Between the DR and Haiti, the profit only flows one way

“There has been a policy change on the Dominican side of the border.”

That was University of Florida emeritus anthropology professor Gerald Murray’s conclusion after viewing the raw footage of Micheline Louise and her fellow marchandes from Ansapit who complained about conditions at the Pedernales border market.

“Haitians used to have a few products they could bring into the market to make some money,” says Louis. “Dominicans also sold their merchanidse here. Haitians were making money, Domincans were making money. But when they realized that, and they want to take maximum advantage of us Haitians, now they say no Haitian product can come into the market. The Domicans gather everything from the DR, they bring it to the market, the ladies are selling it for them, but they don’t make any money. That’s why all the Haitians on the border are all finished. All the women are finished.”

When Murray visited Ansapit and the other Haiti-DR border markets for a 2010 Pan American Development Foundation study, “Haitians were able to bring rice, cornmeal, garlic, and other produce from Haiti,” he says. According to Murray, the videos indicate “that it is now forbidden. Apparently Haitians can sell in this market only what they purchase in the DR. They can also cross back into Haiti with the merchandise and sell it there. It is an impossible situation for them.”

On paper, the Dominican Republic maintains free trade agreements with Haiti. A recent law enacted by the Dominican president, 216-11, reinforces this free trade. So why are the women forbidden to sell products of Haitian origin in the Pedernales market?  Local Pedernales officials and businesses are using the army battalion at the border command post to enforce their own rules.

A former country director at Pan American Development Foundation, Daniel O-Neil also researched this question. Citing an April, 2008 regulatory report, he writes, “On the Dominican side, we found that most of the goods that Haitians are importing are prohibitied by a different rule.” For example, fruits can only be imported through either Santo Domingo or Puerto Plata as per resolution 84-96 from the Secretary of State for Agriculture (SEA). Vegetables are prohibited except with specific authorization from the SEA which is not available on the border.”

A protective loophole sanctioned by the World Trade Organization allows the Dominican Republic to regulate rice, garlic, beans and other domestic products considered economically sensitive (decree 509 of 1999). Many of these products are also produced in Haiti and are the ones the marchandes of Ansapit want to sell at the Pedernales market.

Murray sees the situation much as Peter Pierre-Louis does in “If We Had a Good Responsible.”

“If there are “bad guys” in this scenario, they are government authorities on both sides of the border: Dominican authorities who abuse Haitians with shifting arbitrary restrictions and confiscation, and Haitian authorities who do nothing but collect taxes from fellow Haitians,” he says. “If there were a functioning, responsible Haitian government, it would take retaliatory measures and either forbid Haitians to buy and sell in the Pedernales market (which would close the market down and cause an economic crisis) or forbid them from bringing in Dominican produce, just as Dominican authorities forbid the importation of Haitian goods.”

But there is no functioning Haitian government that protects the interests of Haitians, says Murray. His conclusion agrees with that of Micheline Louis and her fellow marchandes:

“The situation stinks.”

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