Dominican President Luis Abinader claims that constructing a 164-kilometer barrier along its border with Haiti will stop irregular migration and smuggling – the same claims made in the past for the US-Mexico border wall.

Work has already begun on the nearly 4-meter high fence across almost half of the country’s land border, according to President Abinader, who has described the project as an “intelligent fence” that will employ radars, drones, movement sensors and cameras. The mega project also calls for 70 watchtowers and 41 access points for patrolling.  

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Haiti

Abinader announced the start of the wall’s construction in a February 20 tweet, using the hashtag #FronteraSegura, or “#SecureBorder.” He said that the fencing would regulate migration flows by countering people smuggling mafias. It would also, he claimed, combat the trafficking of drugs and arms and protect farmers in the border region.

The first 54-kilometer stretch of fencing is slated to be completed within nine months at an estimated cost of 1.7 billion Dominican pesos ($31 million).

The wall, first announced in March 2021, comes after Abinader pledged to enforce stricter migration measures in response to a series of crises in neighboring Haiti that have left the country reeling. Last year, Haiti was rocked by the assassination of its president and a subsequent earthquake. Already powerful gangs used the country’s collapse to take control of portions of the country, choking off aid and other essential services. Gang killings and kidnappings also surged.

Haitians have long crossed into the Dominican Republic to find work and escape the country’s turmoil. Nearly 250,000 Haitian nationals were deported from the Dominican Republic between 2017 and 2021, according to migration authorities.

InSight Crime Analysis

Like former US President Donald Trump, Dominican President Luis Abinader is pitching a wall as a one-stop solution to counter irregular migration, human smuggling and drug trafficking. But stopping such activity is, as the US has learned, complicated.

While some Haitian migrants cross the border at informal crossings, most are smuggled by local networks at one of four official border crossings. At the Dominican Republic’s northwest border crossing of Dajabón, which sees most of the migrant movement, smuggling networks bribe troops to pass people through checkpoints.

Jesula Blanc, coordinator of Plateforme du Genre du Nord’Est, a network of civil society organizations operating on the Haitian-Dominican border, told InSight Crime that migrants understand that “where (there) is military, one has to pay.”

Daniel Pou, a Dominican political scientist and security expert, said that the government’s claims of more control over space are inaccurate, “because control won’t be established by the wall.”

“It is established by the personnel,” he told InSight Crime.  

The wall is also unlikely to be much of a deterrent when it comes to the trafficking of cocaine. Cocaine accounted for 75 percent of all drugs seized in the Dominican Republic in 2021, but little of that was captured at the border. During the first seven months of 2021, just 15 kilograms were confiscated there, according to figures obtained by InSight Crime from Dominican authorities. The Dominican Republic seized a total of 12 tons of cocaine during that same period.

Most cocaine arrives in the country by boat. Drugs are dropped on deserted beaches in the southern provinces like Pedernales and Barahona. The cocaine is then dispatched in containers headed to Europe or smuggled by smaller boats to Puerto Rico. The land border does not appear to play a significant role in the country’s cocaine smuggling dynamics.

Stopping migrants from entering the country illegally and combating drug trafficking were also two of the main reasons former US President Donald Trump pledged to build a US-Mexico border wall.

The job was easier said than done. In the end, just 727 kilometers of fencing were constructed in the American Southwest during Trump’s administration, partly by replacing existing barriers. The wall has also been breached more than 3,000 times, according to a recent Washington Post investigation citing records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Data on arrests for illegal crossing at the US southern border indicates that the wall did not have a lasting effect in deterring migrants from heading north.

“Trump built 450 miles of wall, and (President Joe) Biden inherited the second largest number of migrant apprehensions in a year the following year. It’s still easy to get across the border,” Adam Isacson, director of the Defense Oversight Program for the Washington Office on Latin America  (WOLA), told InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: Synthetic Drugs Flood California Crossing of US-Mexico Border

Top US border officials have also long acknowledged that fencing is not effective against drug smuggling, since most drugs are moved from Mexico to the US through legal ports of entry. Drugs are most often concealed in hidden compartments of passenger vehicles or the cargo of tractor-trailers entering at official border crossings, according to the 2020 Drug Threat Assessment by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

According to Pou, the Dominican Republic’s border wall could prove even less effective.

“The wall on the Mexico-US border is a wall with well-trained personnel, with a lot of [financial] capacity, and a lot of technology, and nonetheless it turns out to be insufficient to solve the issues at the border,” he said.

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