You Can´t Give Birth Here [Extra Episode] | Translation
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Translated by Nick Perkins
[Hay Festival Pre-Roll]
[Daniel Alarcón]: Hello, ambulantes. I’m Daniel Alarcón. On Tuesday January 17th, we’ll be back with new stories on Radio Ambulante. Soon, very soon! Meanwhile, we’re sharing episodes from our other podcast, El hilo (The Thread), that releases a new episode each Friday. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, El hilo is news based, and each week it covers one issue of great importance in Latin America.
We’re really proud of this podcast and we think you’re going to love it!
Today we’re off to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
I hope you enjoy it.
[Eliezer Budasoff]: The story you’re about to hear was produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center.
[Mariana Zúñiga]: It’s almost midday in the town of Belladere, Haiti.
[Translation]: This is where the migrants sleep…
[Mariana]: I’m at a shelter run by GARR. The Support Group for Haitian Returnees and Refugees.
[Eliezer]: That’s our producer, Mariana Zúñiga.
[Silvia Viñas]: The shelter is close to the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
[Mariana]: I’m joined by Rigard Orbé, the GARR coordinator, but the voice you just heard in Spanish is Ana, my interpreter on this trip. I’m being shown two green, tin-roofed houses that are used to house the arriving migrants.
[Translation]: These used to be divided. I mean, there was one for women and one for men. But due to the increasing numbers of deportations and migrants, they decided to use this space just for the men and house the women in the space just down there. In that house down there…
[Silvia]: Up to November this year, the Dominican Republic had forcibly deported more than 136,000 people to Haiti, including 1,800 unaccompanied minors.
[Translation]: Deportations have increased a lot this year. A huge amount compared to previous years.
[Mariana]: A woman is sitting in the patio with her three-year-old daughter on her lap. It’s lunchtime and many people haven’t eaten since yesterday. A man is resting under a tree, holding his head in his hands. He lost his phone while he was being deported, and now he can’t remember his wife’s number and can’t let her know what’s happened.
Rigard opens a door and stops at the entrance to a large room with a couple of mattresses on the ground.
[Translation]: This is the common room, where different activities take place, like staff training. But due to the large numbers, they decided to use the room for pregnant women.
[Mariana]: In September last year, Rigard began to notice an unusual group of migrants arriving at the shelter: pregnant women.
[Translation]: Before that, they didn’t work with women, or they weren’t used to receiving pregnant women who’d been deported.
[Mariana]: The arrival of these women was something that surprised them.
[Eliezer]: The thing is that, according to the Dominican General Law of Migration, pregnant and lactating women may not be detained, the step prior to deportation.
[Translation]: What most caught their attention was that the majority of those women were in the late stages of pregnancy. Others were detained inside hospitals, some had a medical appointment, others had gone in for a check-up, others were about to give birth. It turns out that migration officials had detained them inside the hospital and then deported them.
[Mariana]: In the last two months of 2021, more than 400 pregnant women were deported. Rigard says that many of the women arrived in a really bad state. Some hadn’t eaten; others were showing signs of labor, asthma, stress…
[Silvia]: This didn’t go unnoticed on the other side of the border, in the Dominican Republic. There were a number of stories in the press between November 2021 and April this year, but there has not been much coverage since then.
[Translation]: The United Nations and other organizations spoke with the state and proposed that it reduce this practice.
[Mariana]: Reduce it, but not end it. In 2022, more than 300 pregnant women have been deported.
[Eliezer]: Welcome to El hilo, a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios and VICE News. I’m Eliezer Budasoff.
[Silvia]: And I’m Silvia Viñas.
The deportation of pregnant Haitian women is ongoing. And although the numbers aren’t the same as before, and they are no longer removed from hospitals to be deported, the practice is still part of a hardline migration policy against Haitian migrants.
[Eliezer]: The UN recently asked the Dominican Republic government to stop deporting Haitians who are fleeing a serious humanitarian crisis. To which the president responded:
[Luis Abinader]: And the Dominican Republic is not just going to continue the deportations, but will increase the deportations.
[Silvia]: And so it was. Since November, the number of deportations has increased dramatically. The situation is so bad that the US Embassy in Santo Domingo advised its “darker-skinned” citizens — as the bulletin reads — that they run the risk of being detained due to the current repression of Haitian immigrants.
[Eliezer]: Today we explore how women are being disproportionately affected by the latest chapter in the cruel saga of one of Latin America’s most disputed borders.
It’s December 2nd, 2022.
[Silvia]: Let’s continue listening to Mariana:
[Mariana]: In November last year, lots of videos began to appear on social media that had been filmed outside hospitals.
One of them starts at the entrance to a hospital, where you can see red letters spelling out EMERGENCY. Then a yellow school-style bus appears. It has bars on the windows and a sign on the front that reads: General Directorate of Migration. Next, you see a migration official in a black uniform holding the arm of a pregnant woman as he puts her on the bus.
The video was recorded after the Dominican Republic Ministry of the Interior and Police implemented restrictive measures affecting female migrants in September 2021. The measures were designed to limit these women’s access to the public health system, and videos like this illustrated the measures’ most serious outcome: the detention of pregnant women inside the country’s hospitals. Followed by their deportation.
This video is just one of many available online that illustrate women’s experiences. Women whose names and histories we do not know. But one of them went viral: the case of Nathalie Dolival.
[Mariana]: I met Nathalie in October this year when I visited her home in a neighborhood in East Santo Domingo. She lives with her husband and her two daughters who are one and two and a half years old.
Nathalie is from Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. She is 34 years old, and she came to the Dominican Republic in 2019 to join Josnef, whom she met through her sister in Haiti and fell in love with. She is undocumented and Josnef’s ID has expired.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: Nathalie got pregnant with her second daughter when her first daughter was just eight months old. She tells me that at the beginning, she thought about terminating the pregnancy. But because she is a Christian, she felt obliged by her faith to go through with it.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. She bled regularly through to the ninth month. Her blood pressure also occasionally rose. She says that she suffered a lot.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: Her due date was November 10th, 2021. She left home very early, at 4 a.m., and while she was waiting in line at the maternity hospital, a security guard asked her for her papers.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: She thought the papers the man was asking for were her medical records, but that wasn’t the case. He wanted to see her ID or passport. She didn’t have anything to show him, so he called the migration authorities.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: They took away all the pregnant women that were there that morning. Nathalie told me that when the migration authority bus arrived, it was already full. It had already been to other hospitals to pick up women in the same condition, and when she got on the bus there was almost no space left.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: When she arrived at the Haina Detention Center, she went straight to the bathroom because she was feeling a lot of contractions and her water had broken. A guard noticed, and got a doctor to see her. That was when they realized that she was going into labor.
When her husband, Josnef, heard that Nathalie had been detained, he thought it was a joke.
[Josnef]: Because I’d never heard of the migration authorities picking up pregnant women. And they took her to Haina. So I went there to ask and they said she was there. There were a lot of migration officials at the door, a lot of migration officials…
[Mariana]: What did they tell you?
[Josnef]: ”They’re going to deport her. There’s nothing you can do.” And so on.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: Nathalie told me that she felt really bad. Her belly was hard, she was in a lot of pain and she was very scared of being taken to Haiti in that state… of giving birth on the border.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: But they didn’t take her to the border. They took her to a hospital. Nathalie told me that they arrived at about 11 p.m., and at midnight they performed a C-section on her.
After the C-section she got eclampsia — a complication of pregnancy associated with increased blood pressure that causes convulsions. Nathalie told me that she wasn’t treated well at the hospital; they didn’t put the drip in correctly and her arm swelled up so much that it felt like it had been turned inside out.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: Two days after she gave birth, the migration officials came back for her and she was taken back to the detention center with her newborn child. She told me that after everything she’d been through, her suffering continued.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: She was in a lot of pain at the detention center. She says that she couldn’t even lie down; they only gave her a cot for her baby.
[Josnef]: It’s unbelievable. They sent her there like that. It’s just horrible. Especially after a C-section.
[Mariana]: A C-section is much more complex than a vaginal birth. Women usually have to stay in the hospital for four days afterwards, and a full recovery takes around 10 to 15 days. While Nathalie was at the detention center, her husband went to the Haitian Embassy in search of help.
He managed to get help from CONANI, the National Council for Childhood and Adolescence. The embassy, together with this institution, gave him a document granting Nathalie permission to remain in the country legally for three months. And three days later, at 10 a.m. on November 13th, she was released.
It’s been a year since this episode, and Nathalie’s life has not improved.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: The three-month permit has now expired, and Nathalie tells me that she hasn’t been able to get her daughter vaccinated because she is scared of visiting the hospital. Remember that she is undocumented, and her husband’s ID has expired. They don’t go out much. They live hidden away because they are scared of being deported. They say it’s like living under a microscope.
[Josnef]: So much abuse. I don’t know. They make everything difficult for us dark-skinned people. I’m waiting for God to show us the way, because we can’t stay here undocumented.
[Mariana]: Before we part ways, I ask Nathalie whether she ever thinks about the other women on the bus with her that day.
[Nathalie]: Speaking Creole
[Mariana]: She tells me that she does. They all shared the same experience. The situation in Haiti is going from bad to worse and she prays that things turn out OK for them. Nathalie says that she was lucky, if what happened to her can be called luck. But it is true that other women have had even worse experiences.
While I was reporting on this story, I came across the case of Katiana Louis, a Haitian woman who was deported when she was nine months pregnant. Two days after arriving in Haiti, after a long bus journey, she miscarried.
People who support these measures use this argument: migrant mothers — usually Haitian — are causing the collapse of OB-GYN services in the health system.
In an attempt to better understand this argument, I visited Santo Domingo’s Hospital Materno Infantil San Lorenzo de Los Mina.
According to news reports, pregnant woman have been taken from this public hospital and deported. I met Dr. Leonardo Aquino, the hospital director.
[Mariana]: Do you know what percentage of the women who come to this hospital to give birth are foreigners?
[Dr. Aquino]: Between 50 and 53% of the women who visit our maternity unit are foreigners.
[Mariana]: And, in your opinion, are they causing the collapse of the county’s maternity units?
[Dr. Aquino]: Of course they are, my dear. Of course. Because we don’t charge this type of patient. Regardless of their condition, their race, their economic condition, they aren’t charged. So the institution cannot continue to be sustainable, from an economic point of view.
[Mariana]: And Dr. Aquino is not alone in his thinking. His position is shared by many Dominican authorities.
For example, the National Health Service authorities said that 13% of the public health budget is spent on treating foreign patients, most of whom are Haitians. And a few months later they increased this figure to 40%, and said that this expense is mostly related to pregnant Haitian women. We contacted them to corroborate these figures, and were referred to the Ministry of Health. At the close of this episode, they had not responded to our request.
However, according to official data from the National Health Service, migrants receive less than 10% of the most expensive services — ER, outpatient consultations and lab tests.
The Ministry of Health said that it spent 10 billion Dominican pesos last year (more than $175,000,000) on migrant births.
But this figure was contradicted by the ex-Director of the National Health Service.
[Chanel Rosa]: It is not possible that they spent 10 billion pesos on births. Because according to the accounts provided by the Ministry of Public Health, this would mean that each birth cost more than 300,000 pesos.
[Mariana]: A vaginal birth without complications costs around 7,000 pesos. If there are complications, the cost might reach 25,000.
There is also a myth that the majority of pregnant Haitian women come here just to give birth.
[Liliam]: How can they say they all crossed the border? Not all of them are from Haiti.
[Mariana]: That’s Liliam Fondeur, a Dominican OB-GYN.
[Liliam]: Some of them were born here, or have been living here for a long time. They didn’t just come here during their pregnancies.
[Mariana]: There are data that support this. According to a United Nations Population Fund report, 74% of pregnant immigrants — most of them Haitian — have more than four prenatal checkups. So they don’t arrive in the Dominican Republic at the end of their pregnancies, just so they can have their babies here.
[Liliam]: We are told that they come to this country to steal from our health service, rather than in search of a better life. But they do come here in search of a better life, just like we go to the United States and Europe. But the Dominican Republic, its authorities, its power brokers, are becoming more anti-Haitian all the time. All the time… the politicians, the power brokers, and even the OB-GYN community.
[Mariana]: Liliam told me that, like in many Latin American countries, OB-GYN violence is common in the Dominican Republic. In fact, she says it has become normalized.
[Liliam]: One of the principal issues is not telling the woman what is happening to her own body. Instead, I decide everything from here, from my white coat, from my role as a health care provider, everything that will be done to you, without you being an active participant.
[Mariana]: It doesn’t matter where you’re from; this is something that any woman may end up suffering. But the violence is more pronounced if the woman is Haitian or of Haitian descent.
[Liliam]: Clearly the violence is worse because they have no rights, they are not seen as equal under the law, and health care personnel don’t treat them as equal under the law. And so Haitian immigrants are thrown onto a truck to be deported while pregnant. This tells you what rights they have.
[Mariana]: Liliam has worked in private practice for the past two years, but before that, she worked at public hospitals all her life. She says during that time she saw many [discriminatory] practices towards Haitian women. The first thing she mentioned was the fact that no one speaks their language.
[Liliam]: I mean, we don’t have health personnel that speak Creole. And it is necessary because, when Dominicans go [to a hospital] in the United States, they get to choose an interpreter, or a doctor who speaks Spanish. And although this has been discussed a lot here, we still don’t have health coverage in the largest maternity units, or the places with the largest Haitian immigrant population, that provides you with someone who can translate for you. So, right there you have a huge barrier, because you’re going through a situation in which you’re vulnerable, but no one can even speak to you in your own language.
[Mariana]: This violence can also come in the form of verbal, emotional or even aggravated aggression from health personnel.
[Liliam]: Above all, it’s the indifference. And decision making without consultation, which is part of indifference. Sometimes she is left alone in the birthing room.
[Mariana]: What consequences does this have?
[Liliam]: It starts with maternal mortality and infant mortality. Anything can happen because of indifference. It’s as if they don’t exist. Or more than not existing, that they come in just to make a nuisance of themselves.
[Mariana]: That’s exactly what Angela felt a few months ago. That she was being a nuisance.
Angela is 23 years old. She is a Dominican of Haitian descent. She runs a small, improvised, hair salon in the living room of her home, where she does hair straightening, brushing…
[Ángela] Everything. Cuts, coloring…
[Mariana]: Angela lives with her partner and her four-month-old son, José Ángel. As a new mother, she appears very sure of herself. But she wasn’t always like this. Especially during her pregnancy.
[Ángela] Ay, no. It was very traumatic because I went through a lot. I wouldn’t want any woman to go through what I went through. When I found out I was pregnant, I went to medical centers but I had problems with the doctors. They said, “No. Because you’re undocumented we can’t treat you here.”
[Mariana]: Angela is the daughter of a mixed couple: her mother is Haitian and her father is Dominican. But because her father didn’t legally acknowledge her when she was born, Angela hasn’t been able to obtain legal documentation.
[Ángela] The doctor told me that they were not treating foreigners here because the president had passed a law saying that they couldn’t, that no foreigner could give birth at a medical center and that they couldn’t be given treatment.
[Mariana]: She’s referring to the restrictive measures against migrant women that we mentioned earlier.
After that incident, Angela didn’t go back to the medical center. She says that she was scared off by the way the doctor spoke to her and that she didn’t want to see her again. For eight months Angela knew nothing about the health of her baby. She didn’t have access to an ultrasound scan, an exam, vitamins… nothing.
[Ángela] I said, “Well, I hope my little boy doesn’t come out with any problems.” I thought my little boy was going to come out with problems.
[Mariana]: Ángela wasn’t sleeping well. She started to buy vitamins — folic acid, something usually given to pregnant women. Just a little to compensate for her situation.
[Ángela] Very stressed-out. All the time. All my hair fell out. I was arguing with my partner all the time, and I had no patience for him. He took it out on me because I was stressed-out, saying I wasn’t interested in him.
[Mariana]: Until one day she visited a neighbor who’s a nurse and told her about what she was going through. They went together to see the community pastor, who went with them to the medical center.
[Ángela] They supported me, they came with me, and the same doctor denied that she ever said that and all… and I kept my mouth shut, so we didn’t get into it and didn’t start a fight and all.
[Mariana]: But it was too late for her to be seen at that center, because it only saw women until the start of their third trimester and Ángela was reaching the end of her pregnancy. So they took her to another hospital.
[Ángela] They gave me the vaccinations I needed, they gave me pills and vitamins and prenatal things like that. And that’s that, my little boy is with me now. There’s nothing wrong with him, thank God.
[Mariana]: This must have been one of the most stressful times of her life. Not knowing how her boy was doing, whether his heart was beating… the normal things that all other mothers want to know. In spite of this, Angela is thankful. She seems to have left her pregnancy behind her, although she does still feel sad about the way she was treated.
[Ángela] Because if I study medicine, I have to help people. I don’t have to be limited by any law, because we’re human beings. A life is worth a lot. That’s what I understand. Nationality shouldn’t matter.
[Mariana]: Liliam, the OB-GYN, believes that the Dominican health system needs to be humanized. Especially the OB-GYN part. She says that this type of treatment and measures, like deporting pregnant women, only serve to distance the system from that objective.
[Liliam]: I’m not saying that we should unify the island. To be absolutely clear: I’m not pro-Haitian. But I’m a Christian and a human. I know that there is a Dominican population living abroad, doing the same thing as the Haitian men and women. The same thing. I mean, we leave on sailboats and die on the high seas in search of a better life. This happens in every country, not just the Dominican Republic. But of course, they have a problem: they were born black and they remind us that we are black too. That’s the issue. It’s not that they’re black; it’s that they remind us that we are too.
[Eliezer]: We’ll be right back.
[Eliezer]: We’re back with El hilo.
[Silvia]: Before the break, Mariana was telling us about how Dominican immigration policy has led to the deportation of hundreds of pregnant women. These deportations have decreased, but they haven’t stopped altogether.
And, as we heard, this is not the only challenge pregnant Haitian women face in the country. They are also victims of OB-GYN violence.
[Eliezer]: But there’s more. A court decision in 2013 continues to affect people of Haitian descent, especially women, as Mariana will explain.
[Ana Belique]: I didn’t even know what it was. What does that word mean?. Activism. But, unbelievably, I have always been an activist without knowing what it was!
[Mariana]: That’s Ana Belique. She has spent much of her life fighting for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent — people like her. Her parents arrived in the country at the end of the 60s, before the peak of the sugar industry. They were employed by the state to cut sugarcane. Ana was born here and from a very young age she felt a sense of differentiation, and that not all people were equal.
And that’s where her desire to defend immigrants’ rights comes from. But in 2013, the discrimination she had been feeling was materialized when something changed for her and thousands of others.
[Ana Belique]: Sentence 168-13 retroactively stripped the citizenship of all Dominicans of Haitian descent who were registered in the Civil Registry.
[Mariana]: This means that the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic determined that more than 200,000 people who had been born and had grown up here as the children of foreigners no longer had the right to Dominican nationality.
[Ana Belique]: The sentence set the cutoff point at 1929, thus retroactively annulling the citizenship of more than four generations of people. And that’s one of the sentence’s greatest aberrations.
[Mariana]: Ana remembers the day of the sentence with great pain. She says she had never felt anything so strongly in her life, and describes it as like being in a trance.
[Ana Belique]: It was horrible. I felt as if the ground beneath me was opening up and I was sinking into it. I never ever thought that an institution that was meant to recognize and protect our rights would end up leaving us completely abandoned and without hope. I mean, it was like, you know when you’re in a dream that you can’t believe is a dream because you can’t believe that you’re dreaming something like that? Well, I mean, I was in shock. It was horrific.
[Mariana]: The 2013 sentence created the largest stateless community in the western hemisphere and was widely criticized. And in 2014, the Government was forced to issue Law 169-14, also known as the Naturalization Law.
This law divided people into two groups. Group A contained people already registered in the Civil Registry, that had a Dominican birth certificate, ID or passport. Group B contained people who had never been registered in the Civil Registry.
People in Group A had their nationality and IDs restored.
[Ana Belique]: It’s true that the law restored our documentation, but not like it was before. Legally, we aren’t in the same category or level as all other Dominicans; there is a certain fragility.
[Mariana]: At present, it is not known exactly how many people have recovered their identity documents.
[Ana Belique]: And today, that’s the situation that part of the population finds itself in.
[Mariana]: People in Group B were required to register for a Regularization Plan that would allegedly allow them to apply for naturalization after two years. But almost ten years have passed since the sentence, and still not one person has been naturalized.
[Ana Belique]: They basically had to declare themselves as foreigners in their own land and get a foreigner ID that has now expired. And the authorities haven’t shown the slightest interest in opening processes to allow these people to regularize their situation, obtain Dominican nationality and live their lives like normal people.
[Mariana]: In the public eye, the Naturalization Law resolved the situation. But Ana says:
[Ana Belique]: The sentence is still current, it is still alive and continues to lacerate people’s lives.
[Mariana]: Especially women’s lives.
[Ana Belique]: Women have been more affected by the sentence. If you’re a Dominican woman without an ID and you have a baby, it’s harder to register the birth than if you had an ID, even if your partner is Dominican. So the burden of doing paperwork and securing nationality falls on the woman’s shoulders; not only is she impeded from obtaining [her own nationality] but also from passing it on to her descendants. And in the end you feel, dammit, like you’re the one blocking your children’s and your grandchildren’s path.
[Juan Alberto]: We’re on our way to Carmona de Gonzalo, one of the bateys that belonged to the Río Haina sugarcane mill.
[Mariana]: During my trip I met several mothers in this situation. Mothers who found themselves without papers after the sentence. But of all of them, Ramona Pierret’s story interested me the most. Juan Alberto Antoine, a human rights defender and member of the Reconocido movement, took me to a batey to meet her.
[Juan Alberto]: Here in the Dominican Republic, a batey is where sugar companies would build small homes, I suppose you could call them, to house the Haitian migrant workers they contracted to cut sugarcane here in the Dominican Republic.
[Mariana]: Bateys are poor communities located far from the cities. Most people that live there are descendants of Haitian laborers. This batey in particular is not a traditional batey, because the sugar company that owned it went out of business a long time ago.
Nowadays, there are bateys on private lands and on lands that belong to the state. It’s important to note that in November, President Abinader issued a decree authorizing the deportation of foreigners illegally occupying public or private lands. This means that everyone currently living in a batey is under threat, not just of deportation, but of being stateless for the rest of their lives, because the decree includes the penalty of never being allowed to return to Dominican soil.
[Mariana]: When I arrived at Ramona’s house, I found her scrubbing a huge pan. She had just finished work, and was enveloped by a citrus aroma.
[Ramona]: I’m here doing a small job. It’s a sort of orange peeling factory. You get the flesh out to make candies and send it to the city, to Goya [Foods], where they make candies and all that stuff.
[Mariana]: Ramona is a short woman with braided hair and a big smile. She has five children — three boys and two girls — who she spends most of her time with when she’s not working.
[Ramona]: They’re the most beautiful thing that’s happened to me in my life. They are really good kids. The 14-year-old likes music and sings all the time. The 12-year-old likes cooking, and the 8-year-old likes dancing. Even the smallest one likes dancing, and the other one spends all day on his tablet; you know how it is… but they are all obedient.
[Mariana]: Ramona has lived in this batey all her life.
[Ramona]: Long ago they brought my parents from Haiti to cut sugarcane. And we were born here.
[Mariana]: She tells me she had a hard childhood. She was abused as a child and then bullied at school.
[Ramona]: I sometimes cried because my Dominican classmates used to say, “Go cut sugarcane, Haitian.” If you heard what they said to me. It made me feel bad.
[Mariana]: Following the Constitutional Court’s 2013 ruling, Ramona found herself in Group B — people who had never been registered in the Civil Registry — and like everyone else, they made her a promise that was never kept.
[Ramona]: They gave me an ID that said I cannot vote.
[Mariana]: Even though she was born in the Dominican Republic, she was given a foreigner’s ID.
[Ramona]: They said that in two years they’d give me an ID that would let me vote. They said they’d give me my Dominican ID and they still… still haven’t done anything.
[Mariana]: It’s been eight years since that moment.
[Ramona]: I mean, living without an ID is like living in a dead-end street. I can’t buy a bed, some furniture, I can’t… unless it’s in someone else’s name, because it says “foreigner” and it’s not even in the system.
[Mariana]: She can’t buy a phone because they ask for her ID. And it’s also affected her when looking for work.
[Ramona]: In the end, when I send my photo and my ID, they say no, because I’m a foreigner.
[Mariana]: Ramona can’t study, she can’t open a bank account and, more importantly, she can’t register her children.
[Ramona]: Because my ID says “foreigner,” not “Dominican.” Instead of saying “Dominican,” it says “Haiti.” If I declare him like that, with this ID, when he’s older they’re going to give him a foreigner one. That’s why I can’t. This same fight I’m having today for my ID, they’re going to have it as well, and I don’t want them to go through that.
And it worries me because I get asked for his ID all the time. But I say it’s being processed, I say that to them, I always tell them it’s being processed, but I don’t know when they’re going to change it.
[Mariana]: It worries Ramona that one day they won’t let them study any more. This is common if children don’t have a birth certificate, especially when they start high school, as her oldest daughter soon will.
Ramona told me that her children have started asking questions too.
[Ramona]: They’ve said, “Mummy, why don’t I have a birth certificate?” And when I tell them why, they feel sad because most of their classmates have a document, and when they ask them, “Where’s your document?” they feel ashamed, you know, they feel sad.
[Mariana]: And the ones that don’t ask just bully them. Just like they bullied Ramona. History repeating itself. This is happening to her youngest daughter.
[Ramona]: I mean, sometimes she comes home from school and she’s had problems with some of the others there a few times. They say, “Go cut sugarcane, Haitian,” and a lot of other stuff. But I told her, “Focus on your work, don’t let it affect you, you’re the same as them, you’re Dominican. Don’t let it get to you. Just look forward.”
[Ana Belique]: It doesn’t matter how Dominican you are.
[Mariana]: That’s Ana Belique again, the activist we heard from at the start of this section.
[Ana Belique]: The blacker you are, the more Haitian you’re perceived as. I mean, if you’re black, even though you’re Dominican, in some places you’re automatically seen as a Haitian. Our phenotypic profile is what gives us away. It’s used as an excuse to detain us, or let us walk free.
[Mariana]: Ana started a project called Black Dolls, that Ramona’s daughter, Mariela, is part of. It’s an anti-racism initiative designed to empower Dominican women and girls of Haitian descent, that started with the idea of making black dolls as a way of recognizing women’s Afro-descendant roots.
That afternoon, the girls were rehearsing a performance that they would soon do in front of their parents.
The girls are between 11 and 22 years old. I sat down to talk to them after the performance. I wanted to know why they had joined this group.
[María Altagracia]: At the beginning, I said, “Oh my God, that doll is ugly! It looks like a seibola doll. Ay no, I don’t like that doll.” But then I realized that I was starting to feel good about the doll and relating more to the doll, and stuff.
[Esmeralda]: And you liked its color because…?
[Mercedes]: Some people would like to have it but they don’t.
[María Altagracia]: It’s not a bad thing, being black. Whatever color you are, you need to love it just as God gave it to you!
[Ana Luisa]: Black Dolls has made me understand that I need to love myself just as I am.
[Iliana]: As a beautiful, strong person, a person that God put a lot of effort into because I’m beautiful, because I’m black. I feel really great!
[Yanilda]: It’s uncomfortable. Also at school, because you grow up without this understanding of what it means to be black, and then someone insults you and says, “Look at you, dark girl, blackie or piti [a Dominican racist insult],” stuff like that and you feel offended. I always say, “You’re discrediting my color, but you have no idea how lucky I am to be black.”
[Ana Belique]: Helping girls see themselves as beautiful, intelligent and capable also benefits me, because our children suffer a lot. I mean, it’s like we’re born to be bullied, you know. And I think the Black Dolls process is making a difference for this small group of girls we’re working with.
[Mariana]: A difference that their own parents are noticing too. This is Ramona:
[Ramona]: She feels more sure of herself. The course has taught her how to unburden herself. She feels proud to be a Dominican of Haitian descent. She feels proud.
[Mariana]: And seeing her daughter becoming more sure of herself has also had a positive effect on Ramona herself.
[Ramona]: I feel happy. I feel stronger, more capable of moving forward, of fighting for what I really need.
[Mariana]: This journey began on the Haitian side of the border, and we’re going to end it in Dajabón, a border city in the northwest of the Dominican Republic. The hammering you can hear in the background is the sound of a wall being constructed — or an “intelligent perimeter fence” as they call it here — that will separate the Dominican Republic from Haiti.
Construction started in February this year, but the proposal to build the wall was first made long ago by ex-President Danilo Medina. And current president, Luis Abinader, made it a priority item on his agenda, as a way to reduce illegal immigration, drug trafficking and cattle rustling.
[Mariana]: It will comprise 160 kilometers of reinforced concrete and metallic structures, 170 surveillance towers and 71 access gates. At first sight, it doesn’t look particularly imposing, nor very tall — some four meters, more or less.
[Santiago Riverón]: To be honest, at first we were opposed to the idea, but we’ve come around to it because it’s us Dominicans who are being affected by all this because we are burdened by it, and it’s yet another load for this country to bear.
[Mariana]: That’s Santiago Riverón, the mayor of Dajabón. He’s wearing a white cowboy-style hat, a blue shirt and a pair of jeans. There’s a bust of the independence hero Juan Pablo Duarte on his desk, and a rifle hanging on his wall next to a Dominican flag.
Although Riverón is in favor of building the wall, he doesn’t believe it will be a panacea.
[Santiago]: I know that with the current migration situation, I don’t think it’s going to have much of an effect. I see it more as helping with security. That wall needs to be accompanied by a wall in the minds of the people guarding the border. If we build that wall as well, a wall of awareness that you can’t let an undocumented person cross into your country for 100 pesos, that you can’t be involved in people-trafficking and that sort of thing, I think if we do that, it will be a success.
[Mariana]: For Riverón, and many other people in the ruling party, this wall represents Dominican sovereignty.
[Santiago]: Look, the thing is that the wall, like I said, it’s a nationalistic, patriotic thing and people now see the wall as a patriotic symbol. Do you understand me?
[Mariana]: Historically, all Dominican governments have capitalized on nationalism, and the Abinader government is no different. The wall isn’t ready yet, but its construction is feeding the anti-Haitian narrative that has existed for years. You can see it in the press; it’s not unusual to see headlines or editorials that promote negative stereotypes about this population.
Although at a macro level, at the level of government, institutions and the media, this narrative appears to prevail, at a micro, day to day level the debate is different.
Many people I spoke with on the street admitted that, in general, coexistence is good. And that, at least along the border, economic links unite these two countries.
They are also aware of the fact that Haitian laborers are the pillars of agriculture and construction in the Dominican Republic.
[Mariana]: On the last day of our trip, we visited Dajabón’s Binational Market. You can see Haiti from here, and also the wall. The market opens on Mondays and Fridays, and is where businesspeople from both sides of the border meet and trade.
Today is a Friday, it’s 8 in the morning and the doors on the Dominican side have just opened. In a couple of minutes the bridge should be full of Haitians carrying goods. They mainly come to sell clothing. And they buy food here.
The Dominican soldiers in their khaki uniforms are waiting for the other side to open its doors. But today the Haitian side doesn’t open. No one knows why, but we can see a huge green truck blocking the door. There are hundreds of people waiting to cross, and they look angry. For many of them, this is their main source of income and supplies.
It’s unusual that the market didn’t open today. We’re about to leave when the General Migration Directorate truck arrives with today’s deportees. A group of them get off, and there’s a pregnant woman squashed in the middle of them. Her belly looks like she’s six months pregnant…
[Daniel]: This episode was produced and reported by Mariana Zúñiga, and edited by Silvia Viñas, Eliezer Budasoff and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact checking. Mixing and sound design was by Elías González, with music by him and Rémy Lozano.
We once again thank the Pulitzer Center for its help in producing this story. And we also thank Juan Carlos González, Masaya Llavaneras, Simón Rodríguez, Juan Alberto Antoine, Roudy Joseph, Bridget Wooding and Paola Tejeda for their help with this episode.
The rest of the El hilo team includes Daniela Cruzat, Inés Rénique, Denise Márquez, Samantha Proaño, Paola Alean, Laura Rojas Aponte, Juan David Naranjo Navarro, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Camilo Jiménez Santofimio. Carolina Guerrero is CEO of Radio Ambulante Estudios. Our theme tune was written by Pauchi Sasaki.
El hilo is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios and Vice News. You can listen to the English version of this episode on the Vice News Reports podcast.
You can follow us on social media at elhilopodcast on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And you can subscribe to our newsletter at elhilo.audio/boletín and receive it every Friday.
I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thank you for listening.