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Why make another to-do list when faced with your own mortality? Sharing might not be the best verb to describe the often troubled relationship between the two nations. The island was originally a colony of Spain, until the western half was ceded to France as a consequence of Continental wars in the 18th century. After its independence from France, Haiti went on to occupy the whole island until Tellingly, it is this date, not that of their secession from Spain, that Dominicans celebrate as their national independence day.
Incentives were offered to anyone willing to homestead in our version of the American Wild West. A treaty had been signed, delineating where one country ended and the other began. This was news to some Haitians and Dominicans who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the border. Those who disregarded the treaty paid dearly eight years later, when Trujillo, furious over the violation of national sovereignty, ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians still living on Dominican soil.
What finally propelled me to undertake the journey was a controversial ruling in the fall of by the highest court in the land. This denationalization mostly affected the over , Dominicans of Haitian descent. There was talk of erecting a wall, militarizing the border. I might never be able to make the trip if the xenophobes won the day.
And so on a sunny morning in February, my husband, Bill, and I set out on a journey in a four-wheel-drive pickup that would take us from Monte Cristi in the northwest, to Pedernales at the southernmost tip of the border. It was only miles, but we allotted ourselves a generous five days, given the primitive roads, the meager or no services, and all the unexpected things always to be expected when you set off for parts unknown without the benefit of an Anthony Bourdain road crew.
We were sticking to Dominican soil, so as not to have to deal with the endless red-tape permits required to drive into Haitian territory. In one of the few light moments during this rough stretch, Bill turned to me in the passenger seat. It used to be the largest port in the country a century ago when its exports of mahogany and cedar and Campeche dye for fabrics were in much demand in Europe. But with the world wars of the last century, and the Trujillo dictatorship centralizing control in the capital, Monte Cristi declined.