"Boyer Invades Eastern Hispaniola" by Juan Camilo Vera

Vera is a doctoral student at the University of Miami. His research is on Haitian-Dominican relations and the impact on national identity in the Dominican Republic.

In the early nineteenth century, the east side of Hispaniola found itself influenced by the revolutionary currents and movements of independence sweeping throughout the rest of Latin America. The political dissent in Spanish Santo Domingo was exacerbated by a series of economic hardships, incompetent administrations, high inflation,heavy taxation, and social disorder during the period that has come to be known as the "España Boba" (foolish Spain). By this point the colony had been neglected by the Crown and the lack of money and instability meant that the colony could not function regularly, with a military force that was not being paid on a timely basis.

At the same time, a the threat of a forthcoming invasion on the part of the French was feared by the Haitian government on the other side of the island. For Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer the unification of Hispaniola became an important objective. He believed that unifying both sides of the island would facilitate defense against an eventual French attack.

This proposal from Boyer became one that was contemplated by many. On the other hand, Jose Nuñez de Cáceres, lieutenant governor of Santo Domingo represented the dissatisfied military leaders in the capital. Their goal was to proclaim the independence of Santo Domingo and to become part of Bólivar’s Gran Colombia. The people of Santo Domingo found themselves at a peculiar crossroad, one that offered them three possibilities: unification with Haiti, annexation to the Gran Colombia, or to remain as a Spanish colony.

Unification with Haiti gained support among slaves and nonwhite Dominican masses as it was believed that it would lead to the abolition of slavery and greater equality for all citizens. These reasons, as well as the possibility of increased economic markets for agricultural products, influenced many of the Dominicans who lived in the frontier regions. The idea gained some traction among members of the military, and in 1821 Governor Sebastián Kindelán discovered that some of the Dominican military officers in Azua and Santo Domingo had already become part of the plan for unification with Haiti. A defining moment took place on November 15, 1821, when the leaders of several Dominican frontier towns, particularly Dajabón and Montecristi, adopted the Haitian flag.

In the meantime, in Santo Domingo, under Nuñez de Cáceres ‘s leadership those who viewed the Spanish Crown as incapable of reviving the colonial economy declared their independence from Spain on November 30, 1821. They removed all Spanish government officials and named themselves the independent State of Spanish Haiti. However, as the end of 1821 approached, Bólivar failed to fulfill his commitment to Nuñez de Cáceres and his followers. The military and economic aid that they expected never materialized. At the same time, a military envoy from president Boyer arrived in Santo Domingo, bringing with them a message of support and an offer of political and military backup for the new government. Knowing that he would get no support from the mulatto majority in Santo Domingo, and that those from the ruling class viewed him as a traitor who had overthrown the Spanish government, he found himself forced to accept Boyer’s offer and conditions.

Nonetheless, contrary to his friendly promises, Boyer mobilized an army of 12,000 men into Santo Domingo. These Haitian forces were met with minimal resistance. Seven weeks after gaining independence from Spain, the newly founded Spanish Haiti found itself under Boyer’s occupation. Knowing however that two of the three existing factions on the eastern side of the island could offer resistance to this occupation, the Haitian president prepared himself to use military force against both the colonial elite and the pro-Colombians.

Boyer’s policies, as noted in his 1822 proclamation, included the immediate abolition of slavery and the promise of land reform that would benefit the freed slaves. He also created a new military group, Battalion 32, in order to create employment for some of the former slaves. Significant amounts of land were confiscated from the state and church for this purpose. These policies were met with significant support for the Haitian regime among the nonwhite population of Santo Domingo. On the other hand, they were significantly opposed by the elites, as can be seen in the correspondence between Francisco Brenes and Francisco Gonzalez de Linares.

As the land reform took place, Boyer eliminated the previous system of terrenos comuneros (where land belonged and was worked by multiple owners), and followed Haitian models of distribution. Additional laws were passed that favored agriculture over cattle raising. He introduced the Rural Code, which indicated that the campesinos were mandated to work on plantations under the threat of punishment. Additional regulations focused on eliminating the cockpits and cockfights, a reduction on the number of religious festivities, and other statutes that focused on increasing production and eliminating spaces where social and political dissent could be fostered. These demands and reforms generated great discontent resistance from both the old cattle elite and much of the peasantry.

The high levels of resentment, and Boyer’s inability to improve the lives of both criollos and former slaves fled to the development of resistance movements in different parts of the island. Of particular significance are the Trinitarios, led by men such as Juan Pablo Duarte and Ramón Mella, and the young mulatto Francisco del Rosario Sánchez. These movements, combined with opposition from groups within Haiti, and the long-lasting effects of a powerful earthquake in 1842, left Boyer’s government weakened.

On February 27, 1844, the Trinitarios marched on the Puerta del Conde, in Santo Domingo, and declared Dominican independence from Haiti. To the present day, Dominicans celebrate their national independence on this date, marking their separation not from the Spanish Crown, but from their neighbors to the West of the island.