Parsley massacre

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Parsley massacre
Haitian corpses after the 1937 massacre.jpg
Haitians murdered in the parsley massacre
Location Dominican Republic
Date 2 October 1937 (1937-10-02)
8 October 1937 (1937-10-08)
Target Haitians in the Dominican Republic
Attack type
Deaths Up to 35,000[1][2][3][4]
Perpetrators Dominican Army

The parsley massacre (Spanish: el corte "the cutting";[5] Haitian Creole: kout kouto-a "the stabbing"[6]) 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, who came from different areas of the country,[7]:161 carried out the massacre on the direct orders of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Haitian President Élie Lescot put the death toll at 12,168; in 1953, the Haitian historian Jean Price-Mars cited 12,136 deaths and 2,419 injuries. In 1975, Joaquín Balaguer, the Dominican Republic's interim Foreign Minister at the time of the massacre, put the number of dead at 17,000. Other estimates compiled by the Dominican historian Bernardo Vega went as high as 35,000.[1]

In the spring of 1938 Trujillo ordered a new campaign against Haitians, this time in the southern frontier region. The operation occurred over several months, and thousands were forced to flee. Although known to Dominicans simply as el desalojo (the eviction), this campaign also resulted in hundreds reportedly killed. And unlike in the northern frontier area, some witnesses recalled Dominican civilians cooperating in the killing.[7]:169

The name parsley massacre stems from the use of the word perejil, Spanish for parsley, as a shibboleth to distinguish native speakers from Haitians.[8]


Depiction of Rafael Trujillo on a 1930s stamp

Rafael Trujillo, a proponent of anti-Haitianism, made his intentions towards the Haitian community clear in a short speech he gave 2 October 1937 at a dance in his honor in Dajabón. He said,

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.[9]

Trujillo reportedly was acting 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[8][10] 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.[11]

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]:161 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.[12] 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.[13] 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 dashed against rocks and tree trunks.[14] 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]: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.[15] 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.[16][17]

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 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.[18] In contrast, Haiti, the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, is on the western three-eighths of the island[19][20] and has almost exactly the same population, with an estimated 500 people per square mile.[21]

This has forced many Haitians onto 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."[22] 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.[23]

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 abuses of the human rights. 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").[24]


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."[25] 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,"[13] and rid his republic of Haitians.

Thereafter, Trujillo began to develop the borderlands to link them more closely with urban areas.[26] 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.[27]

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 $525,000 (US$ 8,937,152.78 in 2017 dollars). Of this 30 dollars per victim, survivors received only 2 cents each, due to corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.[28]

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.[29]

In popular culture[edit]

  • 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.[30]
  • Rita Dove drew inspiration from the massacre for her poem "Parsley".[31]
  • 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.[32]
  • 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.[33]
  • 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[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wucker, Michele (2014-04-08). Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola. ISBN 9781466867888.
  2. ^ Newman, Graeme R (2010-10-19). Crime and Punishment around the World [4 volumes]: [Four Volumes]. ISBN 9780313351341.
  3. ^ Tunzelmann, Alex von (2012-09-13). Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean. ISBN 9781471114779.
  4. ^ Charlot, Marjorie (2015-11-19). 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 2007-12-16.
  6. ^ Lauro Capdevila, La dictature de Trujillo : République dominicaine, 1930–1961, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1998
  7. ^ a b c d Turits, Richard Lee (2004). Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History. Stanford University Press.
  8. ^ a b pg 78 – Robert Pack (editor), Jay Parini (Editor). Introspections. PUB. p. 2222.
    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.
  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. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Roorda, Eric Paul (2016-04-28). Historical Dictionary of the Dominican Republic. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 139.
  12. ^ Paulino, Edward (2016-02-16). Dividing Hispaniola: The Dominican Republic's Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930-1961. ISBN 9780822981039.
  13. ^ a b Turtis, 590.
  14. ^ Galván, Javier A. (2012). Latin American Dictators of the 20th Century: The Lives and Regimes of 15 Rulers. McFarland. p. 53.
  15. ^ 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)
  16. ^ Tribunal Constitucional. "Sentencia TC/0168/13" (PDF) (in Spanish). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 August 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  17. ^ Rodriguez, Virgilio. "Erroneous objections to the Dominican constitutional ruling on citizenship". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  18. ^ Augelli, John P. (1980). "Nationalization of Dominican Borderlands". Geographical Review. 70 (1): 21. doi:10.2307/214365. JSTOR 214365.
  19. ^ Dardik, Alan, ed. (2016). "Vascular Surgery: A Global Perspective". Springer. p. 341. ISBN 9783319337456. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  20. ^ Josh, Jagran, ed. (2016). "Current Affairs November 2016 eBook". p. 93. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  21. ^ Augelli, 21.
  22. ^ Augelli, 24.
  23. ^ Turtis, 600.
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Turtis, 623.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ p.41 – Bell, Madison Smartt (17 July 2008). "A Hidden Haitian World". New York Review of Books. 55 (12).
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Danticat, Edwidge. Krik? Krak!, New York: Soho Press, 1995
  31. ^ Rita Dove, "Parsley" from Museum (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1983).
  32. ^ "Massacre River by René Philoctète – Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists". Retrieved 2014-01-25.
  33. ^ "Fallece el abogado y escritor Freddy Prestol Castillo". Vanguardia del Pueblo (in Spanish). February 20, 1981. Retrieved June 20, 2018.