Dominican Republic remembers the occupation that 200 years ago put an end to slavery

The Dominican Republic remembers this February 9 the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Haitian occupation, a complex period that lasted 22 years and in which a brutal military regime prevailed, but which also put an end to slavery in this part of the island.

On February 9, 1822, troops led by Haitian President Jean Pierre Boyer invaded Santo Domingo, after a brief period of sovereignty, known as the Ephemeral Independence, proclaimed on December 1, 1821, which meant the emancipation of the then Spanish colony.

The military of Haiti, which had a population and an army far superior to that of the Dominican Republic, entered Santo Domingo and received the keys to the city from José Núñez de Cáceres, leader of the Ephemeral Independence and who was in charge of the municipality.

An occupation to defend itself from Europe

Since its independence in 1804, Haiti declared “war to the death against everything that meant white and European powers, be it France, Spain or England”, explains to Efe historian Juan Daniel Balcácer, a member of the Dominican Academy of History.

The Haitian authorities always saw the Spanish part of the island “as the weak flank of their independence” and, thus, justified their “expansionist and belligerent” policy against the Dominican people, arguing that the island should be “one and indivisible”.

The excuse was to avoid any eventual foreign occupation of Spanish Santo Domingo that could threaten the survival of the Haitian state, Balcácer adds.

The “forgotten abolition

One of the positive measures of the invasion was the immediate abolition of slavery in the eastern part of the island, a “transcendental event regardless of who did it,” Dario Solano, president of the Dominican Platform of Afro-descendants and local coordinator of the Slave Route, promoted by Unesco, told Efe.

This is a fact that many are unaware of or refuse to accept and that may have its explanation in the same divergences that have historically had both countries that make up the island of Hispaniola, according to Solano.

“On February 9, 1822, really and effectively when the unification took place, slavery was tacitly abolished, but it has definitely not been recognized,” he said.

For Balcácer, however, in the Spanish part of the island, “slavery never had the dimensions of cruelty and plundering that it had in the colonial system imposed by the French in the western part of the island of Santo Domingo”.

Slavery, in Spanish Santo Domingo, “was practically nonexistent” due, fundamentally, “to the traditional subsistence mode of production that prevailed since the 17th century,” according to Solano.

22 years of repression and exile

In the Dominican Republic, the 22 years of Haitian occupation are remembered for the brutality of the military regime, for the large-scale expropriation of land, which forced its owners to leave the country, for the restrictions on the use of the Spanish language, the closure of the university and for the attempt to eliminate traditional customs.

These included restrictions on cockfighting, which continues to be celebrated today in the Dominican Republic, and restrictions on the hours of religious festivities.

“The Dominican intellectual Pedro Henríquez Ureña (1884-1946) summed up the Haitian invasion as follows: “Everyone who could fled to foreign lands.

According to Balcácer, the cultural and historical identity of the Dominican people, “substantially different from that of Haiti, and the will of the collective to build its own future in accordance with its vital needs as a people,” were “never taken into account.

A spur to independence

The occupation “ended up encouraging Dominicans to fight for their independence,” added the historian.

In 1838, a group of young men led by Juan Pablo Duarte founded the secret society La Trininaria, with the firm purpose of achieving the separation of the Dominican Republic from Haiti.

Six years later, on February 27, 1844, independence was proclaimed, giving way to twelve years of armed conflicts that consolidated the separation of the two countries.

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