Aftershock: How Haiti's quake hit the whole of Hispaniola

Two years on from the disaster that shook the Caribbean state, its eastern neighbour, the Dominican Republic, fears a new wave of illegal immigrants could hurt its booming economy

Port-au-Prince

The flooded Malpasse border crossing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has become a disturbing symbol of how the two nations that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola are standing on the brink of chaos as they struggle with the pressures of deteriorating natural and social conditions.

Passport control on the Haitian side has become inundated by the rising waters of Lake Azuei and travellers entering the building must follow a stepping stone path of breeze blocks to keep their feet dry as they have their documents stamped. The Dominican side is like a scene from the Wild West, as travellers arrive on the backs of ageing motorcycles to be surrounded by gangs of jobless youths pleading to carry their bags in wheelbarrows through puddles to the customs office.

The bare road, which two years ago was repaired by Japanese engineers as part of Haiti's post-earthquake relief, has been submerged by the lake. The lorries and coaches that cross from the Dominican Republic must cope with waters that reach their wheel arches.

The Haitian President, Michel Martelly, a former popular singer known as "Sweet Micky", celebrated his first year in office this month but his position has become a precarious one. Heavily criticised by the Haitian media for his perceived lack of political experience, he has become increasingly isolated after losing his Prime Minister, Garry Conille, who resigned in February after a political power struggle.

Last week in the country's capital, Port-au-Prince, thousands of former soldiers marched through the streets in their fatigues, demanding that Haiti establish an army for the first time since it was disbanded by the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995 after a series of abuses. Mr Martelly has given the old soldiers hope by appointing a Defence Minister, Rodolphe Joasil, but the demonstrations provoked violence and more than 50 arrests.

These uneasy scenes are being monitored by the often young and inexperienced United Nations soldiers from Brazil, Bolivia and Bangladesh who patrol the city in troop carriers with their weapons at the ready. At the Malpasse crossing point, off-duty soldiers in Brazilian football shirts head for rest, recuperation and the company of local girls in the beach resorts of the Dominican Republic.

The Haitian unrest was not what Dominicans wanted to see on the eve of their own national elections, which took place on Sunday; an alcohol ban was imposed to reduce the prospects of violence on the streets of the capital, Santo Domingo. Local newspapers appealed for calm while also reporting fears that the situation in Port-au-Prince could provoke a fresh exodus of illegal Haitian immigrants across the fragile border that cuts through the island from north to south.

Those who have left impoverished Haiti for the more favourable economic conditions on the other side of the island complain of discrimination, and Haitian descendants who were born on the Dominican side of the border are habitually denied citizenship rights. In turn, the Dominicans fear further migration will destabilise a country that has become one of the Caribbean's fastest-growing economies and the No 1 tourist destination in the region, its all-inclusive coastal resorts attracting large numbers of European and North American beach-worshippers.

Last weekend's Dominican elections were a close-run thing and the threat of meltdown was recognised by the moderate winning candidate, Danilo Medina, who embraced the slogan "The best change is safe change". Mr Medina's Dominican Liberation Party took 51 per cent of the vote compared with the more radical Dominican Revolutionary Party, which took 47 per cent. Hipolito "Papa" Mejia, leader of the latter party, questioned the validity of the outcome and claimed it was "the result of manipulation and abuse of power". But Mr Medina promised a brighter future, telling supporters: "With this victory I want to unite the Dominican Republic."

When the Haitian earthquake struck in January 2010, the Dominicans were the first people to come to their neighbour's assistance and aid lorries poured through the ramshackle border post at Malpasse. But more than two years on, large numbers of Haitians are still living under tarpaulin. In the district of Pétion-Ville on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, thousands are still camped on the site of a former golf course. The mass of tents and portable toilets resembles the scene of an outdoor music festival. The homeless population is gradually falling and along the main highways are signs of new houses being built from piles of breeze blocks. But as one Haitian remarked: "We have no production. I wonder whether there is another country on earth like Haiti."

In the hillside Pétionville neighbourhood of Morne Lazare, where all but four buildings were reduced to rubble by the earthquake, Rea Dol provides a refuge for 664 pupils in a community school that she opened for poor children in 2002, funded by the Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Pétionville, a grass-roots social organisation. Ms Dol lost 28 children and two teachers in the disaster and described how her charges still run into the street in panic at the sound of loud traffic noises. Most of the homes around the school are patched-up temporary dwellings and Ms Dol is critical of the failure of the Haitian government, the United Nations and the many non-governmental organisations to improve conditions in her country.

Even so, on the day the old soldiers marched in Port-au-Prince, other Haitians were celebrating in different fashion the Day of the Flag national holiday, which marks the moment in 1803 when the Haitian revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines symbolically tore the white segment from the French tricolour. In the clean mountainous air of rural Thoman, in the east of the country, dozens of local youths in matching red T-shirts recognised the holiday with a motorcycle procession, which their fellow villagers greeted enthusiastically by waving national flags. On both sides of Hispaniola, a sense of national pride and hope endures.

Hispaniola: A divided island

Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola in 1492, and within a few years the Spanish had established a settlement on the Caribbean island. In 1697, Spain ceded the west to France. The country we now know as Haiti was founded in 1804 when the former colony's African slaves overthrew their French oppressors and established the world's first black republic. In 1822, Haitian forces marched east and took over the entire island. The Dominican Republic finally became independent in 1844 after a 22-year occupation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?