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The Plight of Haitian Construction Workers in the Dominican Republic!

Who Will Defend them?

By Emmanuel Roy

Las Terrenas, D.R.– The Dominican Republic has by far the largest group of Haitians in the Haitian Diaspora, approximately 4 million of us within the population of the country next door. The Haitian Diaspora in the Dominican Republic is made up mainly of students, laborers, businessmen, and families. 

The laborers, probably in the hundreds of thousands, face more problems than others, especially because many of them enter the Dominican Republic without any document whatsoever and go about looking for employment.  Most of the young men ranging between the ages of 20 and 45, routinely enter the Dominican Republic looking for jobs mainly in the construction industry. 

Las Terrenas, a town on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, in the province of Samaná, is known for its scenic landscapes, white sandy beaches and clear waters. Tourism is constantly growing in this region, due to investments in tourist infrastructure, such as hotels, clubs, restaurants and shopping centers, of which “Puerto Plaza las Terrenas” is typical.  

Las Terrenas was founded, in 1946, when then-President Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered rural inhabitants of Santo Domingo to resettle in the town as farmers and fishermen. Las Terrenas was then a small fishing village, isolated from the rest of the country. Over the years the village’s old fishermen’s cabins have been slowly transformed into bars, restaurants, and shops.

Las Terrenas is a vacation destination for many tourists from Europe and the United States.  At the center of town, along the beach, are several high-priced restaurants and bars owned mostly by foreigners. Visible also is the booming construction industry. 

Along the seaside are many job sites where hotels, condos and other properties are being built.  But without cheap Haitian labor, the Dominican Republic would have serious problems finding construction workers to fulfill this need.

CLICK LINK TO HEAR THEIR STORY!!!!! Secou pou Ayisyen nan sin doming yo! –

Thus, Haiti provides a young, ready, and cheap labor force who is often mistreated by Dominican employers and the Dominican immigration service. Worse yet, the Haitian government does not seem to care about this group of people.

I did not come to Las Terrenas to report on any problem. I was on a relaxation binge at the beach with my good friend Peter Mayas. However, after meeting and conversing with four young men that I casually met, I decided to write this article and document the interview through a video. (to see the video(click here).

These young men are in no way different from me, except for the accident of birth and opportunities.

Who shall speak for them, and who will defend their interests?

The four Haitian young men I met at the beach range in age from 25 to 32. They are from different parts of Haiti, and find themselves in the Dominican Republic without any identification document. 

Nevertheless, all four have managed to find jobs as construction workers. Vincent, 29 years, is a brick layer from Arcahaie; Wisnick, 25, from Crois-des-Bouquets, is a cement and concrete finisher; Joseph, 24, from Port-au-Prince, is a laborer, and Aristhène, 32, from Gonaives, is a mason.

These four young men are the reasons why the Office de La Diaspora Haïtienne (ODH) needs an office in the Dominican Republic, to address their needs. Vincent told me he came to Santo Domingo from Arcahaie nine months ago. He has worked at several job sites all over the country. 

When we met, he had been working in Las Terrenas for two months, and he will soon move to La Romana, to work for the same company that owns the job site in Las Terrenas.  

All of the young men work for the same company. The company never asks them for identification documents, neither does it inquire about whether they are legally in the country.   

As it is, the construction industry in the Dominican Republic relies heavily on cheap Haitian laborers made almost entirely of men without any legal status in the Dominican Republic. These workers are often mistreated by their employers who, at times, don’t hesitate to call immigration, if any demands a pay increase, or were to misbehave.

Joseph told me a story off camera, because he was afraid of what could happen if the video were to be seen by his former employer. Two years ago, he was working for a company in Santo Domingo as an assistant brick layer. For three weeks, the company did not pay him. When he threatened to leave the job site, the company paid him, but a few minutes later summoned immigration. Joseph was promptly arrested and deported to Haiti. When he was arrested, he had nearly $58,000 pesos (roughly $1,200 U.S.)  on his person and an I-Phone 10. The police confiscated the money and his cell phone, and dropped him at the Haitian side of the border.  

His experience is similar to thousands of Haitian construction workers whose properties are wrongly confiscated, once they are arrested by immigration police.  

The Haitian consulate in Santo Domingo, no different from the government it represents, is absolutely useless and often takes a year or more to issue a requested passport. The plight of Haitians is dire indeed, but no one suffers more than the construction workers.  

The Office of the Haitian Diaspora can make the difference by opening an office in Santo Domingo designed to provide multiple services, including defending the right of workers, especially those in the construction industry.

HDPAC, the Haitian Diaspora Political Action Committee, recently opened an office in Kenscoff as a communication hub to establish a diaspora presence in Haiti. A similar office could be opened in Santo Domingo or in Santiago. Unlike the office in Haiti, the one established in the Dominican Republic should be charged with providing services, including a legal section with lawyers to defend the right of those workers at the work sites. 

Though Dominican laws provide criteria and guidelines to protect construction workers, employers routinely violate them, because they know that the workers are illegal and can ill afford to complain.

The office that will operate in the Dominican Republic can be self-sustained because the organization would charge a small fee to cover the cost of running it. But to set up the legal entity and pay for its initial operation, the founders of ODH will have to pay for operation and marketing for approximately six to twelve months. Thereafter, the office should be able to be self-sustained.

After the interview with my new friends, I decided to exchange telephone numbers with all four, because I want to remain in touch with them while they move throughout the Dominican Republic, building a country that often threats them as sub-humans.

This reminds me of centuries past, when slaves in America were used to build the United States. Yet, for centuries they were denied the right to live as humans. Except that this time, as far as these young men are concerned, it is a matter of survival. If it were not to the Dominican Republic, it would be to another place, perhaps to a South American country, where many of our brothers and sisters have risked their lives to find the opportunity to live a decent life and find a job to feed their families.

Often have I heard from other Haitians about how the Dominicans often mistreat Haitians. A true statement indeed, but no one mistreats Haitians more than other Haitians and their own government. As sad as it is to say, Haiti has reached the bottom of the pit. For us to come out of this “shithole,” to use the statement of a foul-mouthed American former president, we must rid ourselves of the current class of politicians in Haiti. We must create a new leadership, put our petty personal interests aside, and look at what is good for our people.

I am eternally hopeful that Haiti would one day be a country where every Haitian can live peacefully. How long will it take before we reach that time is a question that Joseph, Vincent, Aristhène and Wisnick have asked me. I only wish I knew the answer.

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