Parsley massacre

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Parsley massacre
LocationDominican Republic
Date2 October 1937 (1937-10-02)
8 October 1937 (1937-10-08)
TargetHaitians in the Dominican Republic
Attack type
Massacre, genocide[1][2][3][4][5][6]
WeaponsKrag rifles, machetes and bayonets
PerpetratorsDominican Army under the orders of Rafael Trujillo
MotiveAnti-black racism

The Parsley massacre (Spanish: el corte "the cutting";[10] Creole: kout kouto-a "the stabbing"[11]) (French: Massacre du Persil; Spanish: Masacre del Perejil; Haitian Creole: Masak nan Pèsil) was a mass killing of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic's northwestern frontier and in certain parts of the contiguous Cibao region in October 1937. Dominican Army troops from different areas of the country[12]: 161  carried out the massacre on the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.[13]

As a result of the massacre, virtually the entire Haitian population in the Dominican frontier was either killed or forced to flee across the border.[14] Many died while trying to flee to Haiti across the Dajabón River that divides the two countries on the island;[15] the troops followed them into the river to cut them down, causing the river to run with blood and corpses for several days. The massacre claimed the lives of an estimated 14,000 to 40,000 Haitian men, women, and children.[16] Dominican troops interrogated thousands of civilians demanding that each victim say the word "parsley" (perejil). If the accused could not pronounce the word to the interrogators' satisfaction, they were deemed to be Haitians and killed.[17]


Depiction of Rafael Trujillo on a 1930s stamp

Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, a strong proponent of anti-Haitianism, made his intentions towards the Haitian community clear in a short speech he gave on 2 October 1937 during a celebration in his honor in the province of Dajabón.

For some months, I have traveled and traversed the border in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, 'I will fix this.' And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.[18]

Trujillo reportedly acted in response to reports of Haitians stealing cattle and crops from Dominican borderland residents. 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 2 October and 8 October, hundreds of Dominican troops, who came mostly from other areas of the country, poured into the Cibao,[12]: 161  and used rifles, machetes, shovels, knives, and bayonets to kill Haitians. Haitian babies were reportedly thrown in the air and caught by soldiers' bayonets, then thrown on their mothers' corpses.[19][20] Dominican troops beheaded thousands of Haitians, and took others to the port of Montecristi, where they were thrown into the Atlantic Ocean to drown with their hands and feet bound, some with wounds inflicted by the soldiers in order to attract sharks.[21] 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.[21]

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."[12]: 167  Several months later, a barrage of killings and repatriations of Haitians occurred in the southern frontier.

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.[22]

Contributing factors[edit]

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.

Haitian-Dominican relations have long been strained by territorial disputes and competition for the resources of Hispaniola. Between the years of 1910–1930, there was an extensive migration of Haitians to their neighboring countries of the 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 considered 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 states.[23][page needed] The Dominican Republic, formerly the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, is the eastern portion of the island of Hispaniola and it occupies five-eighths of the land with a population of ten million inhabitants.[24] In contrast, Haiti, the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, is on the western three-eighths of the island[25][26] and has almost exactly the same population, with an estimated 200 people per square kilometre.[27]

Due to inadequate roadways which connect the borderlands to major cities, "Communication with Dominican markets was so limited that the small commercial surplus of the frontier slowly moved toward Haiti."[28]

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.[29]


At first the Haitian president Sténio Vincent prohibited any discussion of the massacre and issued a statement on 15 October: " is declared that the good relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have not suffered any damage." Vincent's failure to initially press for justice for the slain workers prompted protests in Port-au-Prince after two years of relative silence. It was known that Vincent had a cooperative relationship and financial support from the Trujillo government. After a failed coup effort in December, the Haitian president was eventually forced to seek an international investigation and mediation. Unwilling to submit to an inquiry, Trujillo instead offered an indemnity to Haiti.[30]

In the end, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Haitian president Sténio Vincent sought reparations of US$750,000, of which the Dominican government paid $525,000 (US $11,127,083.33 in 2023 dollars), or around $30 per victim. Due to the corruption deeply embedded within the Haitian bureaucracy however, survivors on average received only 2 cents each.[31] In the agreement signed in Washington, D.C., on 31 January 1938, the Dominican government defended the massacre as a response to illegal immigration by "undesirable" Haitians, and recognized "no responsibility whatsoever" for the killings with Trujillo stating how the agreement established new laws prohibiting migration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Trujillo's regime thus used a moment of international inquiry to legitimize his anti-Haitian policies.[30]

Thereafter, Trujillo began to develop the borderlands to link them more closely with the main cities and urban areas of the Dominican Republic.[32] 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.[33]

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."[34] 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,"[15] and rid his republic of Haitians.

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.[35]


The popular name[36] for the massacre came from the shibboleth that Trujillo reportedly had his soldiers apply to determine whether or not those living on the border were native Afro-Dominicans or immigrant Afro-Haitians. Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley to someone and ask what it was. How the person pronounced the Spanish word for parsley (perejil) determined their fate. The Haitian languages, French and Haitian Creole, pronounce the r as a uvular approximant or a voiced velar fricative, respectively so their speakers can have difficulty pronouncing the alveolar tap or the alveolar trill of Spanish, the language of the Dominican Republic. Also, only Spanish but not French or Haitian Creole pronounces the j as the voiceless velar fricative. If they could pronounce it the Spanish way the soldiers considered them Dominican and let them live, but if they pronounced it the French or Creole way they considered them Haitian and murdered them.

The term parsley massacre 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.[37]

Number of victims[edit]

According to some sources, the massacre killed an estimated 20,000 Haitians[38][39] living in the northern frontier—clearly at Trujillo's direct order.[citation needed] However, the exact number of victims is impossible to calculate due to several reasons. The Dominican Army carried out most of the killings in isolated areas, often leaving no witnesses or few survivors. Furthermore, many bodies were either disposed of in the sea, where they were consumed by sharks, or buried in mass graves, where acidic soil degraded them, leaving nothing for forensic investigators to exhume.[40]

Haitian President Élie Lescot put the death toll at 12,168; Haitian historian Jean Price-Mars cited 12,136 deaths and 2,419 injuries. The Dominican Republic's interim Foreign Minister put the number of dead at 17,000. Dominican historian Bernardo Vega estimated as many as 35,000.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Turtis, Richard Lee (August 2002). "A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed: The 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic". Hispanic American Historical Review. 82 (3): 589–635. doi:10.1215/00182168-82-3-589. S2CID 143872486. Archived from the original on 13 February 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  2. ^ Paulino, Edward (Fall 2013). "Bearing Witness to Genocide: The 1937 Haitian Massacre and Border of Lights". Afro-Hispanic Review. 32 (2): 111–118. JSTOR 24585148.
  3. ^ Garcia, Juan Manuel (1983). La matanza de los haitianos: genocidio de Trujillo, 1937. Editorial Alfa & Omega. pp. 59, 69–71.
  4. ^ Roorda, Eric Paul (July 1996). "Genocide Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy, the Trujillo Regime, and the Haitian Massacre of 1937". Diplomatic History. 20 (3): 301–319. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.1996.tb00269.x.
  5. ^ Karczewska, Anna Maria. Reconstructing and (De)constructing Borderlands: The Parsley Massacre: Genocide on the Borderlands of Hispaniola in the Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat. pp. 149–165.
  6. ^ Pena, Julissa. "'Yo soy negro, pero negro blanco:' Hispanicity, Antihaitianism and Genocide in the Dominican Republic". Wesleyan University. Archived from the original on 7 September 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  7. ^ a b Wucker, Michele (2014). Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola. p. 51. ISBN 978-1466867888. Archived from the original on 3 October 2020. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  8. ^ Newman, Graeme R (2010). Crime and Punishment around the World (4 volumes). p. 133. ISBN 978-0313351341. Archived from the original on 19 April 2019. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  9. ^ Tunzelmann, Alex von (2012). Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean. p. 1933. ISBN 978-1471114779. Archived from the original on 19 April 2019. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Lauro Capdevila, La dictature de Trujillo : République dominicaine, 1930–1961, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1998
  12. ^ a b c Turits, Richard Lee (2004). Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History. Stanford University Press.
  13. ^ Cadeau, Sabine F. (2022). More than a Massacre: Racial Violence and Citizenship in the Haitian–Dominican Borderlands. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108942508. ISBN 978-1108942508. S2CID 249325622.
  14. ^ Turtis, 630.
  15. ^ a b Turtis, 590.
  16. ^ Maria Cristina Fumagalli (2015). On the Edge: Writing the Border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Liverpool University Press. p. 20.
  17. ^ List of genocides by death toll
  18. ^ 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. S2CID 143872486.
  19. ^ Paulino, Edward (2016). Dividing Hispaniola: The Dominican Republic's Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930–1961. ISBN 978-0822981039.
  20. ^ "Slaughter of Haitians Described" (PDF). The Washington Post. 1937. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 November 2021. Haitian men were hacked to death, women killed with three-pointed daggers, and babies tossed on bayonets in the hands of drunken Dominican rural police
  21. ^ a b Galván, Javier A. (2012). Latin American Dictators of the 20th Century: The Lives and Regimes of 15 Rulers. McFarland. p. 53.
  22. ^ 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. S2CID 59016244.on line copy Archived 5 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine 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)
  23. ^ Jadotte, Evans (May 2009). "International Migration, Remittances and Labour Supply. The Case of the Republic of Haiti" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 October 2019.
  24. ^ Augelli, John P. (1980). "Nationalization of Dominican Borderlands". Geographical Review. 70 (1): 21. doi:10.2307/214365. JSTOR 214365.
  25. ^ Dardik, Alan, ed. (2016). Vascular Surgery: A Global Perspective. Springer. p. 341. ISBN 978-3319337456. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  26. ^ Josh, Jagran, ed. (2016). "Current Affairs November 2016 eBook". p. 93. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  27. ^ Augelli, 21.
  28. ^ Augelli, 24.
  29. ^ Turtis, 600.
  30. ^ a b Richard Lee Turits, Ph.D. "Dominican Responses in the Aftermath of the 1937 Haitian Massacre".
  31. ^ p. 41 – Bell, Madison Smartt (17 July 2008). "A Hidden Haitian World". New York Review of Books. 55 (12).
  32. ^ Turtis, 623.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ The name used by historians and scholars is Haitian massacre of 1937. The expression "parsley massacre" appears nowhere 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).
  37. ^ "Hispaniola: Trujillo's Voudou Legacy". Archived from the original on 25 January 2013.
  38. ^ p. 78 – Robert Pack (editor), Jay Parini (Editor). Introspections. PUB. p. 2222. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)[ISBN missing]
    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.
  39. ^ Cambeira, Alan (1997). Quisqueya la bella (1996 ed.). M.E. Sharpe. p. 182. ISBN 1563249367.
    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.
  40. ^ Roorda, Eric Paul (2016). Historical Dictionary of the Dominican Republic. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 139.[ISBN missing]

External links[edit]