Merengue is one of the greatest expressions of our national heritage, says Leon Campuzano Agüero, national sub-director of folklore at the Museo Nacional del Merengue Dominicano, Johnny Ventura.

Congressional approval for the creation of the Merengue Museum came in August 2021. The museum is set to display the works of the initial creators and icons of Dominican merengue like Billo Frómeta and Johnny Ventura, and the art forms’ latest generation of stars like Wilfredo Vargas and Juan Luis Guerra. 

Located at Calle Vicente Celestino Duarte No. 9 in Santo Domingo, the museum will detail the birth, development, and evolution of merengue.

Agüero explained that the first Africans to come to the Americas, by way of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, came by way of the Dominican Republic. “The African footprint is present in our music, dance, and spirituality––as with the famous Congos of the Holy Spirit musical group [a UNESCO-recognized musical brotherhood centered on African spirituality] and the Gagá [African and Catholic religious rituals],” he said.

The colonization of what we know today as the Americas and the Caribbean began in Quisqueya (the current Dominican Republic) in October 1492, with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and his three ships. They heralded the barbarism that in less than half a century ended the lives of more than 10 million of the original peoples––the Caribs, Arawaks, Chibchas, Mayas, Incas, Seminoles, and Cherokee, among many others, according to historian and religious leader Bartolome de las Casas’ report, “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.”

The name Quisqueya was eliminated, and the name Hispaniola was arbitrarily chosen for the island. The resident Taíno, Arawak, and Carib populations were subjected to brutal and dehumanizing exploitation in local gold mines. European invaders kidnapped thousands of Africans and exploited them in the gold mines too. Africans were also enslaved to raise cattle and work on the sugarcane plantations. 

Faced with this situation, the Indigenous Enriquillo rose up. According to Afro Dominican activist Dario Solano, the Arawak resistance fighter, Enriquillo––whose original name was Guarocuya––led a 14-year war of resistance against the Spanish from the southwestern region of what is today known as the province of Bahoruco. Guarocuya was eventually granted land by the Spanish, and he was not forced to pay taxes to the Spanish for the property. 

Another famous rebellion was led by Sebastián Lemba Calembo, who was of Congolese origin. Lemba led a 15-year insurgency war against the Spanish, fighting in a style that is today recognized as guerrilla warfare. Lemba kept the Spanish at bay until he was captured in 1547. 

Haitians are stateless in the Dominican Republic

In 1697, a peace treaty was signed among the European powers of Spain, France, and England, and from then on, the island was divided between France and Spain. It was not until the Haitian Revolution, which took place from 1791 to 1804 and was the first triumphant revolution of the African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean, that the island was freed. 

Under Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer (who served from 1818-1843), the eastern part of the Dominican Republic was occupied and annexed by Haiti between 1822 and 1844. This situation generated numerous historical conflicts over time, including the infamous Parsley massacre of 1937 under the Leonidas Trujillo administration in the Dominican Republic. An estimated 15,000 to 40,000 Haitians were killed with machetes by Trujillo’s paramilitary forces as they questioned individual after individual to determine if they were Dominican nationals or Haitian immigrants.

The tensions experienced by Haitian migrants in any part of the world are despicable and in violation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, approved by the United Nations in 1990. Since the Parsley massacre, there have been almost permanent crises experienced by both countries, and each has also suffered several invasions from the United States throughout the 20th century. 

The migration of Haitians to the Dominican Republic has been a human flood. In 2013, explains Solano, the activist, the government launched Law 168/13, denying Dominican citizenship to people of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2010. This tragedy was in addition to the forced migration of thousands of Haitians fleeing their nations’ internal violence generated with the creation of the Tonton Macoutes by former President François “Papa Doc” Duvalier (1957-1971).

Faced with this tense border crisis, Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader launched the creation of a 391-kilometer-long wall in February 2022 to stop Haitian migration. The wall reflects, to a certain extent, the xenophobic character of the president. 

Law 168-13 makes Haitians born in the Dominican Republic stateless. This situation has been denounced before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States and the U.N. Human Rights Council. 

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  2. We have so many fond memories of Haiti but what is going on in Haiti now is nauseous. However, not everyone thinks Haiti is Hell and that sentiment would not just be limited to Graham Greene were he alive. Of course, Graham was one of the great writers of the 20th Century and an MI6 spook. One other ex-spook used to love Haiti until the TonTon Macoute hunted him down like a wild animal. Maybe he deserved it? Was he front running the real CIA Haitian equivalent to the Cuban Bay of Pigs?

    If you relish and yearn for Haitian spy thrillers as curiously and bizarrely compelling as Graham Greene’s Comedians, crave for the cruel stability of the Duvaliers and have frequented Hôtel Oloffson you’re never going to put down Bill Fairclough’s fact based spy thriller Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files series.

    It’s a raw noir thriller but it is so real you may have nightmares of being back in Port au Prince anguishing over being a spy on the run. The trouble is, if you were a spook being chased by the TonTon Macoute in the seventies you were usually cornered and … well best leave it to your imagination or simply read Beyond Enkription. It’s considered compulsory reading for espionage aficionados.

    Interestingly Fairclough was one of Pemberton’s People in MI6 (see a brief intriguing News Article dated 31 October 2022 in TheBurlingtonFiles website). If you have any questions about Ungentlemanly Warfare after reading that do remember the best quote from The Burlington Files to date is “Don’t ask me, I’m British”.

  3. Merengue & Afro Dominican heritage is a great thing! It’s something that’s unique and interesting to watch, and it’s definitely worth watching. There’s something interesting about when languages are combined together, and this can be seen in

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