In recent months seven Black tourists have died in the Dominican Republic. The question for many people now is, “Is it safe to travel to the DR?” That question, however, is slightly misguided and a few years late. The Dominican Republic has shown hostility to Black people for some time and sadly, the deaths of a few American tourists is making us pay attention to an island that should have been very much on our minds for some time.
In 2013 the Dominican Republic decided to strip citizenship rights from hundreds of thousands of residents. They happened to be people of Haitian descent, a population that tends to be darker with kinkier hair. Later the government decided to allow those with birth certificates to “validate” their citizenship but there was one little problem; the Dominican government had systematically denied birth certificates to people of Haitian descent for some time. As a result, many thousands were left in the cold. Over the next three years something like 80,000 people of Haitian descent were deported.
The decision in 2013 has roots that run very deep. From 1930 to 1961 a fascist dictator by the name of Rafael Trujillo convinced many Dominicans that the descendants of Spanish slavery east of Haiti — the DR — were superior to the descendants of French slavery — the Haitians. Trujillo’s rhetoric and actions had real consequences. In 1937 the Dominican military executed thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Some estimate the number as high as 30,000. Since that time, the battle for recognition and citizenship has persisted. But the Haitian struggle for human dignity and acknowledgment has a much deeper root, of course.
Haitians were the first people to successfully overthrow their European enslavers. What began as a slave rebellion in 1791 resulted in not only ending slavery in Haiti but also its colonial rule by 1803. At that time, Haiti was France’s wealthiest colony and when Black slaves defeated their oppressors, people were big mad. They still are. The anti-Haitian sentiment and actions taken by the Dominican Republic, over time, are worth our consideration. It is tragic that Black American tourists have mysteriously died there, of late. It is equally tragic that many of us are just now paying attention to Black suffering on the island.