The Dominican Republic has begun work on a border wall with Haiti, sparking controversy between the neighbouring Caribbean countries.
Construction began this week on a concrete barrier that will span nearly half of the 244-mile (392km) border between the two countries, with Dominican officials claiming it will reduce flows of migrants, drugs, weapons and contraband.
“The benefit for both nations will be of great importance,” said the Dominican president, Luis Abinader, in a statement given at a ground-breaking ceremony in the Dominican border town of Dajabón, adding that the first phase of the project should be completed within nine months.
While the two countries that make up the island of Hispaniola are close geographically, their differences are stark. The Dominican Republic, with a population of 10.8 million, is a booming tourist destination with year-round visitors to its resorts and golf courses. Haiti, with a population of 11.4 million, is the western hemisphere’s poorest country, wracked with crime and mired in political and economic crisis.
“Each time Haiti has suffered a catastrophe, the Dominicans have always been the first to arrive with help,” Abinader said. “However, the Dominican Republic cannot take charge of the political and economic crisis in that country.”
Haiti has been beset by overlapping crises. The country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in early July last year in circumstances that remain unclear. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake wrecked the country’s rural south in August.
About 500,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, according to a 2018 survey. Many of them work in the construction, agriculture and tourism industries for low pay.
There are concerns the wall will bring opportunities for bribery. Santiago Riverón, the mayor of Dajabon, where construction began, claimed that soldiers have profited from illegal border crossings.
“Now we have to work with the wall in the minds of the military, who are the…