The noise level rises as the clock ticks closer to 11 a.m. and thousands of Haitians press forward on the west side of the narrow bridge connecting Haiti to the Dominican Republic. The semi-weekly shopping spree is about to begin.
Every Monday and Friday, the Dominican Republic opens up its border at the Dajabon crossing for a few hours, allowing about 3,000 Haitians to shop at the local street market.Chickens, bananas, eggs, canned goods, rice, spices, dried fish. The Haitians surge through the dusty streets of this northwestern Dominican town, snatching up precious food, haggling noisily over the price. Then they trudge grimly back across the bridge to their embargoed homeland.
The United Nation has slapped a trade embargo on Haiti in hopes it will bring the military leadership to its knees and enable deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to power. Food and medicine are exempt from the embargo.
Allowing Haitians to shop in the Dominican Republic for two hours twice a week is a humanitarian gesture on the part of the Santo Domingo government, but it also makes life easier for the soldiers trying to enforce the embargo along the porous 250-mile border.
"It is easier to keep the Haitians out of our territory if we allow them to come here to the market," said Rear Adm. Ruben Paulino Alvarez, commander of the northern half of the Dominican-Haitian border task force created to enforce the embargo. "And, of course, it is a humanitarian way to aid the Haitians."
Haitians begin lining up on their side of the bridge hours before 11 a.m. At the appointed hour, the chain is dropped, and the shoppers are herded across the bridge by soldiers with sticks.
"We come here to buy food," said a Haitian woman in a yellow dress as she haggled over the price of bananas. "There is some food in Haiti, but it's much cheaper here."