PEPILLO SALCEDO, Dominican Republic ( Associated Press) — In a blue-water bay on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, fishermen from both countries recently aired their grievances in a rare encounter made possible by marine biologist Jean Wiener.
The meeting, watched over by officers of the Dominican Navy, was a great achievement for Wiener, who is forced to ensure the preservation of the diverse biology of this area from a distance — from his home in Bethesda, Maryland, USA — , due to the violence in Haiti, his homeland.
Now, this renowned biologist was facing the heat of the Caribbean at the entrance to the “Río de la Masacre”, trying to generate a dialogue between the two sides and to resolve a situation that could not only save his source of income but also vital marine resources. in a region vulnerable to climate change.
“Overfishing has decimated the entire ecosystem,” said Rodolfo Jiménez, director of a border agricultural project in the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian fishermen, standing in front of Jiménez on a beach, nodded. But they said that the damage suffered by the Montecristi National Park, in the northwest of the Dominican Republic, had not been caused by them.
Wiener’s work has grown in prominence over the years, largely because of Haiti’s charcoal sellers, who cut down trees for firewood for cooking and, in recent times, have started cutting down mangroves, a tropical vegetation which is a natural barrier that protects from the destructive hurricanes of the Caribbean.
It was the first trip for Wiener, director of the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity since November 2021. He hadn’t been back since due to gang violence plaguing the Haitian capital. The scarce presence of the state diminished even more after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise and little is done to contain crime.
For years, Wiener visited Haiti almost every month, but now he does so a few times a year because the country is so dangerous. He continues to do his work remotely, delegating more responsibility to his team, with people all over the country.
When he comes, as he did for a few weeks in March, he tours Haiti in a small plane. Doing it on the ground is too risky.
It’s a dilemma faced by Jean and others like him around the world. Climate change contributes to generating conflicts, which in turn hinder scientific research and environmental projects that seek to combat the effects of climate change. The environmental organization Global Witness issued a report last year according to which in 2020 there was an unprecedented number of environmentalists killed around the world. It counted 227 deaths, the highest number ever recorded for the second consecutive year. Colombia is the country with the most murders, with 65, followed by Mexico, with 30.
“Failed states make it harder for the scientific community to work and make it harder to solve these problems,” said Peter Gleick, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland organization that studies water issues.
In several reports released in October, the United States said that climate change will be central to security strategies. One of the studies identified 11 countries that are of “greatest concern” because they are particularly vulnerable to climate change and unable to cope with the problems they face. Haiti was one of them.
Haiti has the State Department’s highest travel alert for kidnappings, crime and civil unrest. There are “widespread kidnappings and they frequently affect US citizens,” according to the State Department.
Kidnapping is an old scourge, but it increased after the departure of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in 2017. In October, a group of missionaries was kidnapped by a powerful gang, who demanded a ransom.
The March meeting took place at the mouth of a river whose name evokes a bloody historical episode on the island of Hispaniola: The River Massacre, also known as the Dejabón River. Although there was a previous massacre, it is best known for an incident in which Dominican soldiers executed thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in 1937.
Animosity toward Haitians continues to this day, to the point that Dominican President Luis Abinader proposed building a 190-kilometer (118-mile) wall along the border.
In the end, the March trip to Haiti was uneventful, though danger lurked.
When Wiener visited the southwest of the country, his driver learned that protesters were planning to storm the local airport. The action took place a few days after Wiener left. People came to the runway and burned a plane.
During his visit to the north of the country, Wiener gave a diving class. Being in the water, a puffer fish appeared. Wiener scooped up the prickly animal with both hands, took a few steps, and dropped it back into the ocean.
“We can all do something,” Wiener said later, at his hotel. “But it’s vital that people get out there, touch and see the environment.”
Trenton Daniel reported from New York.
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