El Seibo, Dominican Republic. 22nd Sep, 2017. Residents try to recover their belongings after the flooding of the Seibo river due to hurricane Maria in the province of El Seibo, Dominican Republic, on Sept. 22, 2017. Credit: Roberto Guzman/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

One island, two nations divided: Drastically different outcomes in times of natural disasters for Haiti and the Dominican Republic

5 mins read

Two centuries of political and ethnic battles keep two nations sharing the same island, at odds, even during crises and rebuilding efforts.

The island of Hispaniola was once a colony divided between Spain and France.  Eventually, both sides gained its independence. The western side of the island won liberation for all islanders through a bloody revolution, while the eastern side broke off its allegiances to form a hierarchy similar to its Spanish colonial masters. Two new countries rose in its place: Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Over the years, both countries endured devastating blows from numerous hurricanes resulting in rebuilding efforts. While it may be expected that two nations sharing one island, would divvy up their resources, that is not the case.

When hurricanes pass through Haiti, a guaranteed death certificate comes with it. A nation weakened by the dramatic decline of its infrastructure and economy, the barren landscape of Haiti does not have a barrier to capture or block rain and wind. Since Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, bouncing back from a crisis, whether natural and human-made, has been impossible.

On the other hand, the Dominican Republic is now beginning to see economic growth, and almost always fares better in major storms.

After Haiti was hit by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, it killed over 500 people, leaving over 400 people injured and over 100 missing. he Dominican Republic provided Haitian hospitals with cholera kits, beds and bed sheets.

One year later, Hurricane Irma came along causing flooding. While not as destructive to Haiti as Matthew, the country’s northeastern side suffered damages to its farmlands, roads and the residential areas. About 18,000 farming families with plantain and rice fields lost most of their harvests which was estimated to be $13 million..

The flooding also impaired the fishing community agricultural community.

According to Ronald Tran Ba Huy, the country director of the World Food Program, “their livelihoods have been, and will be, severely affected,” indicating that the destruction of crops caused by Irma’s flooding deeply affected their lives and families for years to come.

On the contrary, when the Dominican Republic was hit by Irma, there were far less casualties. Dominican Republic had more resources to take extra precautions in evacuating its citizens and providing stable shelters.

A tale of two economies in the aftermath of Hurricanes

Jérémie Arrondissement, Grand’Anse, Haiti: Workers repair downed homes in Bon Bon Village after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

After embargoes for their fight for independence, paying colonial debt then followed by continuous mismanagement of nation’s GDP with government corruption, Haiti’s economy remains in shambles. Sand a large majority of the population has been at-risk since the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Haitian citizens are at more risk. Haiti’s financial problems are also rooted in its external colonial debt to France and the corruption within its own government.

Recovery has been a real struggle for Haiti, as a former Consul of the Haitian Consulate on the Dominican Republic, Philippe Malbranche, said “when you compare Haiti from before, in 1956, to Haiti now, we went back sixty years. We need help.”

In contrast, the Dominican Republic has a bustling tourist industry that keeps the nation afloat. Even Hurricane Irma did not create a strong dent on the tourism to the country which is a positive for the Dominican economy.

The Dominican Republic has made strong efforts to rebuild its economy after Hurricane Irma and took extra precaution in preparing an evacuation beforehand.

The President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, posted in a message in video  on Twitter sayinga video that “what we need to prepare the countries before, so they can start with the help of the international community.”

According to Medina, Dominican citizens “have to look into the actions regarding climate change, they have to be real actions,” and that the hurricanes that occurred before are a “direct result of global warming”

Medina also states that the Dominican Republic “has been sending help to many islands including Cuba” however he stresses personal accountability of the countries to support their own people and reconstruct using their own resources.

Description: President Medina answers reporters’ questions.

One island, divided nations

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: The aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Since the nineteenth century, Haiti and the Dominican Republic carry contempt for each other.  Power struggles, xenophobia, and racism lingers between them whether they are native-born or part of the diaspora.

The Dominican Republic (then known as Santo-Domingo or Spanish Haiti) was unified under Haiti from 1822 which led to a war for the Dominican Republic’s independence in 1844.  

For almost a century, the countries had coexisted with little recorded conflict. The peace came to an abrupt end when a Dominican-led genocide targeting Haitian residents and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic.

Known as the Parsley Massacre, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo spearheaded the ethnic cleansing and anti-Black racism. His campaigns to “whiten up” the island contributed greatly to anti-Black ideologies that remain systemic.

Fast forward the twenty-first century, in 2015, tensions peaked again when a Haitian man was found bound and hanged in a public park in the Dominican Republic. The lynching occurred during the government’s decision to deport Haitians and Dominican-born Haitians out of the country. Because of the severity of the murder and its timing, the crime was considered racially motivated by Haitians; however, local authorities ruled out race as a factor.

The police investigation results sparked controversy and outrage from people across the world. One person who was particularly crossed with this result, attorney Wade McMullen, who stated that “for the Dominican authorities to rule out racism as a factor less than 24 hours after a man of Haitian descent was hanged in a public square is not just irresponsible policing, it is an outrageous example of discrimination endemic to the Dominican Republic.”

The incident shined a dim light on Dominican Republic and further marred their already fractured relationship with Haiti.  

Anti-Haitian sentiment also called “antihaitianismo” is historical and still prevalent.  

Racism plays a role in the Dominican Republic’s resistance in assimilating Haitians and Haitian descendants. Whereas, Dominican culture places more identification with Spanish culture and their mixed heritage, Haiti is predominately Black with a strong African-influenced culture.

Description: Dominican-Americans walk in protest of deportation of Haitian refugees and Haitian-Dominicans from the Dominican Republic.

Despite this, Haitians choose to immigrate to the Dominican Republic for job opportunities often in agricultural, domestic services and other menial labor. Frequently, they face hostility by Dominican natives. With the aftermath of a 2010 earthquake and two major hurricanes, Haitians are more vulnerable than ever. Their choice to come to the DR is one rooted from desperation and desire for safety.

Uncertain describes the relations between Haitians and Dominicans today. Even a natural disaster such as Hurricane Irma cannot mend almost two centuries of feuding.

“I think both countries are in a situation where things are difficult. I feel like there may not be peace but more understanding which will lead to things being much calmer,” says Elna Dufrene, a Haitian-American.

It is unknown whether Haiti can rebuild itself in the near future. The process of recovery will be a long and difficult journey given what the country experienced so far. However, there will always be hope that Haiti will return to its former glory as the first Black Republic as long as its people still live on.

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Matthew Gamble is a junior reporter who focuses on news, race, pop culture and politics. A polymath, Gamble paints, draws Afro-futuristic comics and is a photographer. The story is part of the Ark Republic’s inaugural major collaborative project, the Hurricane Trifiecta: One Year Later.




Pedro Guarin is a junior reporter that focuses on sports. If he is not catching a story, he is catching fish or feeding turtles. The story is part of the Ark Republic’s inaugural major collaborative project, the Hurricane Trifiecta: One Year Later.

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