The Dominican Republic and Haiti have many border agreements, but rarely do they uphold them. Nowhere is this more apparent in Ansapit, a market town anomaly that neither country considers a formal border crossing point. For precisely this reason, Ansapit is where people come to conduct illicit business. It plays by no rules other than the ones made up by the local DR army commander and his battalion.
Until this past winter, other than the chain-link gates that open and shut every morning and evening, the Ansapit-Pedernales border is entirely porous. The barbed wire I saw during my stay was a few months new. Unlike the formal border crossings between the countries that are open twice a week on market days, Ansapit appeared to be open daily from 7 or 8 am to 6 pm. The guards, Dominican soldiers who sleep at the small barracks here, have no legal authority regarding the immigration flow they daily monitor. For example, no passport is required to cross between Haiti and the Dominican Republic when the border is open, although passports, including mine, are required at the guards’s discretion.
Border guards often decide to close the gates early in order to play cards, or for the day in the wake of a fight or other incident. They prevent Haitian goods from entering the market, stop whomever they choose to inspect goods, extract small bribes or merchandise, and take women to an abandoned graffitti-scrawled building near the immigration office for sex, either by force or consentually in return for favors.
Behind towering concrete block walls on the Ansapit side is a small and ineffectual UN presence that serves mainly to drive around town in white SUVs breaking up occasional disputes and undertaking community works such as setting up trash collection. The troops, most from Peru during my visit, appeared more sympatico with the Dominican guards than with the Haitians by dint of language, and are not well-liked by locals, further limiting their effectiveness.
For the women who work in Haiti’s ‘informal economy,’ the informality of the Ansapit border is sometimes beneficial, allowing them to buy and sell with relative ease on the Pedernales side. At the same time, all of the women I spoke with said they were subjected to theft, bribery and physical harassment that no authority on the Dominican or Haitian side has the will to control.