Where Small Fish Eat Smaller Fish

“We see them everywhere, we see the pests on the streets.”

The words are Carlos Fondeur’s, a civic leader in the Dominican Republic city of Santiago near the northern border with Haiti. Similar feelings are expressed in the southern Dominican border town of Pedernales: a perception of “a very strong invasion of Haitians,” in Fondeur’s words, that is due not only to the illegal immigration he complains of, but also to the Dominican hotels, homeowners, construction contractors and farmers who enjoy the convenience and higher profit margins of low-wage Haitian labor.

The patch of Dominican Republic I saw in Pedernales is better off because of its one-sided trade with Haiti and a low-wage Haitian work force. Haitians, in turn, receive nowhere near the benefit that that their labor provides the DR. However, Haitians who commute to Pedernales to work for the day as gardeners, pepe sellers or housekeepers are better off than those I met who migrated or were born in the DR but live as illegals. A Haitian-born woman who wished to be known as Ingrid is typical of many. Brought to the DR with her mother, she has lived In Pedernales since childhood. Without papers, unable to get a formal job such as a sorter at the Zona Franca, she worked a housekeeping gig at a local hotel until the employer failed to pay her and sought sexual favors. Since then, she has stayed afloat living in a room in a private home, turning tricks to pay the rent.

The motive of Haitians to seek better lives in the DR isn’t only a matter of individual choice. Government and patronage have robbed Haitians of prospects in their own country, and Dominican business interests supported by government are as responsible for luring or recruiting Haitians into their country for work, as are the Haitians who migrate there.

But life in the DR is no mecca for them. The Louis family and other Ansapit traders I met have fared better doing commerce with the DR than those like Ingrid who left Haiti to live there.

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