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Parsley massacre

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Parsley massacre
Haitian corpses after the 1937 massacre.jpg
Haitians murdered in the parsley massacre
LocationDominican Republic
Date2 October 1937 (1937-10-02)
8 October 1937 (1937-10-08)
TargetHaitians in the Dominican Republic
Attack type
PerpetratorsDominican Army
MotiveAnti-black racism, Antihaitianismo

The parsley massacre (Spanish: el corte "the cutting";[5] Creole: kout kouto-a "the stabbing"[6]) (French: Massacre du Persil; Spanish: Masacre del Perejil; Haitian Creole: Masak nan Pèsil) was a mass killing that took place in October 1937 against Haitians living in the Dominican Republic's northwestern frontier and in certain parts of the contiguous Cibao region. Dominican Army troops came from different areas of the country[7](p161) and carried out the massacre on the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Haitian President Élie Lescot put the death toll at 12,168; in 1953, historian Jean Price-Mars cited 12,136 deaths and 2,419 injuries. In 1975, the Dominican Republic's interim Foreign Minister Joaquín Balaguer put the number of dead at 17,000. Historian Bernardo Vega estimated as many as 35,000.[1]


Depiction of Rafael Trujillo on a 1930s stamp

Haitian-Dominican relations have long been strained by competition for the resources of Hispaniola. Rafael Trujillo (in power in the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961), a strong proponent of anti-Haitianism, regarded Haitians as a racially and culturally inferior people. He saw Haitian migration as a detriment to the social and economic development of the Dominican nation.


On 2 October 1937 Trujillo made his intentions towards the Haitian community clear in a brief speech he gave during a celebration in his honor in the province of Dajabón.

Trujillo reportedly acted in response to reports of Haitians stealing cattle and crops from Dominican borderland residents. According to some sources, the massacre killed an estimated 20,000 Haitians[10][11] living in the northern frontier—clearly at Trujillo's direct order. However, the exact number is impossible to calculate for many reasons. Among them is the fact that, although the Dominican Army murdered many of the victims in public view, they carried out most of the slayings en masse in isolated areas, leaving either no witnesses or just a few survivors. Another reason why the number of victims is unknown is that an untold but very great number of their bodies ended up either in the sea, where sharks consumed their remains, or in mass graves, where acidic soil degraded them, leaving nothing for forensic investigators to exhume.[12]

Trujillo commanded his army to kill all Haitians living in the Dominican Republic's northwestern frontier and in certain parts of the contiguous Cibao region. Between October 2 and October 8, hundreds of Dominican troops, who came mostly from other areas of the country, poured into the region.[7](p161) These armed forces killed Haitians with rifles, machetes, shovels, knives, and bayonets. Haitian children were reportedly thrown in the air and caught by soldiers' bayonets, then thrown on their mothers' corpses.[13] Some died while trying to flee to Haiti across the Artibonite River, which has often been the site of bloody conflict between the two nations.[14] Survivors who managed to cross the border and return to Haiti told stories of family members being hacked with machetes and strangled by the soldiers, and children bashed against rocks and tree trunks.[15] The use of military units from outside the region was not always enough to expedite soldiers' killings of Haitians. U.S. legation informants reported that many soldiers "confessed that in order to perform such ghastly slaughter they had to get 'blind' drunk."[7](p167) Several months later, a barrage of killings and repatriations of Haitians occurred in the southern frontier.

The Artibonite River river forms part of the international border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Lauren Derby claims that a majority of those who died were born in the Dominican Republic and belonged to well-established Haitian communities in the borderlands.[16] However, it is difficult for anyone to ascertain a victim's place of birth, especially considering that, in most cases, their identities are unknown, and their births may not have been officially recorded. Furthermore, Haiti has historically awarded citizenship by Jus sanguinis, making anyone with a Haitian parent a Haitian citizen, whereas from as early as 1929 until 2014, the Dominican Republic followed a restricted Jus soli citizenship policy, which excluded from this privilege illegal residents and anyone not having legal permanent residency status.[17][18]

Contributing factors

The French colony of Saint-Domingue in the Western coast, and the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo in the rest of Hispaniola island. The border has moved a number of times in history.

Between the years of 1910-1930, there was an extensive migration of Haitians to their neighboring islands of Dominican Republic and Cuba in search of work. The exact number of Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic is not readily available but it is more than the estimated 200,000 that emigrated to Cuba. Among several authors, the Haiti-Dominican Republic migration corridor is concurred as far more important than the Haiti-Cuba migration due to geographic proximity. On the other hand, the large influx of Haitians to the Dominican Republic further divided the complicated relationship between the two nations.[19]The Dominican Republic, formerly the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, is the eastern portion of the island of Hispaniola and occupies five-eighths of the land while having ten million inhabitants.[20] In contrast, Haiti, the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, is on the western three-eighths of the island[21][22] and has almost exactly the same population, with an estimated 200 people per square kilometre.[23]

Population growth led to many Haitians living on land too mountainous, eroded, or dry for productive farming. Instead of staying on lands incapable of supporting them, many Haitians migrated to Dominican soil, where land hunger was low. While Haitians benefited by gaining farm land, Dominicans in the borderlands subsisted mostly on agriculture, and benefited from the ease of exchange of goods with Haitian markets.[citation needed]

Due to inadequate roadways connecting the borderlands to major cities, "Communication with Dominican markets was so limited that the small commercial surplus of the frontier slowly moved toward Haiti."[24] This threatened Trujillo's regime because of long-standing border disputes between the two nations. If large numbers of Haitian immigrants began to occupy the less densely populated Dominican borderlands, the Haitian government might try to make a case for claiming Dominican land. Additionally, loose borders let contraband pass freely, and without taxes between nations, depriving the Dominican Republic of tariff revenue.

Furthermore, the Dominican government saw the loose borderlands as a liability in terms of possible formation of revolutionary groups that could flee across the border with ease, while at the same time amassing weapons and followers.[25]

The extraordinary violence of that unfortunate episode also reflects the potential depths of Dominican anti-Haitianism. In fact, anti-Haitianism has grown and, above all, it has spread during the last sixty years until the present. These migrants have been subjected to exploitation and continued human rights abuses. Moreover, Dominican anti-Haitianism has a remarkable racial dimension, since Haitians have been identified as "blacks" in the Dominican Republic, in contrast to Dominicans who, since colonial times, have seldom assumed that kind of collective identity (although the vast majority has not been identified – nor has it been identified by others – as "whites").[26]


Despite attempts to blame Dominican civilians, it has been confirmed by U.S. sources that "bullets from Krag rifles were found in Haitian bodies, and only Dominican soldiers had access to this type of rifle."[27] Therefore, the Haitian Massacre, which is still referred to as el corte (the cutting) by Dominicans and as kouto-a (the knife) by Haitians, was, "...a calculated action on the part of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo to homogenize the furthest stretches of the country in order to bring the region into the social, political and economic fold,"[14] and rid his republic of Haitians.

Thereafter, Trujillo began to develop the borderlands to link them more closely with urban areas.[28] These areas were modernized, with the addition of modern hospitals, schools, political headquarters, military barracks, and housing projects—as well as a highway to connect the borderlands to major cities.

Additionally, after 1937, quotas restricted the number of Haitians permitted to enter the Dominican Republic, and a strict and often discriminatory border policy was enacted. Dominicans continued to deport and kill Haitians in southern frontier regions—as refugees died of exposure, malaria and influenza.[29]

In the end, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Haitian president Sténio Vincent sought reparations of $750,000, of which the Dominican government paid $525,000 (US$ 9,149,826.39 in 2018 dollars). Of this 30 dollars per victim, survivors received only 2 cents each, due to corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.[30]

Condemnation of the massacres was not limited to international sources, as a number of Trujillo's exiled political opponents also publicly spoke out against the events. In November 1937, four anti-Trujillistas were declared "unworthy Dominicans" and "traitors to the Homeland" for their comments – Rafael Brache, José Manuel Jimenes, Juan Isidro Jimenes Grullón, and Buenaventura Sánchez.[31]

In popular culture

The term parsley massacre was used frequently in the English-speaking media, however the name used by historians and scholars is Haitian massacre of 1937. The expression "parsley massacre" does not appear in works published by Trujillo-era scholars such as Jésus de Galindez (1956), Robert D. Crassweller (1966), Eric Paul Roorda (1996), Lauro Capdevila (1998), and Lauren Derby (2009). It was used frequently in the English-speaking media 75 years after the event, but most scholars recognize that it is a misconception, as research by Lauren Derby shows that the explanation is based more on myth than on personal accounts.[32]

  • Edwidge Danticat's novel The Farming of Bones chronicles the Haitians' escape from the Dominican Republic following the massacre and the spread of antihaitianismo. Edwidge Danticat's short story "Nineteen Thirty-Seven", from Krik? Krak! also refers to the Massacre River as a site that divides Haiti from the Dominican Republic, and where the protagonist's grandmother is killed.[33]
  • Rita Dove drew inspiration from the massacre for her poem "Parsley".[34]
  • The massacre, along with many other incidents of the Trujillo era, is discussed in the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Dominican-American author Junot Díaz.
  • A fictional Haitian woman named Chucha is discussed as having escaped from this massacre in the book How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez.
  • In the novel Massacre River, Haitian author René Philoctète tells the story of the massacre through his narrative of a Dominican man trying to save his Haitian wife.[35]
  • The massacre is a focus of Jacques Stephen Alexis' 1955 novel General Sun, My Brother.
  • The Parsley Massacre is chronicled in the novel El masacre se pasa a pié (The massacre crossed on foot) by Dominican author Freddy Prestol Castillo.[36]
  • In Roxane Gay's short fiction, "In the Manner of Water or Light", a woman reveals to her daughter and granddaughter how she became pregnant with her only child in the Dajabón River during the parsley massacre.
  • When Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Feast of the Goat, mentions 'What do five, ten, twenty thousand Haitians matter when it's a matter of saving an entire people', it refers to the justification of the 1937 ethnic cleansing parsley massacre of all Haitians in the Dominican Republic border area.

See also


  1. ^ a b Wucker, Michele (8 April 2014). Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola. ISBN 9781466867888.
  2. ^ Newman, Graeme R (19 October 2010). Crime and Punishment around the World [4 volumes]: [Four Volumes]. ISBN 9780313351341.
  3. ^ Tunzelmann, Alex von (13 September 2012). Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean. ISBN 9781471114779.
  4. ^ Charlot, Marjorie (19 November 2015). Did You Know?: Over One Hundred Facts about Haiti and Her Children. ISBN 9781491776896.
  5. ^ Wucker, Michele. "The River Massacre: The Real and Imagined Borders of Hispaniola". Windows on Haiti. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  6. ^ Lauro Capdevila, La dictature de Trujillo : République dominicaine, 1930–1961, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1998
  7. ^ a b c Turits, Richard Lee (2004). Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History. Stanford University Press.
  8. ^ Law, I.; Tate, S. (19 May 2015). Caribbean Racisms: Connections and Complexities in the Racialization of the Caribbean Region. Springer. ISBN 9781137287281.
  9. ^ Turtis, Richard Lee (2002). "A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed: The 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic". Hispanic American Historical Review. 82 (3): 589–635 [p. 613]. doi:10.1215/00182168-82-3-589.
  10. ^ pg 78 – Robert Pack (editor), Jay Parini (Editor). Introspections. PUB. p. 2222.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
    On 2 October 1937, Trujillo had ordered 10,000 Haitian cane workers executed because they could not roll the "R" in perejil the Spanish word for parsley.
  11. ^ Cambeira, Alan. Quisqueya la bella (1996 ed.). M.E. Sharpe. p. 182. ISBN 1-56324-936-7.
    anyone of African descent found incapable of pronouncing correctly, that is, to the complete satisfaction of the sadistic examiners, became a condemned individual. This holocaust is recorded as having a death toll reaching thirty thousand innocent souls, Haitians as well as Dominicans.
  12. ^ Roorda, Eric Paul (28 April 2016). Historical Dictionary of the Dominican Republic. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 139.
  13. ^ Paulino, Edward (16 February 2016). Dividing Hispaniola: The Dominican Republic's Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930-1961. ISBN 9780822981039.
  14. ^ a b Turtis, 590.
  15. ^ Galván, Javier A. (2012). Latin American Dictators of the 20th Century: The Lives and Regimes of 15 Rulers. McFarland. p. 53.
  16. ^ Derby, Lauren (1994). "Haitians, Magic, and Money: Raza and Society in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands, 1900 to 1937". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 36 (3): 508. doi:10.1017/S0010417500019216.on line copy Derby explains: "This point is important because, by the Dominican constitution, all those born on Dominican soil are Dominican. If this population was primarily migrants, then they were Haitians, thus making it easier to justify their slaughter. However, our findings indicate that they were legally Dominicans, even if culturally defined as Haitians since they were of Haitian origin." (Derby, p.508)
  17. ^ Tribunal Constitucional. "Sentencia TC/0168/13" (PDF) (in Spanish). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 August 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  18. ^ Rodriguez, Virgilio. "Erroneous objections to the Dominican constitutional ruling on citizenship". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  19. ^ Jadotte, Evans (May 2009). "International Migration, Remittances and Labour Supply. The Case of the Republic of Haiti" (PDF).
  20. ^ Augelli, John P. (1980). "Nationalization of Dominican Borderlands". Geographical Review. 70 (1): 21. doi:10.2307/214365. JSTOR 214365.
  21. ^ Dardik, Alan, ed. (2016). "Vascular Surgery: A Global Perspective". Springer. p. 341. ISBN 9783319337456. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  22. ^ Josh, Jagran, ed. (2016). "Current Affairs November 2016 eBook". p. 93. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  23. ^ Augelli, 21.
  24. ^ Augelli, 24.
  25. ^ Turtis, 600.
  26. ^ Richard Lee Turits (2002), A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed: The 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic (PDF), archived from the original (pdf) on 9 August 2017, retrieved 16 February 2018
  27. ^ Peguero, Valentina (2004). The Militarization of Culture in the Dominican Republic: From the Captains General to General Trujillo. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 114. ISBN 0803204345.
  28. ^ Turtis, 623.
  29. ^ Roorda, Eric Paul (1998). The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930–1945. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 132. ISBN 082232234X.
  30. ^ p.41 – Bell, Madison Smartt (17 July 2008). "A Hidden Haitian World". New York Review of Books. 55 (12).
  31. ^ Naya Despradel (August 13, 2016), "De Fello Brache a Tom Pérez" Archived 27 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish), El Caribe. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  32. ^ "Hispaniola: Trujillo's Voudou Legacy". Archived from the original on 25 January 2013.
  33. ^ Danticat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak!, New York: Soho Press, 1995
  34. ^ Rita Dove, "Parsley" from Museum (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1983).
  35. ^ "Massacre River by René Philoctète – Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists". Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  36. ^ "Fallece el abogado y escritor Freddy Prestol Castillo". Vanguardia del Pueblo (in Spanish). 20 February 1981. Retrieved 20 June 2018.