Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

HAITI-DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Media Unites to Fight Stereotypes

Elizabeth Eames Roebling

PEDERNALES, Dominican Republic, Nov 18 2008 (IPS) - The contrast between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, is nowhere so stark as on its common border.

A group of Haitian journalists meets their Dominican colleagues at a three-day gathering to promote cross-cultural understanding. Credit: Elizabeth Roebling/IPS

A group of Haitian journalists meets their Dominican colleagues at a three-day gathering to promote cross-cultural understanding. Credit: Elizabeth Roebling/IPS

Pedernales, in the remote southwest desert, is poor by comparison to the rest of the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, it has continuous electricity without the blackouts that often plague the rest of the country. It has a regular supply of running water and well ordered, paved streets with solid concrete houses.

Across the river in Haiti, Anse-a-Pitre has no paved roads, and only a few wells. Only the small barber shop with a solar panel and the small hotel with a generator have electricity. Fishing boats with large outboards line the rocky beach on the Dominican side while in Haiti, only one of the few dozen boats has a motor, the others must fish under sail.

It is easy for citizens of a country which has running water, electricity, gas stoves and plentiful food to assume that they are superior to citizens of a nation that does not have these modern conveniences.

“I do not blame Dominicans who hold negative views of Haitians since that is how they were taught since they were young,” said Giselda Liberato, coordinator of Intercultural Programmes for the development agency Plan International. “We were told terrible things. We were told that they were savages, even that they were cannibals. So it is not the fault of Dominicans who have been misinformed.”

“Many Dominicans do not have an opportunity to meet people of a high level of education. They do not meet their peers. We wanted Dominican journalists to meet Haitian journalists who are at the same level of education, so that they can meet one another as professionals,” she told IPS.

With help from Plan International, six Dominican journalists who run espacinsular.org as volunteers recently organised a three-day meeting of Haitian and Dominican journalists. Their website carries news articles from both Haitian and Dominican news sources translated respectively into Spanish and French in order to promote better cross-cultural understanding.

The Nov. 14-16 meeting drew 50 representatives from newspapers, radio and television – 25 Haitians and 25 Dominicans. All agreed to work towards better understanding between the two nations, draw the attention of their respective governments to the needs of the border region, and focus on specific human rights violations rather than allowing individual aggressions to escalate into disputes between their two nations.

A group of eight media representatives was selected to form an ongoing network, the “Dominican-Haitian Binational Press Network.”

Liberato is a rare Dominican so fluent in Kreyole that she was able to serve as translator for the event. She said that PLAN supported the project to give Dominican journalists an opportunity to meet their peers from the Haitian press, to perhaps help counteract some of the negative images of Haitians held by Dominicans, and vice versa.

Ruben Silie, sociologist and former general secretary of the Association of Caribbean States, explained to the group the history of the island from the discovery by Columbus to the present day. When questioned particularly about why Dominicans do not identify themselves with any African heritage despite the obvious racial characteristics in their appearances, Silie explained: “Under Trujillo, the history books were written to eliminate all mention of slavery. The people were told that they were descendants of Spanish colonists and Indians.”

The information caused a stir among the Haitians in the room. Marie Keetie Louis, a Haitian interpreter who lives in Santo Domingo, said, “But they were taught a lie. That explains so much about them.”

Jose Seruelle, ambassador from the Dominican Republic to Haiti responded: “One must remember that Trujillo was a fascist dictator, that he used the issue of Haitians for his own benefit. He did this to maintain himself, as a pretext to combat his opponents, his Dominican opponents. There was always the pretext of the blacks, the Haitians, who had to be put out of the country. But it should be remembered that this same Trujillo used the Haitian workers to exploit them and to enrich himself. There was hypocrisy there.”

“But in the interior of the Dominican soul, there is no racism,” Seruelle added. There is a racism that is present at the level of the schools, but this is fought more and more by the Dominican people and by the Dominican government because the Dominican government does not accept racism.”

“President Fernandez is a man who is anti-racist. He does not accept racism or discrimination on the basis of religion or the colour of the skin because we a people who are truly diverse, We have blacks, whites, people who come from Arab countries, from European countries, the United States, Canada, Cuba, Caribbean, how then, could we be racist? It is not possible. This is not the Dominican mentality. It is true that there are some historic events that have been badly explained. We must try to understand one another better.”

“If two people respect one another, they will get along. We are two people, the Dominicans and the Haitians, who are married to one another, in the sense that we share the same island, a common history, and a shared ecosystem. We must respect one another. We must preserve our island, we must love it,” he said.

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