The history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two neighboring countries on the island of Hispaniola, is marked by violence and conflict. One of the most tragic events in their shared past is the Parsley Massacre, a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that took place in October 1937.
The Parsley Massacre, also known as “el corte” (the cutting) or “Masak nan Pèsil” in Haitian Creole, was ordered by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who wanted to eliminate the Haitian population from his country. Trujillo was a fervent nationalist and racist, who promoted the idea of Antihaitianismo, a set of prejudices and discrimination practices against Haitians and people of Haitian descent.
The massacre got its name from the method used to identify Haitians. Dominican troops would interrogate civilians, demanding that each person say the word “parsley” (perejil in Spanish). If the person could not pronounce the word to the interrogators’ satisfaction, they were deemed to be Haitian and killed. This test was based on the assumption that Haitians, who spoke French or Creole, could not roll their r’s as well as Dominicans, who spoke Spanish.
The killing spree lasted for six days, from October 2 to October 8, 1937. During this time, an estimated 14,000 to 40,000 Haitian men, women, and children lost their lives. Many victims were killed while trying to flee to Haiti across the Dajabón River that divides the two countries on the island. The troops followed them into the river to cut them down, causing the river to run with blood and corpses for several days.
The massacre was carried out using various weapons such as Krag rifles, machetes, and bayonets. There were even reports of Haitian babies being thrown in the air and caught by soldiers’ bayonets, then thrown on their mothers’ corpses.
The Parsley Massacre was a result of Trujillo’s paranoia and hatred towards Haitians, who he saw as a threat to his vision of a white and Hispanic Dominican Republic. He reportedly acted in response to reports of Haitians stealing cattle and crops from Dominican borderland residents. Trujillo made his intentions clear in a short speech he gave on October 2, 1937, where he said: “For some months, I have traveled and traversed the border in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, ‘I will fix this.’ And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.”
The Parsley Massacre marked a dark chapter in the history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It changed the relationship between the two countries on the island of Hispaniola, and its effects can still be felt today. The massacre was a result of anti-black racism and Antihaitianismo, a set of prejudices and discrimination practices against Haitians and people of Haitian descent.
Despite the horrific events, there were instances of humanity and courage. There is evidence that in many villages, Dominicans risked their own lives to help their Haitian neighbors escape. However, in other cases, local people pointed out Haitian immigrants to the authorities.
The Parsley Massacre serves as a stark reminder of the atrocities that can occur when prejudice and discrimination are allowed to flourish. It underscores the importance of unity, understanding, and respect for all, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The memory of the massacre continues to influence the dynamics between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, serving as a call to action to prevent such atrocities in the future.