There's always been anti-Haitian
  • sentiment in the Dominican Republic, usually resulting in racist violence,
  • but since 2010, that sentiment has been seeping into legislation. The Dominican
  • Constitution that was drafted in 1929, says that anyone born in the country is
  • automatically a citizen, even if your parents were undocumented immigrants.
  • This is the same in places like the United States, but the DR rewrote its
  • constitution in 2010, to only give citizenship to those born on DR soil, to legal residents.
  • Then, in 2013 the high court in the DR ruled that this new
  • definition would be applied retroactively. All the way back to
  • 1929, meaning any citizen who had been born in the DR to undocumented parents
  • would have their citizenship revoked.
  • More than 200,000 Dominican citizens,
  • were suddenly stateless.
  • It is clearly an illegal act, it is an immoral act, it is a racist act by the
  • Dominican government. And it's happening because these people are black.
  • Dominican law said that if these stateless people wanted to stay in the
  • DR, they would have to go to a government office and put their name on this
  • foreigner registry. The government gave these people one year to either get
  • their name on the registry or face deportation.
  • Over 55,000 have been officially deported since the June 2015 deadline.
  • The UN estimates that 128,000 people have voluntarily fled to Haiti,
  • a country many of them have never lived in. Some came here to this camp on the
  • border, where they've been living in limbo for years.
  • The moment I cross into the DR, I start to see what this crackdown looks like.
  • On a 75km bus ride, we pass eight security checkpoints in which security
  • personnel board the bus, to eye who was on it, and in some cases check papers.
  • But each time we stop, they seem to only check the papers of the same few passengers.
  • That's my translator, Pascale.
  • He's an American citizen, but everywhere we go in the DR,
  • security forces keep asking him for his passport.
  • Halfway through the journey, we pull off the road
  • into a facility where a few young military guys
  • are sitting around. And our driver brings this woman and her two children over to
  • the military guys. She's speaking in perfect Dominican Spanish to them,
  • claiming that her children are Dominican and that the driver brought us to this
  • checkpoint to turn her in because she's black.
  • None of this seems to matter,
  • she doesn't have her papers and her skin color seems to be all the guards need to see.
  • Haiti's land and people were abused when it was a colony of slaves.
  • The world then shunned it, with embargoes and independence debts when it was a new
  • nation, and today Haitians in the DR experience racism that is overt enough
  • to be enshrined in law.
  • As we drive up this very curvy road, I have the DR to my right and Haiti to my left.
  • Back when the French were here, this was the richest colony on earth,
  • but that came at a price.
  • Not only to abused slaves, but also to the
  • land that they worked. Clear cutting and single crop planting continued after the
  • French left, but instead of being used to make fancy French furniture, the trees
  • were burned to cook food.
  • This explains what I'm seeing when
  • on my right there's lush jungle.
  • and on my left there's bare and eroding hillsides.
  • Zoom out a little bit and it's very clear.
  • I follow the border road all the way north, until I hit another market town. I wanted
  • to see if the same discriminatory dynamics played out up here as they did down south.
  • This market was built with money from the European Union,
  • and the UN development program,
  • with the specific intention of creating a space where communities
  • from both sides could come and buy and sell on equal footing.
  • Rolling through the market, and once again like we saw in the southern market,
  • the Dominicans are first setting up.
  • I walk to the border and find this
  • huge group of people at this gap in the fence, paying a border guard to get in early.
  • The dynamic is the same as down south, only with a few more overt bribes
  • and border guards who seem to have no problem hitting Haitians with a stick.
  • After hours of waiting for guards to open the gate for everyone,
  • the Haitians are finally let in.
  • This is a story about a border that separates two vastly different countries,
  • but it's moreso a story about policy:
  • how centuries of racist policies, from
  • the French, from the U.S., from the world, from the DR, can hold a nation back from progressing.
  • Haiti, this first black republic, has experienced some of the most
  • predatory and racist policy from outside forces.
  • For Haitians this story isn't just their history.
  • It's their present.
  • It's the stage on which they live their lives.
  • So, I want to say a big thank you to lululemon,
  • who is a sponsor for Borders.
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  • and they're meant to be basically used for hiking and for activewear,
  • but also around the house when I'm kind of just hanging out,
  • I've been using them for both as I've been making Borders.
  • I love them.
  • Thank you lululemon for sending me these pants,
  • but more importantly thank you for sponsoring Borders
  • and making this happen.
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One island, two worlds.
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The six Vox Borders documentaries, presented by lululemon, are publishing weekly on Tuesdays.

Thanks to our sponsor, lululemon. Link for lululemon's Mens Pants: https://shop.lululemon.com/c/men

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a border, and an island. But the two countries are very different today: the Dominican Republic enjoys higher quality of life for many factors than Haiti. I went to this island and visited both countries, to try and understand when and how their paths diverged. And I began to learn how those differences are playing out in the present.

Vox Borders is a new international documentary series presented by lululemon, by Emmy-nominated videojournalist Johnny Harris. For this series, Johnny is producing six 10-15 minute documentaries about different borders stories from around the world.

Vox Borders Episodes:
1. Haiti and the Dominican Republic ( /watch?v=4WvKeYuwifc)
2. The Arctic & Russia (/watch?v=Wx_2SVm9Jgo)
3. Japan & North Korea (/watch?v=qBfyIQbxXPs)
4. Mexico & Guatemala (/watch?v=1xbt0ACMbiA)
5. Nepal & The Himalaya (/watch?v=ECch2g1_6PQ)
6. Spain & Morocco (/watch?v=LY_Yiu2U2Ts)

Video by Johnny Harris
Producer: Christina Thornell
Story Editor: Joss Fong
Animation: Sam Ellis
Assistant Editing: Mwita Chacha
Fixer and Translator: Pascal Antoine

Executive Producer: Joe Posner
Managing Producer: Valerie Lapinski
Art Director: Dion Lee
Engagement Editor: Blair Hickman
Senior Engagement Manager: Lauren Katz
Audience Development Manager: Agnes Mazur
Engagement Video Producer: Tian Wang