The Miami Herald
July 19, 2001

Blood flows on Massacre River

Over past year and a half, 16 Haitians died


 DAJABON, Dominican Republic -- At the edge of this border town, a river separating one island into two nations goes by a name that captures the troubled and unresolved history of this Caribbean region.

 The Río Masacre (Massacre River) is the site where blood flowed between French and Spaniard colonizers who fought for possession of Hispaniola, the land that is home to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It is where 17,000 to 30,000 Haitians were slaughtered in 1937 by the Dominican army under orders by former dictator Rafaél Trujillo.

 Today, blood continues to flow in a river that both connects and divides both nations. At least 16 Haitians have died over the past year and a half in incidents involving the Dominican military.


 ``The pressure against Haitians is most felt here,'' said the Rev. Regino Martínez, director of Solidaridad Fronteriza, a 4-year-old social service and cultural center in

 Government officials refer to the incidents as isolated cases.

 ``They are incidents that the government laments, but they are border incidents between individuals,'' said Luis González Fabra, a spokesman for President Hipólito Mejía.

 Tensions rise every week when hundreds of Haitians make their way across the border with goods to sell at the marketplace in Dajabón. Many prefer to wade across the river and bribe border guards for passage rather than wait for the border crossing to open. Streams of people with bundles on their heads, arms or backs maneuver the river banks with cash in hand for the rifle-toting Dominican guards.

 The chaotic scene often becomes heated as tempers flare.

 That is how Elie Jean Batiste met his death.

 The 20-year-old woke up at dawn on March 13 to cross the Río Masacre from his home across the border in Juana Mendez. He wanted to secure a good spot at the weekly marketplace in Dajabón to sell tennis shoes.

 ``When he got to the river, there were a lot of other Haitians there who wanted to cross to go to the market,'' said his sister, Marisul Jean Batiste. ``The guard said that everybody had to pay. The guard asked for 15 gourdes [Haitian dollars]. Elie said he only had 10.

 ``The guard said it had to be 15. Elie turned around to return to Haiti. Then they shot him in the back. The bullet came out in the front,'' she said holding a picture of the corpse that shows the exit wound from the bullet just under the left arm.


 The death caused a public outcry.

 A Dominican government representative visited the Jean Batiste family, apologized for the incident and gave them enough money to pay for the burial.

 A month following his death, a group of Haitians and Dominicans met at the river and placed a wooden cross on the spot where Jean Batiste fell to his death.

 The cross was swept away by the currents. Marisul and the rest of the family walk past it every week as they traverse the river to sell products at the marketplace.

 ``This is how we survive,'' she said.

                                    © 2001