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Dominican Republic Will Close Border With Haiti Amid Water Dispute

The Dominican Republic said it would seal its border with Haiti on Friday morning amid a conflict over access to a river shared between the two historically contentious neighbors. The move would further isolate Haiti, a nation that has descended into gang violence and growing hunger.

Tension have grown in recent days over construction in the Massacre River, which straddles both nations.

President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, who claimed that the excavation of a canal on the river in Haiti would harm Dominican farmers, froze Haitian visas this week and threatened to close the more than 220 miles of border if the two sides did not reach a resolution.

A Haitian delegation met with the Dominicans in Santo Domingo, the capital, on Wednesday for 11th-hour negotiations, but there was no apparent resolution, and on Thursday, Mr. Abinader announced his decision to shut the boundary between the two Caribbean island nations starting at 6 a.m. local time Friday.

Closing the border between the two countries could also hurt the Dominican Republic since so many of the country’s goods are destined for the Haitian market.

“This border closure generates an evident lose-lose situation,” said Antonio Ciriaco, an economist at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. The Dominican Republic also relies on Haitian laborers who cross into the country every day to work in industries like agriculture and construction, he added.

The Dominican Republic last closed its border with Haiti after the assassination of the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021.

Mr. Abinader has since occasionally closed parts of the border and begun constructing a wall between the two nations after violence escalated in Haiti. Dominican officials said they sought to stop the smuggling of weapons and illegal crossings into the Dominican Republic.

On Thursday morning, Dominican military forces were already gathering on the border.

The use of the Massacre River, named for a bloody battle between Spanish and French colonizers in the 1700s, has long been a source of tension between the two nations. The river was also the site of a massacre of thousands of Haitians by Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, in 1937.

The United States embassy in Santo Domingo issued a warning to American citizens in Haiti that the United States would not be able to help them reach the Dominican Republican in the event of a border closure.

Mr. Abinader said the border would stay shut “for as long as it takes for this provocative action to be eliminated,” and that the closure would be enforced by the military and the national police.

“The Haitian government itself has admitted to having problems controlling its territory,” he said. “And, if there are uncontrollables there, they will be uncontrollable for the Haitian government, but they will not be uncontrollable for the government of the Dominican Republic.”

But Jean Brévil Weston, the leader of a farmers’ group in Haiti that is working on the construction in the canal, said no one in the Haitian government had told any of his members to cease work. And they had no plans to stop doing so.

“We get water or death,” he said in an interview with Magik9, a Haitian radio station. “If we don’t find water for agriculture in the plain, we are already dead.”

Harold Isaac contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Emiliano Rodríguez Mega from Mexico City.

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