Vol. 1, No. 1 November 30, 1998
Crossing is an electronic occasional publication that provides English language stories of the lives of Haitian immigrants and Dominican-Haitian communities in the Dominican Republic. It is published by John McLaughlin and the Centro de Reflexion, Encuentro y Solidaridad. "Living on Alert: Redadas in Batey Libertad", by John McLaughlin, the first in a projected series of articles, focuses on Army (Guardia) raids against undocumented migrants in Batey Libertad, near the municipality of Esperanza in the Dominican Republic, last October.
Bateys (the word, in the language of the indigenous inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola, meant "ballfield") are small plots of land (some government-owned, some private) in low-lying rural areas, originally cut-out on or near sugar plantations to house seasonal cane-cutting workers brought in from Haiti and other parts of the Antilles. The bateys of old lacked running water, electricity, toilet and garbage services, and cooking facilities. The workers that inhabited them (Haitians, in their great majority), brought in by the Dominican government on three to six-month visas, were shipped back out of the country at the end of their term.
The batey of the current day wears a slightly different face. The locations are still rural, but they are not only surrounded by-and the residents are not only employed by-sugar cane; in some areas, especially in the Cibao region of the northwest, sugar has been replaced by rice, corn, and tobacco. Some bateys, thanks to resident ingenuity and the help of Dominican and international NGOs, now have electricity (though it is subject to daily blackouts, a national phenomenon), outhouses, and above-ground pipe systems that bring water from mountain areas every other day. Most batey residents, however, live without these services.
Furthermore, not all these residents are necessarily temporary-nor are they necessarily Haitian. Many cross into this country with neither documents nor family, looking for a means of income that their own country cannot provide. Often without money or knowledge of Spanish, they settle in bateys, seeking the solidarity of other Haitians. Once there, the men may find work as rural day laborers and attempt to save money to bring back to their family or relatives.
Raids or redadas against the Haitian population in bateyes, in urban communities and streets have become a regular occurrence in the lives of these immigrants. Numerous abuses and violations of human rights have been frequently denounced. But the government pays no heed. It refuses to recognize that such violations take place.
Just last week a young Haitian was killed when he tried to flee from an Army Patrol who was rounding-up Haitians. The Dominican government announced the arrest of the patrol and that the shooting will be investigated.
Living on Alert: Redadas in Batey Libertad
By John McLaughlin
They arrived nearly right at the hour they were expected. The visitors this Saturday night were regulars, to be sure, and as such everyone knew them, though few have ever said much to them, much less invited them into their homes.
A Guardia (army) patrol of seven members rolled down the main strip of Batey Libertad, near Esperanza, at 10:15 pm this Saturday, October 3, and dispatched itself into the community. When it arrived, I was seated in front of the house of my friend, whom I'll call Romero, talking with two of his sons and some other boys with whom I'd played soccer that afternoon.
It happened before I even had time to think. There was a single shout, and everyone-the boys on the bench with me, the men in talking outside Romero's colmado (small grocery store), and Romero's family itself-scattered, those without legal documents fleeing for the river or field areas, and those (like Romero's family) who have papers but "appear" to be Haitian scurrying to their homes to retrieve their papers and then to lock and bar the doors. In a couple of seconds I was by myself on the bench, from which point I could see the patrol's truck come to a quick halt.
I retreated to the entrance of Romero's colmado to watch what would happen. This evening, I decided that I would stay in plain view, so that I could see the soldiers and they me. I had been present during redadas (raids) in the past, but had not witnessed much. During one, in March of this year, I had been eating dinner inside Romero's house, talking with three undocumented rural day laborers. Minutes after they had finished telling me of their struggles in obtaining passports, the shout went through the batey (though I did not hear it), and they were gone, hiding themselves in the back room of Romero's house. Apparently some batey residents were put in the truck and deported.
Tonight, the community was ready-unlike the second Saturday in September, when, before the Guardia arrived (one of their first visits in what has now become a month-long campaign of terror) the street had been clogged with many of the batey's 1500 residents. Tonight, the street was nearly empty, just some folks passing from one place to another-no one sitting around makeshift tables as I'd seen a month ago, sharing rum and games of cards. Tonight, the batey was well-lit, by both street light and the nearly-full moon, but even so, I was nearly incredulous upon seeing the sly grin on the Lieutenant's face as he rather calmly but purposefully exited the truck, carrying a hammer-head in his hand like a snub-nosed pistol, and wearing a rather elegant plain wooden crucifix outside his military-green T-shirt. He called out, into the air, "Haitianos!" and then, as he disappeared from my sight, rapped sharply with the hammerhead upon the tin door of the house in front of Romero's.
The Lieutenant kept to form this evening. During the past four weeks, the people of the community report, he has brought his patrol through the batey six days a week, always after 10pm (with the exception of one Sunday when they arrived at 11:30am). As the first part of his routine (after he issues the battle cry), he passes by the house of a certain Haitian gentleman who has a passport but no visa, and demands of him a beer and/or a bottle of rum, which he will drink during the course of the redada. On occasion, it is said, he prefers to extract 50 pesos , as was the case this night. The Haitian man, without money, quickly came to Romero for a loan, which was provided.
According to Romero and other batey residents, this type of extortion is quite common. Members of this patrol will threaten to deport undocumented Haitians unless they are paid 50 or 100 pesos on the spot. Those who are without money get cuffed and put in the back of the truck. And this is when the soldiers are in a good mood.
Some nights, the soldiers are intent on deportation. Before they appeared on Saturday, I sat in Romero's house and talked with Malinda, a round-faced young woman of 19 whose dark, glossy skin was more convincing than her cedula (government issued ID), in the eyes of the patrol on Thursday night. As Malinda tells it, she was caught unprepared-and what preparations she had taken didn't help. At about 10 pm, she was in her room, the door closed but unlocked, getting ready to go to sleep. Though she wasn't fully clothed when the soldiers took her, she still had her cedula on her person, which she presented. But when she was placed in the truck with the 4 other legal Dominicans of "Haitian" appearance sequestered from other bateys, she learned that legality wasn't amounting to much that night. The others had presented their cedulas as well, but had been arrested regardless. The five of them were taken to the fortaleza (army garrison) in Mao, where they spent the night without access to toilets. Around 8:00 the next morning a colonel visited the cell, checked the arrestees' cedulas, and released them immediately. He offered, by way of explanation, that the soldiers of this patrol could not have been sure of the veracity of the cedulas, and thus were required to detain the "suspects" until the documents could be checked by a higher authority.
Some nights, they are intent on humiliation. I talked with a 46 year-old man named Johnny, a bracero who's been living in Batey Libertad on and off for about 10 years, earning money to bring to his family in Haiti, and (he hopes) to buy a passport. Three Saturdays ago, he was also caught unprepared. Like Malinda, Johnny was in his room and did not hear the warning shout or the call of the Lieutenant. He and the two men who share the dirt-floor, cardboard-walled, tin-doored room with him had already locked the door and gone to sleep, exhausted from a long week of work. The knocking at the door woke them all up, and Johnny asked who was there. The response was definitive: the door quickly came off its hinges, and Johnny, wearing only underwear and a T-shirt, was nabbed. His roommates fared better, breaking through the cardboard walls and escaping through another door in what appears to be a labyrinth of rooms inside a large rusted-tin edifice. In the truck, Johnny pleaded to be able to retrieve his pants, but was not permitted. His room was left open, and when he returned 2 weeks later, everything-his machete, his bedsheets, his clothes, and his money-had been stolen.
Johnny was taken to the fortaleza in Mao, where he and the other detainees spent the night. In the morning, they were put to work cleaning the prison. At one point, a soldier retrieved a bucket full of excrement from a toilet area and threw the contents in Johnny's face, then ordered him to find some fresh water to clean up the mess. None of the detainees were given food that morning, and when they requested to be able to use the toilet, they were told that such a service would cost 5 pesos. About noontime, the group was sent to the fortaleza in Dajabon, where they were again put to work cleaning the prison, again without food or toilet access. At 6 pm, a large group of prisoners (Johnny claims it was some 250) was taken from Dajabon five minutes across the border to Quanaminthe in Haiti, where they were left by the side of the road, without food or clothing. Johnny slept in the street that night, and the next day headed to his family's house in another part of Haiti, where he spent about two weeks before deciding to risk 400 pesos of his family's savings on illegal transport (for undocumenteds) to return to the DR.
Some nights, it seems, it's about more than deportation, or humiliation. It's about wielding power, and even, enacting cruelty. This Saturday night, when the Lieutenant passed by Romero's colmado for the last time and whispered smilingly, "La Guardia ya se fue" ("The soldiers are gone"), I followed him to the main strip where he boarded his truck and backed it out of the batey. A young soldier stood in the back, armed with an M-16, guarding the five detainees seated on the benches. As the truck reached the carreterra, another uniformed soldier, an older man with glasses and graying hair beneath his camouflaged cap, emerged from the back, unlit area of the batey that leads to the river. He was accompanied by three young men in plain civilian clothes, and all carried billyclubs. I stood with four young men of the batey, all members of the adult soccer team, and as we watched this group head toward the truck, another soldier emerged from a dark pathway between two terribly rusted houses. He was also a young man, 21 or 22 perhaps, of medium build and light skin. Like the guard in the back of the truck, he was fully uniformed and armed with an automatic weapon. He approached our group, and asked the man closest to him if he had a passport. The man answered with an eerily nonchalant, "Yes." The soldier was unimpressed. "Where is it?" he asked, abruptly. The man pointed to his back pocket. At this the soldier whipped his rifle from his hip to an at-attention position across his breast, and demanded, "Present it!" The young man of the batey, his nerves apparently as steely cool and confident as his baggy T-shirt, oversized jeans, and tilted cap would suggest, continued his slow movement toward his back pocket. The soldier made an abrupt move, shifting his stance and beginning to level his gun. But at that moment, one of the officers called for him from the truck, twice, and he quickly retracted his gun and trotted off.
In the past month, as many as 40 people have been deported from Batey Libertad, some of whom, like Malinda, are legal Dominican citizens. Many people, not only in this month but also in months and years past, have been subjected to forced labor and physical deprivation as was Johnny. According to Romero, many detainees in Mao come from outlying areas, from bracero quarters on larger plantations, and they are often arrested shortly before a scheduled payday. Romero surmises that the employer makes an arrangement with a military official, offering the official some monetary compensation to deport the workers. In other cases, he claims, detainees (including some from Batey Libertad, one of whom I met Saturday) are taken to be used as workers on land owned by a military official. The men are detained for up to four days, are given little food and no access to toilets or bathing facilities, sleep on floors in crowded quarters, and are sometimes beaten by the soldiers.
"I live in a constant state of worry," said Romero when I asked him how the redadas affect him personally. Born in Batey Libertad to Haitian parents (his father, a cane worker, was an original resident of this community), Romero is a full Dominican citizen, but never leaves his house at night without his papers. He has instructed his oldest son, Tony, 16, to carry his papers in like fashion, and not to leave the area in front of his house at night. Tony will soon have his cedula, but Romero has six other children, all younger, and he feels the same could happen to them. And for the youngest, he is especially concerned. Carlitos, 4, and Carla, 2, are old enough to walk, but not old enough to move quickly away from or to fend off people sprinting away from pursuing soldiers. In a raid, with residents and soldiers alike running quickly and single-mindedly, the children could be all-too-easily stampeded, he fears.
Everyone is affected, and Sunday morning was the proof. Sunday is usually the liveliest time in the batey, a day of long cups of coffee, joyous church services, and scrubbed-behind-the-ears children in pretty dresses or pressed shirts. But this morning, as I talked with Romero in front of the pastor's house along the main strip, the mood was subdued. "The best time is after they come," Romero said, "because then everyone knows they can enjoy the rest of the night. But the next day, everyone's on alert from the time they wake up." Few people walked past as we talked, and little music could be heard.
CROSSING is published by John McLaughlin and the Centro de Reflexion, Encuentro y Solidaridad: ONE RESPE, for further information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org