A Bad Day At the Market

A week before my arrival in Ansapit, Haiti’s president announced he would close the four border markets established about 10 years ago with the Dominican Republic. At the home of Pierre Louis, a tidy and solid house fronting the main street in Ansapit, a bad day at the market in Pedernales launched an emotional conversation about the imbalance of Haiti-DR trade.

Pierre’s mother and grandmother sell used clothes at the market, which they buy for 300 pesos/sack from the Zona Franca sweat shop owned by Cia Dm Group International in Pedernales. Along with their fellow traders, they begin lining up to cross the border and enter the market at 6am, although the gates don’t open until 9. They pay 300 pesos to sell in the stalls. I was told by a Pedernales customs official that the mayor of Pedernales manages the market.

The women of Pierre’s house don’t choose to sell used clothes because it’s such a lucrative market niche. They do it, said Pierre’s mother with anger, because “Clothes are all there is to sell.  We can’t sell garlic, bananas or any of our Haitian products.” Haitians at the Pedernales border markets are only allowed to sell Dominican products, which they must buy and pay taxes on, she explained. The clothes are Dominican, too.

“I didn’t sell a thing today,” Pierre’s mother said with tears in her eyes. “The market used to be equal, but it’s become useless.” Her words echoed those of a Haitian customs official who spoke off the record. He described the thriving storefronts that once lined Ansapit’s main street that were put out of business by the border market. He didn’t think the Martelly government’s idea of closing the market would benefit the women traders who he described as “poor, very poor.” Closing the market will benefit Haiti’s rich, he said, and “the women will find another way.”
Pierre’s mother meanwhile said she won’t go to Monday’s market because she can’t move her product. Instead, would ry to sell the green peppers she bought from another vendor there. Peppers from the DR.

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