The Parsley Massacre

Civil and political rights are critical, but not often the real problem for the destitute sick. My patients in Haiti can now vote but they can’t get medical care or clean water.
—Dr. Paul Farmer

My friend Ivan is working in Haiti right now (I’ve written about Haitian history here, for example). Three hundred thousand people died there with the earthquake, a staggering, tragic 150,000 or thereabouts in 35 seconds, at the moment of the quake. Ivan and I were talking (via that crazy thing called Skype) about Haiti today and Haiti in the past, and Ivan told me about a bit of history I had never heard of: the so-called Parsley Massacre from 1937. This is happening around the same time as the inconceivable depravities in Nanking, China by the invading Japanese, the Spanish Civil War is underway, and Germany will invade Poland in two years which sets off World War II. But the Parsley Massacre I did not know. It took place under Rafael Trujillo (cited by Jared Diamond in his book collapse, for hi environmental instincts—Jared also comments on his brutality). But here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

In October 1937, Dominican President Rafael Trujillo ordered the execution of the Haitian population living within the borderlands with Haiti. The violence resulted in the killing of 20,000 to 30,000 Haitian civilians over a span of approximately five days. This would later become known as the Parsley Massacre from the shibboleth that Trujillo had his soldiers apply to determine whether or not those living on the border were native Dominicans who spoke Spanish fluently. Soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley, ask “What is this?”, and assume that those who could not pronounce the Spanish word perejil (called pèsi in Haitian Creole, persil in French) were Haitian. Within the Dominican Republic itself, the massacre is known as El Corte (“the cutting”).

The things we never hear about. I remember when I interviewed Noam Chomsky, and he spoke about the the Hutu/Tutsi massascres in Burundi from 1979:

“…take, say, Rwanda, the huge genocide [in 1994]. It wasn’t new. Edward Herman and I wrote about it in 1979—it happened to be in Burundi at that time but it was exactly the same Hutu/Tutsi conflict. It wasn’t quite the level of Rwanda but hideous atrocities—but nobody cared. I don’t think anybody ever mentioned it except maybe human rights groups. We had a chapter about it in the book we wrote.

In the 1980s, Rwanda was subjected to [IMF] structural adjustment programs which had an effect on the society that they usually do. They exacerbate tensions and divisions and cause all sorts of conflicts and problems—sometimes it breaks up into ethnic conflict. Well, that extended the already existing conflicts—which themselves go back to colonialism, the Belgian and German colonialism. [Structural adjustments] made it much worse and finally it burst out in 1994.”

And here’s a final quote from Wikipedia:

Of the tens of thousands of ethnic Haitians who were killed, a majority were born in the Dominican Republic and belonged to well-established Haitian communities within the borderlands, thus making them citizens.

In the end, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Haitian President Sténio Vincent sought reparations of $750,000, of which only $525,000 (US$ 7,955,581.4 in 2010) were ever paid: 30 dollars per victim, of which only 2 cents were given to survivors, due to corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.

And then I read this slightly ironic twist in Wikipedia on the brutal Trujillo himself:

Trujillo was known for his open-door policy, accepting Jewish refugees from Europe, Japanese migration during the 1930s, and exiles from Spain following its civil war. He developed a uniquely Dominican policy of racial discrimination, Antihaitianismo (“anti-Haitianism”), targeting the mostly-black inhabitants of his neighboring country and those within the Platano Curtain, including many darker Dominican citizens. At the 1938 Evian Conference the Dominican Republic was the only country willing to accept many Jews and offered to accept up to 100,000 refugees on generous terms.

In 1940 an agreement was signed and Trujillo donated 26,000 acres (110 km2) of his properties for settlements. The first settlers arrived in May 1940; eventually some 800 settlers came to Sosua and most moved later on to the United States.

Refugees from Europe broadened the Dominican Republic’s tax base and added more whites to the predominately mixed-race nation. The government favored Caucasian refugees over others while Dominican troops expelled illegal aliens, resulting in the 1937 Parsley Massacre of Haitian immigrants.

The things we don’t know. And the things we don’t know about the things we know. Keep learning, and love more.



2 Responses to “The Parsley Massacre”

  1. [...] This unspeakable event – mostly forgotten by world history because it occurred during the Rape of Nanking and other atrocities related to the Spanish Civil war and the soon-to-begin World War II – would forever afterward be called Kouto-a by Haitians, and Corte by Dominicans. The word translates “cutting” in either language. For those who lived through it, it was one of the bloodiest and most horrible episodes of Haitian history, triggered by an ordinary linguistic mechanism called a shibboleth. The Dominican Republic shares an island, currently called Hispaniola but originally named Ayiti, with the Republic of Haiti. Haiti comprises Hispaniola’s western third, while the Dominican covers its central and eastern sections. From the beginnings of joint French and Spanish domination over Hispaniola in the forms of the colonies of Saint-Domingue and Santo Domingo, respectively, there has been friction between the two parts of the island, and often, warfare spreading from one side to the other. But nothing that passed from one side to the other over any part of Hispaniola’s history since the coming of Columbus compares to the brutality and senselessness of the Cutting. [...]

  2. Dan says:

    One author has mentioned that to refer “Parsley” to the massacre is misleading since most of the Haitian victims were born and long-established in Dajabon and the northwest frontier regions and so certainly could speak Spanish. The major criteria used to determine whether a person was Haitian or Dominican was color as there was a difference: black African as against mullato. That’s why even some Dominicans who “looked” Haitian, i.e. really black, were also targeted. It also appears that the incident was not as random as believed, i.e. Trujillo apparently ordered the massacre spontaneously on October 2 after a drunken celebration in his honor. For months, he had his military conduct surveillance on the Haitians in the NW regions. The “incidents” even began sooner, in late September, he had his army target some 300 Haitians. In the earlier months of 1937, many thousands of Haitans were harassed and deported. The theft of Dominicans’ property was probably that perfect opportunity for him to carry out the masacres. Many Haitians also were left jobless at that time due to the loss of work in the sugar plantations because of the Great Depression and drop in world sugar prices.

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