Dominican Republic starts work on border wall with Haiti

Officials claim the controversial barrier will stop migrant crossings, as well as drugs and contraband, from crisis-hit Haiti

The Dominican Republic has begun work on a border wall with Haiti, sparking controversy between the neighbouring Caribbean countries.

Construction began this week on a concrete barrier that will span nearly half of the 244-mile (392km) border between the two countries, with Dominican officials claiming it will reduce flows of migrants, drugs, weapons and contraband.

“The benefit for both nations will be of great importance,” said the Dominican president, Luis Abinader, in a statement given at a ground-breaking ceremony in the Dominican border town of Dajabón, adding that the first phase of the project should be completed within nine months.

While the two countries that make up the island of Hispaniola are close geographically, their differences are stark. The Dominican Republic, with a population of 10.8 million, is a booming tourist destination with year-round visitors to its resorts and golf courses. Haiti, with a population of 11.4 million, is the western hemisphere’s poorest country, wracked with crime and mired in political and economic crisis.

“Each time Haiti has suffered a catastrophe, the Dominicans have always been the first to arrive with help,” Abinader said. “However, the Dominican Republic cannot take charge of the political and economic crisis in that country.”

Haiti has been beset by overlapping crises. The country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in early July last year in circumstances that remain unclear. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake wrecked the country’s rural south in August.

About 500,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, according to a 2018 survey. Many of them work in the construction, agriculture and tourism industries for low pay.

There are concerns the wall will bring opportunities for bribery. Santiago Riverón, the mayor of Dajabon, where construction began, claimed that soldiers have profited from illegal border crossings.

“Now we have to work with the wall in the minds of the military, who are the ones who take advantage of the border and receive a bribe of 100 or 200 pesos [£1.30 or £2.60] to let people cross,” the mayor told AFP on Sunday.

“The relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has always been difficult due to their different speeds and rhythms,” said Fiammetta Cappellini, the Haiti representative for Italian charity AVSI. “However, the decision to build a wall worries us, as a possible reason for conflict and violence.”

Made of 20cm-thick concrete and 3.9 metres (12.8ft) high, topped with a metal mesh fence, there will be 70 watchtowers built along the wall, which will have fibre optics for communications, movement sensors, cameras, radars and drones.

No cost has been given for the project and observers say that the wall will do little to stem migration flows.

“AVSI, along with much of civil society in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, pledge to strengthen dialogue and to invest in more inclusive development,” said Cappellini, to reduce migration. “Instead of building walls.”


Joe Parkin Daniels

The GuardianTramp

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