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Race and borders fuelled 1937 Parsley Massacre on Dominican-Haitian frontier

By Maria Montecelos

Santo Domingo, Oct 2 (EFE).- Eighty-five years on, the horrors of the Parsley Massacre, which resulted in the mass killing of Haitians at the hands of Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in 1937, continue to haunt people on the island.

Haitians and Dominicans, who both share the island of Hispaniola, pronounce the Spanish word for parsley differently and, according to popular belief, this was used as a test of their origins during the weeks of persecution.


According to the director of the Memorial Museum of the Dominican Resistance (MMRD), Luisa de Peña, it is “impossible” to determine the exact number of victims, although, according to investigations by the center, some 17,000 people, including a minority of “black Dominicans”, died during the genocide.

During the harrowing weeks of persecution, army forces and criminals, who were released from prison, slaughtered men, women, children and the elderly from September to October 1937.

The perpetrators disposed of the bodies in the ocean, rivers and, to a lesser extent, in mass graves.

Also known as “the cut”, due to the use of bayonets and machetes in executions, the genocide of Haitians was part of a “whitening” policy of the Dominican population, a great aspiration of Trujillo that, before the massacre, prompted the dictator to order the mass expulsion of Haitians and to organize the arrival of emigrants from Europe.

Trujillo’s statistics chief, Vicente Tolentino, prepared a study where he claimed that regarding “the issue of improving our population’s race, the country will end up being, in the best of cases, mulatto (mixed race).”

Racism underpinned Trujillo’s genocide, De Peña explains, despite it being pitched as an economic issue exacerbated by social clashes over the ownership of the land that bordered Haiti.


According to Juan Daniel Balcácer, president of the Dominican Academy of History, the massacre was “an expression of the traditional border conflicts” that occurred even before Haiti and the Dominican Republic gained independence from France and Spain, respectively, due to “the lack of precision” in borders.

“The Haitian massacre was also a product of the porosity of the border” and the occupation of Dominican regions by Haitian citizens since the 19th century and which continued into the 20th century, despite the territorial treaty agreed upon by both nations in 1929, the historian adds.

The massacre’s racial component is “surprising” given Trujillo “rather than a mulatto, was black”, Balcácer says.

His maternal grandmother was of Haitian origin, but “he bragged about his Spanish ancestry” on his paternal grandfather’s side.


According to Balcácer, the genocide “significantly affected bilateral relations between the two states and caused an enormous commotion” that brought with it unexpected external pressure on the dictatorship.

The formal consequences were thrashed out in an economic compensation plan of $750,000 dollars slated between Trujillo and Haitian President Sténio Vincent, with international intermediation.

But only a fraction was issued and it is unknown if the money reached the families of the victims.

Trujillo’s authoritarian regime veiled the genocide and “made the Dominican people believe that no such massacre had occurred and that there had been isolated incidents” between peasants on both sides of the border.

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