For two centuries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been the most uneasy of neighbors. The two countries share the small island of Hispaniola, but they speak different languages, and their bloody and confrontational histories have made each distrust, fear and resent the other. In the aftermath of the Jan. 12 quake, people on both sides of the border see an opportunity to improve relations.
In addition to millions of dollars in government and private aid, the Dominican Republic has sent 15 bus-sized field kitchens to Haiti that each serve more than 60,000 hot meals a day, as well as dozens of generators and dozens of teams of electrical workers to help turn the lights on in Port-au-Prince. It has donated old school buses to serve as temporary classrooms, and is making plans to put thousands of Haitian students in Dominican schools and universities. Dominican doctors hastily turned a planned clinic on the border into a state-of-the-art hospital where thousands of injured Haitians have been treated.
“The Dominicans were the first to arrive with help, with doctors, food and aid,” says Ms. Blanchet. “They were stellar.”
“I think the tragedy has had the blessing of bringing our countries closer,” says Mr. Fernández. “From something bad something good can emerge.” Still, he warns, if a mass of Haitians cross the border to the Dominican Republic, it would add to pressure on strained public services, potentially threaten the Dominican government—and could turn into a regional security problem for the U.S. “Drug trafficking would increase. We could turn into failed states,” he says, referring to the possibility of a Haitian collapse.
The magnitude of the quake, which was felt in the Dominican capital, has spurred an outpouring of support from individuals as well as Dominican businesses. Dominican companies have donated some $17 million in aid.
Some see an opening for both sides in the disaster’s aftermath. “We see in this tragedy an opportunity for development on the island,” said Fernando Capellan, a Dominican businessman who is president of Grupo M, which operates a large free-trade zone on the Haitian side of the border where some 4,000 Haitian workers assemble items of clothing. The clothes are finished in Dominican plants and transported to the U.S. from Dominican ports. Mr. Capellan said he was cheered by a push of apparel-industry executives, supported by U.S. and Haitian trade officials, to encourage U.S. retailers to increase imports from Haiti.
Lisandro Macarulla, spokesman for Conep, the leading Dominican chamber of commerce, says there are opportunities for Dominican companies to sell everything from spaghetti to heavy equipment to Haiti, the country’s second-largest trading partner after the U.S. But he echoed Mr. Fernández’s worry that the international community will lose interest. “The situation presents both an opportunity and a danger,” he says.