Sept. 15 (UPI) — The Dominican Republic on Friday closed its border with Haiti amid an escalating immigration crisis and an emerging dispute over Haiti’s plan to build an artificial canal off a major river that separates the island-sharing nations.
The country locked down all ports of entry with Haiti, including every access point by land, air and sea, according to a Thursday announcement from President Luis Abinader, who vowed to keep the shutdown in place indefinitely.
In response, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a security alert, warning U.S. citizens that the government would offer no diplomatic assistance to Americans trying to get in the Dominican Republic from Haiti.
Immediately after the order, the main airline serving the two countries announced flights were suspended, while Dominican bus services that serve points across the border screeched to a halt.
Abinader also sent troops to the border to enforce the closure, while blasting the canal as “nonsensical,” saying it was a “totally inadequate construction without any type of engineering” and a “provocation that this government is not going to accept.”
The move to seal the border comes amid a broad crackdown on Haitian immigration and also as the Dominican Republic was building a wall to stop a flood of illegals who crossed the border in recent months to escape the worsening violence in Haiti.
“As you know, the Haitian government has a control problem in its territory,” Abinader said. “And if things are uncontrollable there, they will be uncontrollable for the Haitian government, but they will not be uncontrollable for the government of the Dominican Republic.”
Haiti’s plan to build the canal off the Massacre River stoked further tensions as the new channel would draw thousands of gallons of water away from the Dominican Republic in order to irrigate 7,400 acres inside Haiti.
The Dominican government said the canal violates a 1929 agreement that prohibits each nation from changing the “natural course” of waterways along the shared border.
On Thursday, Haiti’s government issued a statement saying Abinader’s “unilateral” move to close the border had undermined recent diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute, and as tens of thousands of Haitians have been deported in recent months.
“The government of the republic of Haiti will take all measures as of law to protect the interests of the Haitian people,” the statement said.
The recent upheaval on Hispaniola underscores centuries of strained relations between the two nations, stemming from their fractured history under French colonial rule.
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, tensions have steadily intensified, leading to widespread violence throughout Haiti.
Dominican lawmakers have voiced increasing concerns over the canal, calling it a potential threat as the Haitian government was susceptible to corruption as it was held in duress by criminal gangs who were vying for control of the country.