But the intensity of the hatred and violence long directed against Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in Medina’s country — and against anyone black enough to be confused for either — is staggering, like something out of Mississippi in the 1890s, or Europe before World War II. In February, a Haitian shoe-shiner was lynched and hanged from a tree in a public park in the nation’s second-largest city, Santiago, while a crowd across town burned Haitian flags and chanted: “Haitians out! If it’s war they want, it’s war they’ll get!” Other victims identified as haitianos have been lynched in the past year for alleged infractions such as robbing a convenience store and burning a Dominican flag. Dominican newspapers are filled with cartoons depicting people of Haitian descent as bug-eyed, big-lipped golliwogs babbling Spanish in heavy dialect. When I lived in Santo Domingo, there were bars that openly denied entry to blacks, a practice that apparently persists.
In early 2006, my first long-term overseas posting as a journalist took me to the Dominican Republic. From my new home in Santo Domingo, I planned to write about tourism, baseball, corruption and drug trafficking, while working on my Spanish. If things went well, I figured, I might even get to cross the island of Hispaniola’s international border, into Haiti, whose chronic crises — including a recent coup d’état that had overthrown the president — drew more international interest.
To my surprise, I arrived in the midst of a crisis of the Dominicans’ own. Two dozen Haitian immigrants had suffocated in the back of a van headed toward Santo Domingo. Each year, thousands of Haitians venture east into the Dominican Republic in search of low-wage jobs in agriculture and construction and at the big all-inclusive resorts. The 69 migrants in the van paid about $70 each to be stuffed in like cattle, with no room to breathe. Dominican police officers learned of their deaths when the drivers began throwing bodies out of the van as it sped down the highway.
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