A common misconception, particularly abroad, is that racism gave origin to the Dominican Republic. This notion also feeds into the thinking that if the Dominican Republic was founded on racism, similar to other countries such as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), anyone that support and defend the Dominican Republic is himself defending a racist country and, by association, himself is a racist. This implies that Dominicans, regardless of race and color, themselves are racists manifested by their pride in the existence of their country. This, of course, is not true but this notion exists among certain people. For the most part, people that hold this view are ignorant of several aspects of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic. They are also ignorant of the defenders of the Dominican nationality when its existence was threatened or under domination by another country, whether it was Spain in the 1860’s or Haiti in the 1820’s.
“Form an opinion about a man and what he created after you know him, not before.”
The Founding of the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic was actually founded on the principle of equality of all races and colors. The concept of no discrimination towards someone based on his race or color didn’t became a foundational concept for the sake of chance, but rather this was a belief exhuded by the founding fathers themselves. It should be noted that this was the belief in the middle of the XIX century, a time when in other countries the notion of racial exclusivity was common.
In the same token, the Dominican Republic wasn’t born as a slave country, unlike other countries such as the United States or Brazil. No contradiction exist among Dominican founders unlike the founders of other certain countries with the notion that all men are free and created equal. Things such as signing a declaration of independence that says that all people are free while the signers themselves owned slaves and slavery wasn’t outlawed until more than 8 decades after its independence is unknown in the Dominican Republic. Lets not even get into what happened after independence with things such as racial segregation, another thing that never existed in the Dominican Republic.
The Case of Juan Pablo Duarte
Juan Pablo Duarte was born on January 26, 1813 in Santo Domingo and died on July 15, 1876 in Caracas, Venezuela. He lived in the Dominican Republic for most of his life and from cradle to grave considered himself a Dominican. Unfortunately, he was forced into exile and lived his final years in Venezuela. He was the son of Juan José Duarte from Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and Manuela Díez from El Seibo, Dominican Republic.
Despite they were an accommodated family with Juan José owning a small family business and lived a comfortable life (though not luxurious by any means) in Santo Domingo, the family suffered several vissitudes. Among the hardships were several forced exiles starting in 1801 during the invasion of Toussaint Loverture when Juan José and Manuela Díez were forced to leave the island and settled in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Their first son Vicente was born there, the only of their 11 children born outside Santo Domingo. This forced exile lasted until 1810 because they refused to be French regardless if the rulers were black, as in the case of Toussaint, or white, as in the case of Leclerc and other Frenchmen. It should be noted that the Duarte Díez family was not in Santo Domingo during the 1805 invasion by Jean Jacques Dessalines in which Santo Domingo was seiged for about a month and widespread massacres and destructions was committed to the Dominican population. Once the Dominican territory was recuperated from the French in the Reconquest War (Guerra de la reconquista) headed by General Juan Sánchez Ramírez and the territory was returned to Spain (it wasn’t until the Treaty of Paris of 1814 that Spain and France signed to recognize France returning to Spain ownership of Spanish Santo Domingo and despite that the Dominican territory was included as Spanish territory in Spain’s first constitution of 1812, also known as “Constitución de Cádiz”), the Duarte family which consisted of Juan José, Manuela and the infant Vicente returned to Santo Domingo along with thousands of Dominicans that were exiled in Puerto Rico.
During the Haitian Domination (1822 – 1844) the family, which was larger and included Juan Pablo, opted to stay in Santo Domingo. It was subjected to and witnessed several acts of oppression by the Haitian government and army on the Dominican population. This included the prohibition of Spanish (something Dominicans ignored judging that Dominicans never learn French or Haitian Creole), the closure of the New World’s Oldest University which was a source of pride to Dominicans, and other injustices that were formal. There were many informal injustices too such as Haitian soldiers imposing sexual advances to many Dominican women and girls including married women in front of their husbands and refusal was almost always met with being shot to death.
Juan Pablo Duarte Wasn’t Anti-Haitian or Anti-black
The trauma the family lived through during the various Haitan incursions and the policies adopted by Jean Pierre Boyer that implied an economic retrocesion and deprioritized public education among other things, had a strong imprint on Juan Pablo Duarte. However, Juan Pablo was clear from the very beginning that this was an effect from Haitian politicians and not the Haitian people in general or black people in particular. Racism and the injustices due to the color of the skin had no space in his heart. Under this premise he said the following in 1838.
It’s impossible for someone that harbors hatred for the Haitians to admire them in any shape or form. A racist would never say that either of a black people, whether they are Haitians or from the other communities around the world constituted by a black majority. If we take into account that this revelation he wrote in a letter destined for someone who wasn’t a Haitian or black himself nor married to such a woman and that this letter was never meant to be made public, it further increases the notion that Juan Pablo, the main founder of the Dominican Republic, wasn’t anti-Haitian and anti-black.
“A man is defined by the content of his character and not by his color or race.”
The one thing that is clear is that Juan Pablo was, like most Dominicans, anti-Haitian government, not the Haitian people. This premise becomes obvious as we continue to read the 1838 letter.
Juan Pablo Duarte and His Belief in the Union of the Races
Juan Pablo Duarte had other qualities and among them was poetry. He wrote several poems concerning various topics ranging from love to patriotism and others. He wrote a poem titled “Unión de las razas” (Union of the Races). In this poem he mentions the following.
There really is not much to say regarding what he meant. The guy was all for the friendly treatment of all men regardless of color or race. He was in favor of racial mixture too, as it becomes evident in this frase.
The Case of Gregorio Luperón
Gregorio Luperón was born on September 8, 1839 in Puerto Plata and died in the same town on May 20, 1897. He became to greatness as a general for the Dominican forces during the Restoration War (1863 – 1865). After the war he was the president on two occasions, vice president on two occasions and he was the Minister of the Armed Forces of the Dominican Republic.
Not once did he expressed or even hinted to racial discrimination or color prejudice towards whites or he himself suffering racial discrimination or color prejudice. It should be noted that he spent most of his life in the Dominican Republic and spent much of his life in the Cibao Valley, which has not just one of the most densely populated area of the country, but also the whitest. In fact, at his time the whites were the majority of the population in the Cibao Valley and many towns were towns where the whites were more numerous that the mixed race or the blacks.
Not only did he never complained or expressed any type of racism towards other Dominicans or that he received to himself, but his following words denote a special preocupation with the wellbeing of Juan Pablo Duarte, despite by this time he was exiled in Venezuela.
To those words are added the fact that during the Restoration War, Juan Pablo Duarte followed the orders from General Gregorio Luperón. He didn’t care that he was white and Luperón wasn’t as such he had no problems following orders from Luperón.
The Case of Francisco del Rosario Sánchez
Francisco del Rosario Sánchez was born on March 9, 1817 in Santo Domingo and died on July 4, 1861 in San Juan de la Maguana. His prominence arose once he joined the secret society La Trinitaria founded by Juan Pablo Duarte and led to the creation of the Dominican Republic. It should be noted that Juan Pablo Duarte as the founder accepted Francisco del Rosario Sánchez as a member of La Trinitaria despite he was of mixed race. At that time, something like that would had been unheard of in countries such as the United States. As a member of La Trinitaria began his formal workings to help in creating the independence of the Dominican Republic.
“The real man is the one you get to know. Your opinion based on assumption is just that, a man that exist in your mind only.”
Francisco del Rosario Sánchez name was further catapulted in popularity during the era when the Dominican Republic was dissolved as the country became an overseas province of Spain. The situation forced him into Haitian territory and there he gathered a group of Dominicans that exiled themselves on the basis of the return of the Spanish authorities. With the group formed, he headed an invasion from Haiti in 1861 with the intent of putting an end to Spanish rule and re-establishing the Dominican Republic. It was at this time that he said the following.
Francisco del Rosario Sánchez was captured by Spanish troops and he was ordered to be tied to a pole and killed on the basis of treason to the Spanish authorities and an impediment to the reincorporation of the Dominican territory to Spain. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic and was a close friend of Juan Pablo Duarte.
The friendship that Francisco del Rosario Sánchez had with Juan Pablo Duarte included being well regarded by Duarte’s family. At a time when Duarte was in hideout as the Haitian guards were searching for him in order to kill him prior to the establishment of the independence of the Dominican Republic, at a certain point Francisco del Rosario Sánchez was at the home of Juan Pablo Duarte. Due to his hiding, he wasn’t there. At a certain point he confronts Juan José, the father of Juan Pablo, and asks him to say where is Juan Pablo hiding because he made a promise that nothing should happen to either of the two without the presence of one of them. The well being of the founding fathers of the country meant to have the protection from their friends.
The Case of Matías Ramón Mella
Matías Ramón Mella was born on February 25, 1816 in Santo Domingo and died on June 4, 1864 in Santiago de los Caballeros. He was also a close friend of Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and of Juan Pablo Duarte, and is the third founding father of the country. His rise to fame wasn’t limited to his role leading to the independence of the Dominican Republic, but of what took place on the night of February 27, 1844. He joined a group of people that gathered by the Puerta de la Misericordia, the closest gate to the Caribbean Sea of the wall that protected to Santo Domingo. Once he shot into the air from his rifle known as the “trabucazo,” the Dominican Republic was born.
Matías Ramón Mella was involved in the Restoration War in the attempt to eliminate Spanish rule and re-establish the Dominican Republic. General Gregorio Luperón was his leader and his friend, from whom took orders. In addition, he took part in some of the attacks on the Spanish troops and with following through with the plans to restore the republic and recruit young men, particularly in the Cibao, which at that time was the most populous part of the country. Unfortunately, he was struck with dysentery and died in the year before the Dominican Republic was restored as an independent country, just as he wanted. Fulfilling his desire, he was buried with the Dominican flag covering his casket despite the Dominican Republic hadn’t been re-established at the time. When his remains were removed from the Santiago Municipal Cementery to be placed in the Oldest Cathedral of the New World in Santo Domingo, the Dominican flag was discover along with his casket.
The Relations between the Dominican Colors and Races
The belief in the union and friendly treatments of all the races is evident among Dominicans before Juan Pablo Duarte’s birth as well as after his death.
Only five years for Juan Pablo Duarte to unfortunately die, the United States government sent a commission to the Dominican Republic to analyze every aspect of the country geographically, socially and everything else with the intention of annexing the country to the United States. With this exhaustive information, they were to organized a long report and present it to the US government in Washington DC. They were to read the report prior to congress and the senate voting on whether to annexed the country, something that wasn’t approved due to one extra voted against it. In this report it mentions the following.
“To judge a man by his color or race constitute an act of racism towards someone that is on your side, but you don’t know because you don’t know him.”
The following parts are even older from 1798 in “A Topographical and Political Description of the Spanish Part of Santo Domingo” by Moreau de Saint-Méry. Notice what is underlined in white.
In the “Present State of the Spanish Colonies” by William Walton published in 1810. He was English from Kingston, Jamaica and spent many years in Santo Domingo. Naturally, he contrasted many things as they were in Santo Domingo with how he knew them in Jamaica. Here he relates how the slaves or the blacks were trieated in Spanish territories and this contrasted sharply with how the slaves were treated in his native Jamaica and in other colonies such as the French’s Saint-Domingue.
The following is on page 184 in “The Present State of Haiti” by James Franklin published in 1826.
Lastly, the following is in “Puerto Rico Past and Present, and San Domingo of Today” by Alpheus Hyatt Verrill published in 1914. He was from New Haven, Connecticut, United States and details extensively in the book everything he witnessed in his travels through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Why Dominicans See Themselves as A Different People from the Haitians
Here we make a small emphasis on why the Dominicans have always seen themselves as a different people from the Haitians. This thinking was widespread in the entire Dominican society including Juan Pablo Duarte himself.
The reason is because the Dominican people are a continuation of all the people that inhabited Hispaniola before the creation of Haiti in 1804. At the time of Haiti’s independence around two-thirds of the Haitians were born in Africa. This contrast with Dominicans where the vast majority was born on the island and descended in an unbroken chain from the peoples that arrived at different times and mixed with the Dominican population that was there. This is evident in many ways including the most recent, ancestry DNA testing. While among Haitians it isn’t common to see things such as amerindian DNA in their individual ancestry DNA results, among Dominicans some amerindian DNA is present in the individual results. This means that Dominicans have in their descendancy people who ceased to exist in their pure form in the XVII century, at least around 200 years before the independence of Haiti. This also means that part of the Spanish ancestry found in Dominicans and part of the African ancestry corresponds to Spaniards and Africans that settled on the island during the end of the XV century and during the XVI, XVII, XVIII and the first years of the XIX centuries prior to the independence of Haiti. In essence, most Dominicans already existed under a Spanish identity, a Spanish language and other cultural entities with the respective mixes that included inputs from the Taino indians and the Africans for centuries before most Haitians arrived on the island.
This difference in time between when most Dominicans already existed on Hispaniola and the existence of the Haitians manifested in other ways. One of those ways is language. The Dominican Republic is where Spanish has been spoken the longest in the Western Hemisphere and is the birth of Hispanic America. To this day, over 99% of Dominicans born on Hispaniola speak Spanish as a mother tongue. On the contrary, most Haitians speak Haitian Creole, which is a Haitian created language with the fusion of several African, French and Spanish languages. A very small proportion of Haitians speak French as a mother tongue and generally, one that speaks Haitian Creole only doesn’t fully understand French and vice versa. A Haitian can’t speak to a Dominican in his native tongue unless the Dominican learn the language of the Haitians and the Dominican can’t speak to the Haitians in his native tongue if the Haitians don’t learn the language of the Dominicans first. In a similar token, today there are many television channels in Dominican TV from Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries and despite they are in a dialect often different from the dialects of Dominican Spanish, Dominicans understand with not much effort and these channels are quite popular. Those same channels would be hardly understood by Haitians and, in fact, channels from Spanish-speaking countries are not very popular in Haiti.
This marked difference in language, which isn’t common on islands, was referenced by Dr José Núñez de Cáceres in 1822 as he effectuated to change of government to Haiti. Prior to departing Santo Domingo forever, he said the following to Jean Pierre Boyer.
This difference in language and the importance it is for different peoples is noted in our very days. We see how much of Europe has made an economic and partially political union with the European Union. Despite most of the integrated countries are rich countries and it’s easier to unite rich countries than poor ones, we can still see that each country maintains its language. Portuguese in Portugal, Spanish in Spain, Frech in France, Italian in Italy, etc. If all countries are forced to subjugate their own language for the sake of one language for the European Union, rest assured the European Union will be a failure. The same holds true elsewhere in the world and Hispaniola is no different.
We have also seen that the identities of the different European countries in the European Union remains defined. In fact, when a country doesn’t see that its best interests are represented by policies of the European Union, things like “Brexit” with the removal by its own decision of the United Kingdom from the European Union takes place. The rest of the world and Hispaniola in particular is no different.
There are many other differences between the two countries of Hispaniola, but there are a few similarities too which are natural to all human societies precisely due to the human quality of all. All humans bleed red blood when cut, have the same bodily necessity, cry when in pain and laugh when in joy; feels the cold and feels the warmth; est, drink and sleep. The existence of differences doesn’t negate the existence of similiarities. Never-the-less, when the similarities are less than the differences, they must not be negated either.
Juan Pablo Duarte, like all Dominicans, was very aware of these differences that were made more obvious as the Haitian Domination implied that Haitian soldiers and politicians would be in close proximity to the dominated Dominicans. No one needed to tell Dominicans how different are the Haitians, they see it day in and day out.
The Dominican Nation Precede the Creation of the Dominican Republic
Furthermore, the Dominicans were a nation well before the creation of the Dominican Republic and this contrast sharply with the Haitians who first witnessed the creation of Haiti and many years later the gradual appearance of the Haitian nation. In this sense, Dominicans were more similar to the modern day Kurds in Syria, Iraq and Turkey or the Sahuari in Morocco, nations without their own country yet. The arise of the Dominican Republic was simply an act of self preservation against a situation where the survivability of the Dominican culture was in danger of disappearing in the name of cultural absorption by one of its neighbors.
If Racism Didn’t Create the Dominican Republic, What Did?
In order to understand the origin of the Dominican Republic, it must also be understand what the Haitian army did to the Dominican population during the Haitian Domination 1822 – 1844. To this is added the identity of Dominicans and the existence of the Dominican nation centuries before the independence of the Dominican Republic.
In order to be concise given the length of this article, we will limit to cite the letter sent by Mr Francisco Brenes to Mr Francisco González de Linares, Governor of Puerto Rico. This copy of this letter is from September 22, 1822. Notice that the Haitian Domination officially started on February 9, 1822. In other words, within 7 months of starting the era of Haitian rule it manifest a general unhappiness among Dominicans.
We will translate what is underlined in red only.
“The truth shall set you free!“
Although this letter was several months after the start of the Haitian Domination, the Haitian authorities proved to be swift and efficient in capturing the leaders of multiple Dominican uprisings against Haitian rule and killing them. The coup d’etat that took place in 1843 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti against then ruler Jean Pierre Boyer meant the Haitian troops were concentrated in returning the peace to Port-au-Prince. That was the perfect moment for the movement of the independence of the Dominican Republic, which already existed for several years but had not been put in energetic action until then. This movement headed by the young men Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Matías Ramón Mella was successful in achieving its goal for one reason that differentiate this from all other Dominican uprising: while the Haitian government was searching for them very diligently in order to kill them and put an end once more to a Dominican uprising, this time the Haitian authorities never caught them. Once the group of young men success in effectuating the separation from Haitian rule, the rest of the Dominican population followed as finally what they thought would never happen was happening before their eyes. Once that happened, the Haitian Domination was over. A nation that existed without its own government and country finally had one.