Covering Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Two journalists weigh in

by Julie Schwietert Collazo
Oct 30, 2018 in Specialized Topics

In the age of social media, when anyone with a mobile device can upload audio, video, photos or 140-character observations about situations they witness anywhere in the world, it’s hard to imagine that any worthy news gets overlooked. And as journalists and outlets try to set themselves apart from the fray, hardly any stone goes unturned when digging up stories.

Yet as historian and professor Greg Grandin wrote on The Nation’s blog on June 12, there is at least one serious world event unfolding to which hardly anyone seems to be paying attention.

“In four days, hundreds of thousands of people in the Western Hemisphere will become stateless,” he said, explaining a situation in the Dominican Republic that would lead to the deportation of thousands of people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic and are thus Dominican citizens. At the time the blog post was published, however, the U.S. media were ignoring the story completely. “Where is the U.S. press?” Grandin asked. “Why aren’t they covering it?”

There were at least two other U.S.-based journalists besides Grandin who were paying attention. Nathalie Baptiste, the daughter of Haitian immigrants to the U.S., wrote about the escalating conflict for the Associated Press-affiliate Latin Correspondent,* and Rachel Nolan, a Latin American history scholar who wrote about the revocation of citizenship in the May 2015 issue of Harper’s. (That article, which was behind Harper’s paywall, has been made available for free and is essential background reading.)

I contacted Baptiste and Nolan via email with questions about why the Dominican Republic and Haiti aren’t covered in greater depth off the island, how readers can become more informed about what’s happening on the island those two countries share, and whether and how newsrooms can do a better job covering the stories there.

IJNet: Why is the coverage of the Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti so poor among U.S. outlets?

Baptiste: Latin American politics just aren’t sexy right now. Since September 11 all eyes have been on the Middle East.

Nolan: Foreign bureaus of major newspapers have been dropping like flies for years for economic reasons. Many places now rely on the AP and Reuters for coverage of Latin America outside of the hubs for mainstream reporters, like Mexico City and São Paulo. Unless there is a crisis like an earthquake, the DR and Haiti are simply not considered newsworthy in the same way as, say, Syria or China.

IJNet: What do readers with little or no knowledge of the Dominican Republic and Haiti (and, specifically, the relationship between the two countries) need to know in order to understand what's happening right now regarding deportations?

Baptiste: In order to understand what’s happening between the DR and Haiti, one would have to go back to  colonial days. After Haitians succeeded in their slave revolt, Spanish colonizers living over the border were afraid of their slaves getting the same idea. They demonized their darker-skinned neighbors, making Dominicans believe that their lighter skin was superior.

This sentiment lasted through the 19th and 20th centuries and included a violent massacre of Haitians by [DR] President Trujillo and his soldiers; as Haiti fell deeper and deeper into economic chaos and Haitians began crossing the border in search of better opportunities, the idea that Haitians were inferior was already deeply ingrained in Dominican culture. They could scapegoat Haitians for any and all of their ills, while still relying heavily on their labor.

Nolan: People need to know that immigrants are not the only group subject to deportation. Dominicans with Haitian parents, who were stripped of citizenship by the 2013 court ruling in the DR, are also subject to expulsion from their home country. I would also stress that there is no deep-seated, primeval hatred between the two countries. This [essay] is a good place to start for those who wish to understand the relationship between the DR and Haiti.

IJNet: Are there any reporters on the ground in the DR or Haiti who you follow and that you'd recommend to readers, especially local reporters writing in Spanish (DR’s official language) and/or Kreyol (Haiti’s official language). Any bloggers?

Baptiste: This is a big problem. Since this is an underreported story, very few people are on the ground covering events live. That being said, I believe VICE News has sent a few people (Monica Villamizar, Eric Fernandez) down to monitor events as they unfold.

Nolan: Yes, great question. Isabel Leticia Leclerc has done good reporting for Listín Diario. Fausto Rosario Adames at (in general their reporting has been good on this issue). Deisy Toussaint is an up-and-coming young Dominican writer of Haitian descent who has written beautifully about how these issues affect her personally. Ezra Fieser is an English-speaking journalist in Santo Domingo right now following the issue. I'm afraid I don't speak Kreyol but I imagine Haitian reporters are covering this, too.

IJNet: Should outlets be investing in sending reporters in for on-the-ground reporting?

Baptiste: It’s easy to stay in the newsroom and talk about the relationship between the DR and Haiti, and to discuss  “what ifs.” However, at least to me, a reporter’s most important job is to bring a human element to the story. Readers will be able to connect with the story if we show them a real-life example of what is happening to people in the DR right now.

IJNet: What role do/should aid workers have with respect to reporting (either as sources or in other capacities)?

Baptiste: I think it’s important for aid workers to be sources. After all, the people affected are the people they are working with. Aid workers in the DR can be a great source for real-life examples of what’s going on.

Nolan: They can be helpful sources, but should not be used as fixers because of the obvious conflict of interest. They are most useful as initial sources at the outset of reporting, and can help mediate contact with people who are otherwise reluctant to speak with outsiders.

*In full disclosure, I write for Latin Correspondent as well.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via HOPE Art