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By Author
Aisha Ali

Three weeks ago, the Dominican Republic’s Consul General of New York stripped Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz of his Order of Merit, awarded to him in 2009, over claims that he is “anti-Dominican”. Diaz immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child in 1974, and has spent most of his life in the U.S. Despite this, much of his work incorporates his Dominican identity, especially his non-literary pursuits. Diaz has been an advocate for Dominicans and Dominican-Americans as an active member of community organizations and supporter of immigration reform in the U.S. So why has the Dominican Republic rejected its most respected representative?

The Dominican Republic’s recent turnabout with Diaz is partially the result of an op-ed piece he co-wrote with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat. The piece specifically criticizes the Dominican government’s deportation of Haitian-Dominicans. Though the article was published in the New York Times in 1999, it came back into the spotlight this summer when Diaz and Danticat met with U.S. Members of Congress to craft a resolution condemning the Dominican government’s deportation policy. The Dominican Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2013 stating that people born between 1929 and 2010 to non-citizen parents are ineligible for Dominican citizenship, a decision that has retroactively stripped Dominican-born Haitians of their citizenship and created a barrier to naturalization for long-time residents with Haitian ancestry. Although many Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic at the moment immigrated in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, even more are generational Dominicans, with parents or grandparents having emigrated from the other side of Hispaniola in search of better opportunities. From the 1920s until the 1980s, the Dominican Republic was grateful for the cheap labor provided by Haitians on American-owned farm. Even in 2011 the country continued to help Haitians fleeing an impoverished and unstable country. Recently, however, according to locals, the influx of Haitian immigrants has led to an increase in crime and a stark depletion of resources in a country with an already struggling economy.

The 230-mile long border separating Haiti and the Dominican Republic has had a long history of malleability, with thousands of Haitians and Dominicans living at or near the borderlands for decades. But the history of this population exchange, and the century-long tensions between Haitians and Dominicans, paints a picture that could explain how a country could make over 200,000 of its citizens stateless and condemn a renowned author-activist fighting against the decision. Haiti and the Dominican Republic unequally share the island of Hispaniola, a colonial division by France and Spain that allocated three-eighth of the island to Haiti and the remainder to the Dominican Republic. This division of land, along with post-independence global trade embargos on Haiti, has been a main contributing factor to the drastic difference in the two countries’ economies. Haiti is primarily dry, prone to droughts, and suffers from catastrophic deforestation while the Dominican Republic has fertile valleys, forests, and an abundance of natural resources which make it a prime exporter of coffee, sugar, and cocoa. The Dominican Republic’s economy is also relatively diversified as manufacturing, mining, textiles, and agriculture contribute to $10.1 billion in exports per year with a GDP per capita hovering around $13,000. Meanwhile, though Haiti grows some sugarcane and rice, the textile industry employs the majority of Haiti’s workforce and exports per year only contribute $900 million to the economy, about 11% of the Dominican Republic’s gains from exports. The GDP per capita reflects this smaller struggling economy, averaging a mere $1,800.

Economic opportunity has always been a major reason for Haitian immigration to the Dominican Republic, but it likely isn’t the only reason for Haitian expulsion. The Dominican economy has enjoyed a steady 7% GDP growth rate in the last couple of years, placing it in the top 50 countries for economic growth, as well as relatively low unemployment and inflation rates. However, the Haitian workers, citizens or otherwise, contributing to this growth, have a completely different culture, language, and, for the most part, skin-tone than their Dominican counterparts. Skin color plays a large role in Dominican society, as elsewhere in the world, and typically reflects class and level of education due to the marginalization of darker-skinned residents. Antihaitianismo, or anti-Haitian sentiments, became an important part of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo’s 30-year presidency. Under Trujillo, Dominican forces allegedly murdered between 500 and 30,000 Haitian-Dominicans living at the borderlands in a massacre called El Corte. Reasons for the massacre range from a need for border security to protecting the Dominican economy from imported, untaxed Haitian goods.

Recently, Dominicans without Haitian ancestry have been swept up in the raids as well. Locals attribute this to the police specifically targeting dark-skinned individuals for deportation. Those who are arrested and can prove Dominican citizenship are often denied access to their papers by guards threatening to kill them if they return to their houses. For those who do have access to their documents, the wait times for official registration with the government are too long to bear. For many, the only option now is to return to a country they have no memory of or connection to and start over again.



Alcindor, Yamiche. “Deportees from Dominican Republic Land on Haiti Border.” USA Today, 23 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

“CIA Factbook: Haiti.” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

“CIA Factbook: Dominican Republic” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

Chow, Andrew. “Junot Díaz Criticized by Dominican Republic Consul.” New York Times. 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

Granitz, Peter. “Tensions Rise At Border As Dominican Republic Begins Deporting Haitians.” NPR. NPR, 31 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

Nolan, Rachel. “Displaced in the D.R.” Harpers Magazine. 1 May 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

”Thousands of Haitians Fleeing Dominican Republic Stuck in Camps.” The Guardian, 5 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.


Rendering of the Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais

By Param Bhatter
Staff Writer

Following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in Haiti and displaced over 1 million people from their homes, the people of Haiti were forced to move to poor off-grid rural areas around the city. However, the largest concerns for these rural areas are electricity and healthcare. There is only electricity available for about 20 percent of the country, and even for those who might have it, the power is often intermittent. Most of Haiti’s electricity generation is unsustainable, and based on imported diesel fuel from Venezuela. Most Haitians have to rely on charcoal and wood for fuel and energy, since they have no direct access to electricity. More importantly, this shortage of electricity creates an enormous challenge for attempting to run any hospital in the nation, as it jeopardizes surgeries, neonatal ventilators, basic cardiac EKG machines, and many other essential tasks and machines within the hospital. As famous Harvard School of Medicine Professor Paul Farmer noted, “it’s not great if you are a surgeon and you have to think about getting the generator going.”

Haiti however, with help from the nonprofit organization Partners in Health, was able to create the first ever fully sustainable teaching hospital anywhere in Haiti. Opened in 2013 in the city of Mirebalais, this hospital is the world’s largest solar hospital ever built, and the first of its kind in terms of sustainability. In just the seven months since opening, the hospital’s rooftop solar panels have generated enough electricity to charge close to 20,000 electric cars, attend to over 60,000 patients and operate six surgical rooms at full capacity. The hospital produces more than 100 percent of the electricity needed to operate during peak daylight hours. Using the solar panels slashed energy costs by close to $400,000 per year, which equates to an enormous amount of money in Haiti.

The sustainable innovation and creativity is evident in many parts of the hospital, and is consistent throughout its design. Most of the lighting is provided naturally through windows all around the hospital, minimizing the amount of artificial lighting necessary. In addition, there are many overhangs that create spots for shade, and healing gardens and courtyards as well. There is also an innovative plumbing system, which allows for efficient wastewater treatment. The natural ventilation allows UV light to enter many areas of the hospital, which kills many airborne pathogens such as tuberculosis (TB) and other infectious diseases that are often present in hospitals.

The hospital itself sees close to 500 patients a day, providing treatment ranging from primary health care services to more advanced treatment, often for patients without healthcare insurance or any other form of payment. Primarily however, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais provides primary healthcare services for the county of Mirebalais and the 200,000 people who live in its surrounding community. Since close to 80 percent of Haiti’s medical infrastructure was destroyed during the 2012 earthquake, the hospital is essential for providing care for a large group of people, even some residents of Port-au-Prince, which is only 30 miles away from Mirebalais. Many of the hospitals primary care services include community health care services, care for HIV/AIDS, TB treatment, neonatal care and prenatal care. With its commitment to sustainability and the community, the hospital additionally serves as a school of medicine, employing over 1,000 residents of the local Haitian community.

As the first hospital of its kind to be seen in a Third World country, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais sets a new standard for healthcare and development in developing countries. The lessons learned from the hospital will be invaluable for Partners in Health, its partners and anyone else who wishes to undertake such ambitious and sustainable projects in relation to healthcare.

Image by Partners In Health