Dominican Republic to shut border with Haiti from Friday, president says

Luis Abinader says his government has ‘no alternative but to take drastic measures’ as canal dispute deepens.

Haitians are seen on the banks of the Massacre River between Haiti and the Dominican Republic
Haitians are seen at the banks of the Massacre River, which runs between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola [File: Ricardo Rojas/Reuters]

The Dominican Republic will close its entire border with neighbouring Haiti later this week, President Luis Abinader has announced, as a conflict over the construction of a canal from a shared river worsens.

Santo Domingo said the closure, set to begin at 6am local time (10:00 GMT) on Friday, will last “as long as necessary” with the support of the Dominican military and police forces, though talks with Haiti are set to continue.

“Unfortunately, they left us no alternative but to take drastic measures,” Abinader told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.

He added that even if the Haitian government – which is struggling to cope with a surge in deadly gang violence – could not control the construction of the canal, his country could.

“We have been prepared for weeks, not only for this situation but also for a possible peace force in Haiti,” Abinader said.

The Dominican president threatened earlier this week to close the border over construction work on the Haitian canal.

Officials in the Dominican Republic say the project will divert water from the Massacre River, which runs in both countries, and violate the 1929 Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Arbitration.

Relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, have faced heightened tensions in recent years, notably over border security and the treatment of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers in the Dominican Republic.

Haiti’s government had said on Wednesday that it met with Dominican officials in the Dominican Republic that day to try to resolve the canal dispute.

The brief statement by Haiti’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not provide much detail, except to say that both sides were trying to find a “fair and definitive” solution.

On Thursday, the Dominican Republic said the looming border closure was set to include all land, sea and air routes. It also said it deployed a further 20 armoured vehicles to a military camp on the border.

Haitians were seen rushing to the frontier, and Sunrise Airways said it was adding a flight between both countries on Thursday afternoon before the closure.

The United States Embassy in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, which has called on its citizens to leave Haiti amid the uptick in violence, said on its website that those planning to leave for the Dominican Republic would need to make other arrangements.

“The US Embassy is not able to facilitate entry into Haiti or the Dominican Republic through a closed border crossing,” the statement said.

The Dominican Republic last fully closed its border with Haiti following the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies