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Haiti Earthquake: Impact on the Dominican Republic?

How has the disastrous January 12 earthquake in Haiti impacted its island neighbor, the Dominican Republic (DR) and how might it impact the DR in the future?  It’s impossible to say what the long term consequences might be; however, the short term is more clear.  

The actual quake was felt in some areas of the Dominican Republic, including the capital city, Santo Domingo.  High rise buildings shook, sending people downstairs and into the streets, fearing that the tremor might intensify.  Thankfully, there was no damage or deaths in the Dominican Republic as a result of the devastating Haitian earthquake.  

The Dominican Republic’s response to the Haiti earthquake has been both one of concern for the victims and immediate action.  The authorities, businesses, humanitarian groups, and the Dominican military joined forces to mobilize humanitarian aid.  Dominican humanitarian groups arrived in Haiti only a few hours after the earthquake struck, and many have remained there since. Bottled water and food is being sent to survivors, while heavy machinery is being sent to remove the rubble.  Hospitals and airports have been made available.  The Dominican Institute of Telecommunications (Indotel) helped restore telephone services.  Dominican technicians are helping to restore power. Along with the International Red Cross, the Dominican Red Cross has been providing health relief services.  The Dominican government has spent more than $20 million dollars in humanitarian aid for Haitians.    

Maria Montez International Airport located in the southwestern Barahona province of the Dominican Republic has been lent to Haiti, allowing Haitians who live abroad use the airport to travel to and from Port-au-Prince.  It’s estimated that the airport is handling one hundred and fifty flights per day. The last stretch of the trip to and from Haiti will be made by bus.

Haiti Embassador Fritz Cineas called the Dominican authorities decision to offer Maria Montez Airport a great gesture of solidarity with the Haitian people.  He also thanked the Dominican government for agreeing to build a 12 kilometer span of highway from Jimani to the Haitian town, Fond Parisien.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said that “From the beginning of this crisis, the Dominican Republic government has been providing very generously and swiftly all possible assistance to its neighboring country, Haiti, and we are very much grateful to them. I am also aware of the Dominican Republic’s intention to dispatch troops there – that is also welcome. For the immigration issues, I am also aware that the Dominican Republic Government is trying to accommodate as many as possible, those people within the existing rules and regulations of their country, but they have been very generous.”

Despite the tremendous amount of support the Dominican Republic has given, and continues to give to Haiti, there are some who have criticized the Dominican Republic for not doing more.

Historically, there has been tension between the two countries.  The Dominican Republic earned its independence from Haiti in 1844, and has since built a stable government and economy for itself.  Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and would require far more aid than the Dominican Republic, with its limited resources, could ever possibly offer.   

For years the Dominican Republic has been criticized for its treatment of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Though the Dominican Republic has always defended its right to exercise tight border control, about a million Haitian immigrants live in the Dominican Republic, mostly working in construction and agriculture. The DR has frequently been bombarded with refugees fleeing Haiti’s political and natural disasters. In the aftermath of the earthquake, some say Haitian refugees should be allowed to enter and stay in the Dominican Republic. It’s even been suggested that Punta Cana’s luxury resorts should house displaced Haitians, instead of accommodating wealthy tourists.  

Dominican hospitals are currently overwhelmed with sick and wounded Haitians. When the injured Haitians are well, the Dominican Republic will want them to return to their own country. It is likely that some will not agree with this approach.

Though the Dominican Republic has opened its border to accommodate truckloads of Haitians badly injured from the earthquake, the DR is still maintaining immigration controls fearing some of the 4000 inmates who escaped from a Port-au-Prince prison may seek refuge in the DR.  

It remains unclear just how the Dominican Republic–and Haiti–will be impacted by the recent earthquake disaster.  If international aid is successful long-term, perhaps Haiti will offer more opportunity for its people, and the country will become stronger in the years following the horrendous suffering caused by the quake.  Perhaps relations between the countries will be improved as a result of the outpouring of support Dominicans have offered their neighbor.  As to how the earthquake will effect the Dominican economy, world perceptions of the DR, and even tourists and real estate markets, we will have to wait and see.

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