Haiti, The Dominican Republic and the Parsley Massacre

An island of two nations, Dominican Republic and Haiti, located in the Caribbean Sea, bore witness to the atrocities of genocide in 1937. Prior to the genocide, the two nations shared in a history of violent overthrows, toggling the control of land back and forth. The documentation of the island’s history begins with Christopher Columbus, who stumbled upon the island in 1492 and named it ‘Little Spain’, also known as Hispaniola. Spain colonized the island, Santo Domingo, in 1496, which functioned as a capital for all Spanish colonies of the Americas. Two-hundred years later, in 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick split the island, giving the western half to France and keeping the eastern half under the rule of Spain. Eventually, Spain turned its share of the island over to France in 1795. Shortly after, France gained complete control of the island, as Haiti was conquered by a guerilla leader, Toussaint Louverture. Louverture, being a former black slave, abolished slavery and claimed himself to be the governor-general of Hispaniola. In 1804, Haiti won its independence from France and a former slave, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared himself emperor.

Independence did not bring much peace to the island and it soon became divided by race, with violence between blacks to the north and mulattos to the south. Eventually Haiti became ruled by President Jean-Pierre Boyer, who attempted to unify the races but still withheld blacks from entering into power. Boyer took control of Santo Domingo from 1822 to 1844, and the people of Santo Domingo claimed their independence from Haiti, resulting in the birth of the Dominican Republic. Notwithstanding, neither the Dominican Republic, nor Haiti, were able to find any peace within their own borders. To make matters worse, spanning nearly a twenty year period beginning in 1915, the United States of America invaded Haiti and the Dominican Republic for seemingly economic reasons only.

A history of turmoil within the two nations of Hispaniola never found remedy. In 1930, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina established personal dictatorship over the Dominican after the military launched a revolt against the President at that time. Trujillo was a military general and was seen as a neutral power by the Dominican people. However, during his years in power, spurred by a failing global economy, Dominicans also went into a severe depression and were greatly affected. In the fall of 1937, Trujillo’s way of resolving the economic crisis was to purge Haitians from the Dominican side of the border.  Executions were carried out by both military and civilians, using machetes, bayonets, and rifles over the course of five days. Haitian men, women, and children would all face imminent death.

Civilians along the border were asked to pronounce perejil, a Spanish word meaning ‘parsley’. If they were Haitian, they would pronounce the word with a French/Creole accent making them incapable of pronouncing the trilled ‘r’ in perejil.  Another key Haitian marker for perpetrators of the purge was skin color, as Haitians were typically darker skinned than Dominican natives but even native dark skinned Dominicans were slaughtered alongside Haitians.  Approximately 20,000 people perished by the hands of the Trujillo regime and its supporters.

The Parsley Massacre was founded on racial motives and reflected the notion that historical Dominican rule by white Spanish elites hadn’t faded out with its independence; however, this was not true for Haiti, where there was a higher population of black African heritage. Scholars often claim the West created ideologies of savagery and barbarism to legitimize the West verses the rest. Trujillo motives subscribed to this same rationale of Western imperialism.

The Parsley Massacre may have been economically driven.  Based on the fact the Trujillo’s regime targeted Haitians to purge the Dominican of their presence, the result would create space and opportunities for employment for Dominican natives.  Economic suffering and scarce resources were absolutely a driving factor of the massacre given the global state of economic depression. The Trujillo regime claimed that the Dominican could not support the migration of Haitians.

Interestingly, Haiti once thrived on its production of sugar but, since its secession from Europe, the sugar industry relocated to the Dominican leaving a flood of open jobs that Dominicans themselves were unwilling to work. As a result, Haitians migrated to the Dominican to take advantage of the opportunity. Despite this effort, and the development of sugar labor, Dominicans echoed the depressed economy and poor economic conditions. Again, Trujillo saw this as an opportunity to murder Haitians and pave a way for Dominican employment.

In the end, more than 20,000 Haitians and Dominicans were murdered over the course of five days for reasons only Trujillo knows. His course of genocide was more impulsive than anything. Although inspired by Hitler, his method of achieving an ethnic cleansing was very different than Hitler’s. After the five day purge, Trujillo released something similar to Hitler’s Mein Kampf called “Estudios Del Terror Y Los Terrors De La Historia”. This was a document filled with an ideology of hate, and instructing mass murder. Strangely, the document surfaced only after the massacre. 

Since the 1937 Parsley Massacre, a lasting ripple in the minds of the Dominicans and Haitians alike still exists. And despite the seeming solidarity of neighboring Haitian and Dominicans, still to this day the Dominican Republic has institutionalized policies that are anti-Haitian oriented.  In 2013, for example, the government of the Dominican passed a policy that would require the deportation of Dominican citizens of illegal migration and Haitian heritage. Anyone born after 1929 is required to prove that their ancestors were legally allowed to enter the country, and if they cannot prove their legitimacy, they are deported back to Haiti. The estimate of those affected is approximately 240,000 Dominicans, which is driving a large number of citizens into statelessness. And although reports of deportations are surfacing, the current President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, denies these claims. Equally important is the denial of identity cards to those who cannot prove their native births, without which they too become stateless and cannot work, marry, or even open bank accounts, to name a few of the resultant impacts. Dominicans stripped of identity live in a constant state of alienation from a society they once belonged to.



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