Group of people detained in a truck

Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez on Haiti crisis: ‘There is no interlocutor on the other side’

The Dominican Republic has stationed 10,000 soldiers on its border with Haiti. Officials there are worried that chaos in Haiti will send migrants streaming into their country. The Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez tells The World’s Carolyn Beeler his country’s national security is his top priority, and he doesn’t back the establishment of a humanitarian corridor into Haiti. 

The World

Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, announced his plan to resign last week and has been struggling to find a replacement.

Heavily armed gangs now control the country’s main airport and seaport. And this week, those gangs launched attacks in some of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods and targeted Haiti’s central bank headquarters.

Last week, US and Caribbean officials gave Haitian leaders 24 hours to name a transitional council to appoint a new prime minister, but that still hasn’t happened.

Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with its neighbor to the east, the Dominican Republic.

Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez said that his country does not have the responsibility to restore order in Haiti.

“We’ve had a troubled history with Haiti since 1844, during our independence years,” he said. “In fact, our independence in 1844 was from Haiti. We were occupied by Haiti for 22 years, so we must maintain a certain distance from the transition.”

Alvarez joined The World’s host Carolyn Beeler to discuss more on the Dominican Republic’s decision not to intervene in Haitian affairs and instead protect its own people.

Carolyn Beeler: You mentioned “maintain distance from Haiti.” Right now you are restricting border crossings. You’ve put 10,000 soldiers on the border. A Jesuit priest that we spoke to yesterday in a Dominican border town told us that Haitians are sleeping in the forests there because they fear midnight deportations. Is that a humane policy?
Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez: There is no Haitian army, so the entire border has to be protected exclusively by Dominican armed forces. Number one. And number two, we have collaborated with Haitians themselves. We’ve had up to 15,000 Haitian students in the Dominican Republic. As a matter of fact, in 2023, 16% of our health budget was used by Haitians; 37% of our maternity wards and our public hospitals were used by Haitian women for free. So, we are doing more than enough. The feeling in the Dominican population is that we’ve been left alone to handle the Haitian crisis. So, it is not up to us to solve the Haitian situation at the moment. It’s up to the Haitians, and what they need is assistance from the multilateral force, which has been approved by the Security Council of the United Nations to get there as soon as possible, so [that] some type of semblance of law and order can be established.
However, these deportations are still happening. Is deporting Haitians from the Dominican Republic inhumane given the violence the people are returning to?
Well, we comply with international norms, follow due process and comply with our laws. That’s what our laws state. We cannot allow a country to be overrun or used as a solution to the Haitian crisis. We will never allow the Dominican Republic to be the scapegoat. 
Some are calling on the Dominican Republic to create a humanitarian corridor that would help get aid into Haiti and get some of the injured folks in Haiti and others out. Would you support this idea?
​​​​​​About a month ago, maybe less, the main prison in Haiti was freed by the gangs, and there are about 5,000 criminals set loose. To us, the situation in Haiti is a question of national security. We have to look out for our security first and foremost.
So, is that a no? 
Under the current circumstances, we cannot go into the next step, which we have done in the past. The Dominican Republic has provided humanitarian assistance numerous times. Once certain law and order basics are established, we will definitely be there.
So, you’re saying there should be no humanitarian corridor into the Dominican Republic until the security situation improves in Haiti?
We have to protect — our national security comes first.
I understand that the Dominican Republic is reportedly a transit point for weapons and that Dominican banks are used by gang leaders. What can be done about that?
Actually, the United States is the one that has been sending as far as I know. I have not seen any evidence whatsoever. The only report that I’ve seen, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, in March of last year, had indications that maybe there was a transit, the Dominican Republic was transit. The reason is that a lot of the containers going into Haiti, because of the violent situation in Haiti, had to come through the Dominican Republic. So, the burden again is on us. We produce no weapons, none whatsoever. We have no weapons factories or ammunition factories in the Dominican Republic. So they come from abroad, and we’re trying our level best to stop any trafficking in arms or whatever. We do our very best. We collaborate. But there is no interlocutor on the other side. The Haitian police have broken down. Who are we going to speak to on the other side? In order to be able to establish some type of normal processes for anything that happens?
I understand in your answers you’ve been saying there needs to be a distance between the Dominican Republic and Haiti at this moment, but I’m wondering if there is anything else that officials in your country can do to help authorities in Haiti stand up to these gangs.
We have numerous binational markets along our 391-kilometer border. They are open. Were it not for that, I think that the sort of terrible malnutrition in the Haitian population would be greater. But given the situation, the control that the gangs have of the roads that exit Haiti, we cannot afford, we’ve had many of our nationals kidnapped by the gangs; so, we can’t expose ourselves beyond what we are doing at the moment.
Finally, what security concerns are raised for the Dominican Republic due to the spiraling crisis in Haiti?
Well, let me give you one and only one at this moment because I really don’t want to get into that hypothetical. We depend on tourism. It is our first source of income. Right now, there are countries already canceling reservations to the Dominican Republic. Just the fact that we are neighbors of Haiti.
So, this is a potential blow to the economy.
National security depends on it. The economy is only one. I don’t even want to go into other aspects that are sort of at work here, as well. If you had gang members coming into Dominican territory, just one person could wreak havoc. We cannot allow anything like that to happen and we will not.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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