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Suffering Haiti: The 1937 Parsley Massacre
May 26, 2010, 3:32 am
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Parsley Massacre

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In October 1937, Dominican President Rafael Trujillo ordered the execution of the Haitian population living within the borderlands with Haiti. The violence resulted in the killing of 20,000[1] to 30,000[2] Haitian civilians over a span of approximately five days. This would later become known as the Parsley Massacre from the shibboleth that Trujillo had his soldiers apply to determine whether or not those living on the border were native Dominicans who spoke Spanish fluently. Soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley, ask “What is this?”, and assume that those who could not pronounce the Spanish word perejil (called pèsi in Haitian Creole, persil in French) were Haitian.[3] Within the Dominican Republic itself, the massacre is known as El Corte (“the cutting”). [4]

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Events

Trujillo, a proponent of antihaitianismo, had made his intentions for the Haitian community clear in a short speech given at a dance held in his honor on 2 October 1937 in Dajabón, stating:

For some months, I have traveled and traversed the border in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, ‘I will fix this.’ And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.[5]

Trujillo’s actions were reportedly in response to information regarding Haitians stealing cattle and crops from Dominican residents of the borderlands; therefore, the annihilation of an estimated 20,000[1] to 30,000 [2] living within the Dominican border was clearly a direct order of Trujillo. For approximately five days, from 2 October 1937 to 8 October 1937, Haitians were killed with guns, machetes, clubs and knives by Dominican troops, civilians and local political authorities or “alcaldes pedáneos”, some while trying to flee to Haiti by crossing the Rio Artibonito, which has often been the site of bloody conflict between the two nations.[6] Dominican military personnel directly misled fleeing Haitians by telling them they were being deported; however, after being taken to a secluded location the Haitians were executed.[7] To augment the death toll, the main bridge between the Dominican Republic and Haiti was closed, preventing Haitians from fleeing the country. The Parsley Massacre, however, was motivated by Trujillo’s desire to establish a clear border separating the two nations. He also wanted to exercise more political and economic control of the farthest regions of the country, from the rural border lands, to the center of the nation. In the eyes of Trujillo, the presence of Haitian immigrants in Dominican borderlands — which were largely disconnected from Dominican urban life — prohibited the formation of clear political, cultural and social boundaries. It ultimately weakened his attempts to establish an authoritarian regime.[citation needed]

Contributing factors

The Dominican Republic, the former Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, resides on the eastern portion of the island of Hispaniola and occupies two-thirds of the island’s land while having just five-million inhabitants.[8] In contrast, Haiti, the former French colony of Saint Domingue, residing on the western portion of the island, occupies the remaining one-third of the landmass, and is very heavily settled with an estimated “500 persons per square mile.”[9] This has resulted in many Haitians being forced to settle lands that were “too mountainous, too eroded or too dry for rewarding farm production”. However, instead of staying on lands incapable of supporting them, many Haitians began to migrate onto Dominican soil where land hunger was low. While Haitians benefited by gaining farm land, Dominicans in the borderlands subsisted mostly on agriculture, and benefited from the ease of exchange of goods with Haitian markets. Due to inadequate roadways connecting the borderlands to major cities, “communication with Dominican markets was so limited that the small commercial surplus of the frontier slowly moved toward Haiti”.[10]

This posed a possible threat to Trujillo’s regime, because of long-standing border disputes between the two nations: if large numbers of Haitian immigrants began to occupy the less densely populated Dominican borderlands, the Haitian government could have made a case for claiming part of the Dominican Republic’s land. Additionally, loose borders allowed contraband to pass freely and without taxes between nations, thus depriving the Dominican Republic of revenue. Furthermore, the Dominican government saw the loose borderlands as a liability — in terms of the formation of revolutionary groups which could flee across the border with ease, while at the same time amassing both weapons and followers.[11]

Repercussions

Despite attempts to blame Dominican citizens, it has been confirmed by U.S. sources that “bullets from Krag rifles were found in Haitian bodies, and only Dominican soldiers had access to this type of rifle”.[12] Therefore, the Haitian Massacre, which is still referred to as el corte (the cutting) by Dominicans and as kouto-a (the knife) by Haitians, was ‘a calculated action on the part of Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina to homogenize the furthest stretches of the country in order to bring the region into the social, political and economic fold’,[6] and rid his republic of Haitians.

Thereafter, Trujillo began to develop the borderlands to link them more closely with urban areas.[13] These areas were modernized with the addition of modern hospitals, schools, political headquarters, military barracks and housing projects, as well as a highway to connect the borderlands to major cities. Additionally, after 1937, quotas restricted the number of Haitians permitted to enter the Dominican Republic, and a strict and often discriminatory border policy was enacted; Haitians continued to be deported and killed in southern frontier regions, while refugees died of exposure, malaria and influenza.[14]

Of the tens of thousands of ethnic Haitians who were killed, a majority were born in the Dominican Republic and belonged to well-established Haitian communities within the borderlands, thus making them citizens.[15]

In the end, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Haitian President Sténio Vincent sought reparations of $750,000, of which only $525,000 (US$ 7,955,581.4 in 2010) were ever paid: 30 dollars per victim, of which only 2 cents were given to survivors, due to corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.[16]

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