President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic said yesterday that he has ordered that the issue of visas to Haitians is to be suspended because of a dispute regarding the construction of a canal in Haiti that may drain water from the Massacre River basin, harming Dominican agriculture.
He also threatened to shut down all land, air and sea traffic between the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola.
It is not clear how the excavation of the canal in Haiti was authorized or by whom.
“If the conflict is not resolved before Thursday, (officials will) completely close the border to air, sea and land commerce,” the Dominican government said in a statement.
“The Haitian government has repeatedly admitted it does not have the capacity to resolve internal conflicts due to the loss of the Haitian state’s monopoly on force due to criminal organizations,” it said.
Closure of the border would certainly be an economic blow to Haiti, which imports food from the Dominican Republic and where inflation has skyrocketed and poverty deepened with many areas being controlled by armed gangs.
A closure of the border would also affect Dominican commerce.
A study by the Dominican Republic’s Central Bank said $430 million in informal border trade was conducted in 2017 between the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola. Of that amount, more than $330 million represented exports to Haiti.
Haiti is also the Dominican Republic’s third biggest partner in formal trade, with $1 billion in exports to Haiti last year and $11 million in imports, according to the Export and Investment Center of the Dominican Republic.
Last week, the Dominican government sent a crew to monitor the construction of the canal from across the border, with officials telling local media that it was trying to offer to help detain, if necessary, civilians that might be working on the project without permission.
The excavation prompted Abinader last week to shut down the bridge near the northern town of Dajabon, a crucial crossing point for Haitians who buy and sell various goods in the market there several times a week.
Former interim Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph recently defended the construction of the canal and accused critics in the Dominican Republic of being nationalists and racists.
Last year, Abinader banned Joseph from entering the Dominican Republic in an unrelated dispute that heightened the simmering tensions between the two countries.
Abinader has sought to limit the migration of Haitians into the Dominican Republic in recent years and has expelled tens of thousands of Haitians and those of Haitian descent. His administration also has begun work on a 190-kilometer (118-mile) wall along the Haitian border that Abinader announced early last year.
The last time the Dominican Republic fully closed the border its border with Haiti was in July 2021, after Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Since then, it has occasionally closed parts of the border for security reasons.
Source: VOA, news agencies.