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Parsley Massacre / El Corte - the Harvest

The Parsley Massacre, was a genocide organized by Dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, targeted against Haitians, Haitian-Dominicans, and Dominicans who were dark enough to pass as Haitians as well as those who could not pronounce the "r" in perejil, the Spanish world for parsley. In 1937 between 5,000 and 67,000 Hatians were killed by the regime of dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the so called ‘Parsley Massacre’ by the Dajabón river. Regime officials asked Hatians migrants to pronounce the Spanish word for parsley (Perejil): those unable to pronounce the word in the same way as Spanish speakers due to their French accents were then killed.

The 1937 massacre is a central moment in Hispaniola's history. The Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa narrates the story of the parsley massacre in La Fiesta del Chivo (The Feast of the Goat). Madrid: Punto de Lectura (2000). This is the story of Urania Cabral, a beautiful, kind, intelligent and independent Manhattan lawyer whom, after 30 years returns to República Dominicana to face her ghosts... and the horrifying circumstances that altered her life forever when she was a teenager and Rafael Leónidas Trujillo a.k.a El Chivo (The Goat) was the iron-handed ruler of this island paradise. In this 'masterpiece of Latin American and world literature, and one of the finest political novels ever written' ("Bookforum"), Mario Vargas Llosa recounts the end of a regime and the birth of a terrible democracy. Other works that treat the massacre include the short story “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” by the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat and the novel Song of the Water Saints by the Dominican-American writer Nelly Rosario.

In 1492, the island formerly known as Hispaniola became the site of Christopher Columbus's first European settlement in the Americas; through the establishment of French and Spanish colonies, natives of this land faced battles, deathly illnesses, and slavery. While sharing the same island, these two nations are vastly different due to the colonial regimes of the French and Spanish, respectively. While Haiti gained its independence from colonial constraints much earlier than its island neighbor, later Haitian occupations of the Dominican Republic during the 19th century have shaped the relationships between them. In 1822, and after Jean-Pierre Boyer invaded the newly-independent Dominican Republic, the island of Española was once more united for the first time since the Treaty of Ryswick. Santo Domingo remained under Haitian rule until it regained its independence in 1844.

Today this island's territory is shared by two sovereign nations: the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Discrimination is a long-standing problem that Dominicans of Haitian descent have faced for decades and over generations in the Dominican Republic. Most of the members of this community were born in Dominican territory at a time when the Dominican Constitution specifically stated that those born in its territory, unless in transit for a maximum of 10 days or the children of diplomats, would acquire Dominican nationality.

Modern Haitian immigration to the Dominican Republic dates from the late nineteenth century, when increasing North American capital raised sugar production. Dominicans have never welcomed these immigrants, first, because of the legacy of the oppressive Haitian occupation and the Dominican struggle for independence and, second, because of Trujillo's and then Balaguer's views of Haitians and their anti-Haiti policies. The Haitian presence resulted from economic necessity born of the reluctance of Dominicans to perform the menial task of cane-cutting. The 1920 census listed slightly under 28,000 Haitian nationals in the Dominican Republic. Successive governments attempted to control the numbers of Haitians entering the country; the border was periodically closed in the 1910s and 1920s. But by 1935 the number had increased to more than 50,000. A desire for higher wages and better working conditions pushed more Haitian migrants over the border than ever before.

Known for powdering his own skin to appear whiter, Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930. Trujillo, who sympathized with Nazi race ideology, demonized Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans. Trujillo craved political and economic power, throwing his country into turmoil as he depleted the nation’s financial and cultural worth. Upon accessing the presidency, he required the citizenry to donate a percentage of their wealth to his national treasury. Antihatianismo was a founding ideology of Trujillo’s regime, emphasizing racial and linguistic differences, establishing a cultural definition of what it meant to be truly ‘Dominican’. Haitians were the antithesis of the Euro-centric Dominican identity that Trujillo, and many Dominicans, wanted to maintain.

By 1937, when tensions reached a climax, there were about 200,000 Haitian workers in the Dominican frontier zone and on plantations. At that time, the total population of the Dominican Republic was about 1.5 million, of whom perhaps half were in the workforce. This oversaturated the workforce and lowered wages for all people, not just the migrants. This tension provided the Trujillo regime with a pretext to promote steep nationalism as a public necessity. Given the unhappy history between both nations, Dominicans feared another Haitian occupation.

In early 1937, the Dominican Congress passed a law requiring the departure of all undocumented Haitians. Trujillo ordered a general roundup of Haitians along the border, to cleanse his part of the island of Haiti of “dogs, hogs and Haitians.” Trujillo gave a speech on October 2nd, 1937: "For some months, I have traveled and traversed the border in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them,... I have responded, 'I will fix this.' And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.”

Kayla DeHohiesto wrote "On October 2nd, the army rounded up a herd of accused undocumented Haitians in attempt to force them across the border. When they captured attempted to escape by running into the forest, the Dominican army resorted to killing them all instead of going through with the deportation. The government even went as far as to create a fraudulent deportation process in order to cover up the fact that the missing Haitian workers were actually being killed, and then blamed the deaths on Dominican peasants...."

Throughout October 1937, thousands of Haitians were killed by the Dominican military on orders from Trujillo. These Haitians were living in an area on the Haitian-Dominican border that the United States Marines had incorporated into Haiti during the occupation. Estimates of the death toll have never been concrete or consistent across sources. In what later was called El Corte, the Harvest, Dominican soldiers used machetes and bayonets to slaughter the Haitians, many of whom had lived all their lives in the Dominican Republic. Trujillo blamed the Haitians for the massacre, but later agreed to pay restitution to the Haitian Government, in an amount that came to $29 for every officially recognized death.

The Workers Age [Vol. 7, No. 4, 1938], the organ of the American Communist Party (Majority Group) led by Jay Lovestone, reported that one "reason for the latest expedition seems to be Trujillo’s increasing intimacy with Nazi Germany. Hitler could use a convenient base of operations near the Panama Canal. And Trujillo has already completed plans for a land settlement of 40,000 Germans along the Haitian frontier. Many of the Haitians recently killed were squatters on lands which Trujillo intended to give the German settlers."

Trujillo had been soliciting official representation from Germany sicne 1935, when he named his son-in-law to be minister to Germany. THE British ambassador in the Dominican Republic reported that relations were governed by "the generally pro-Nazi and anti-American sympathies of the Trujillo regime". Germany evidently coveted access to Samana Bay, a potential refuge for U-boats and other commerce raiders.

Trujillo did regard Hitler as a friend, and even set up a Jewish colony in the Dominican Republic in hopes of pleasing Hitler. At that time, the Nazi regime was still agreeing to let Jews emigrate if they transferred their assets to the German government. Only the Dominican Republic, led by dictator Rafael Trujillo, expressed a willingness to accept a significant number - between 50,000 and 100,000 Jews - an offer to which the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee jumped. Trujillo's generosity probably stemmed mainly from his eagerness to have the Western nations overlook his brutal massacre Haitians in 1937 and his desire to "whiten" the population of his country. Only 50 Jews were able to make their way to the Dominican Republic in the first year of the program.

Parsley Massacre remains a defining feature of relations between the two countries. Historically difficult relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic worsened because of the killings and because of Dominican resentment of previous Haitian control. Since 1936 there have been no official boundary changes, but the line stood as a nearly impenetrable screen between two states vastly different in cultural and political outlooks though they may be quite similar in landscape and climate. The riots in 1937 leading to the killing of thousands of immigrant Haitian laborers did not augur well to the relationship of the two states. But no new incidents of so grave a nature transpired since, and present problems are at least being handled by legislation and negotiation.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic, which upheld the rights of all Dominicans regardless of race, color, or national origin and found that the Dominican Republic violated the rights of Dominican-born citizens of Haitian descent by denying them citizenship. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in Case of Expelled Dominicans and Haitians v. Dominican Republic, which found the detention, treatment, and mass expulsion of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent to be violations of human rights.

It has been eight decades since this bloody massacre, and tensions between Haitians and Dominicans appear unchanged; on September 23, 2013 the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court passed "La Sentencia," a law stating that automatic citizenship be denied to people born in the country after 1929 to noncitizens, the majority of which are of Haitian descent; this law retroactively strips people from their citizenship and forcibly removes them from their lifelong homes. The 2013 Dominican Republic Constitutional Court decision stripped Dominicans born after 1929 to parents not of Dominican ancestry of their citizenship. The ruling affected more than 200,000 Dominican citizens of Haitian descent, rendering them stateless, and the retroactive application of the decision is a blatant derogation of both international human rights and the Dominican Republic’s own legal norms.



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