Hispaniola: Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Gary Fallesen

Hispaniola: Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Hispaniola is an island in the Caribbean that is shared by two countries: the Afro-Caribbean Haiti to the west and the Hispanic Dominican Republic to the east.

This is where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 — “discovering” America. When Columbus arrived, the island was inhabited by an estimated 400,000 Taínos Indians, who were forced to work in gold mines and were eradicated within 25 years by starvation and disease. This led the Spanish to bring slaves from West Africa. About 500,000 were transported (with an estimated 100,000 dying en route) from the early 1500s to 1800.

This slave population would eventually rebel against French settlers, who replaced the Spanish in the west (modern-day Haiti) during the 17th century. It was a bloody uprising. The result was the first black republic in the world in 1804. Another result was the cultural acceptance of voodoo, which victorious rebels credited with helping them defeat the French.

“Haiti needs to be freed from the bondages of its past,” Operation World states. The use of voodoo has “fostered a spirit of evil, which permeates every level of society.” Foreign assistance and countless mission workers have not been able to improve the lot of the people, who remain spiritually enslaved and, as a result, are the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere and among the most impoverished in the world. Only God can destroy these shackles.

 A barefooted girl walks on a trail through Gentilhomme, a village in the deforested mountains of Haiti. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

The Dominican Republic broke away from Haiti in 1844.

For more than 200 years these two neighboring countries have exhibited hostility toward one another. Dominicans view Haitians as their inferiors, and treat them that way. “Most of the lowly work done in the Dominican Republic, such as cutting sugarcane during harvest, is done by Haitians,” one guide said. “Today, many Dominicans feel that their country is being invaded by its neighbor, and they feel that if the poverty-stricken Haitians aren't sent home, the DR will one day be as poor and trouble-plagued as Haiti.

“Armed with this popular view, Dominican authorities regularly mount often-brutal mass deportation operations against Haitians living in the DR.”

Both countries are in need of prayer and the love of Jesus. One of the major challenges confronting those in the DR is the “development of Christian ethics,” according to Operation World, which adds that this is a place “where corruption, crime and promiscuity are rampant.”

Occultism is viewed as a problem in the DR, not just in Haiti. Operation World stated, “Maybe more than 4,000 villages have no evangelic witness.”

Fast facts

Haiti

Location: Western one-third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Leader: President Rene Preval (since May 14, 2006). Population: More than 9 million. Primary religion: The Roman Catholic Church was the state church until 1987. Despite the church's presence, 75 percent of Catholics also were involved in voodoo.

  • NOTE: On Jan. 12, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake measuring 7.0 magnitude struck Haiti near the town of Leogane, about 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 people, injured at least 300,000, and left 1 million homeless. It affected about 3 million people in the Port-au-Prince area.

Dominican Republic

Location: Eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Leader: President Leonel Fernandez Reyna (since Aug. 16, 2004). Population: More than 9 million. Primary religion: Catholicism is the state religion.

Where in the world?

Hispaniola is located in the Caribbean, east of Cuba and west of Puerto Rico. Haiti makes up the western third of the island. (The World Factbook)

Haiti, above, and the Dominican Republic, below.

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