Words by Anna Gronewold
Photos by Andrew Dickinson
We met the mayor of Elias Pina by accident.
The town, about a mile from the Haitian border, hosts an open market every Monday and Friday. From 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. vendors, many from the Haitian border town Belladére, are free to cross into the Dominican Republic without papers.
The market is a hot whirlwind of Kreyol and Spanish, old and new clothes, empanadas, plantains and knock-off purses. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder business transactions and two enormous speakers blasting Merengue music next to a string of just-killed chickens.
But the mayor isn’t needed at the market, where Haitians and Dominicans have been trading across the border by necessity for more than 20 years. If the mayor visits, he comes later in the afternoon, to the line of enormous trucks waiting to carry vendors back to the border before it closes.
On Friday, Andrew, Ben and I were watching 50 people, and their merchandise, cram onto the first truck when the crowd began to shift and squeeze. A dozen angry voices rose above the market noise.
A Haitian woman was trying to board a truck with her sick 8-month-old baby. They had been visiting the baby’s father in Santo Domingo, she said, and she wanted her child to ride safely in the cab of the truck, rather than piled in the back with the others.
Taking a later truck was out of the question. The later she arrived at the border, the more likely she would have to bribe a guard to let her cross.
But the driver had no room, passengers were angry at her attempts to violate the first-come-first-serve policy and her uncle wasn’t about to lose his niece’s argument. The shouting match lasted for more than an hour as police, military and complete strangers shoved Andrew’s camera further back from the conflict.
That’s when we met the mayor.
Luis Minier, who has been in office for seven years, strode in with arms raised and voice booming. Two minutes later, a decision was made. The baby would ride in the cab of the first truck for protection, he said. He’s not always called in to resolve conflicts, but the combination of market day, Christmas and a sick transportation supervisor meant chaos.
And his job is to keep chaos at a minimum. He all but scoffed at our question of whether Haitians and Dominicans can live in peace. They must, he said. At border towns like Elias Pina, Haitians and Dominicans need one another to survive.