Divided Islands

The divided islands: Saint Martin

This series of articles will focus on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

The island of Saint Martin was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who was then on his second voyage to the Caribbean, on November 11th 1493, on Saint Martin’s day, hence the name. Due to its salt deposits and protected waters, the Flemish, Dutch, French, English, Portuguese and Spanish all wanted to take possession of the newly discovered land.

The Dutch started occupying Saint Martin in 1627, which caused direct confrontation with Spain as Columbus had claimed the island for the Spanish Crown. The Spaniards, however, Continue reading

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Divided Islands

The Divided Islands: New Guinea

This series of articles focuses on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

The two halves of New Guinea are faced with two very different situations. The Eastern part is ethnically homogeneous but is struggling with political instability due to corruption, separatist movements, and weak infrastructures. The Western part is still being affected by colonialism as Indonesia tries to control the local inhabitants by mixing them with other ethnicities coming from other parts of the country, which has pushed the Papuans to demand self-determination.

The island of New Guinea is split into two almost equal halves by the 141st Meridian east which acts as the border between Indonesia to the West and Papua New Guinea to the East. Continue reading

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Divided Islands

The Divided Islands: Cyprus

This series of articles focuses on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

Upon starting this series, I thought studying divided islands would be easy as the division lines would be well defined. Of course, in Cyprus, this is not at all the case, and what is happening there depends on who you ask. But all in all, it is internationally recognized (by everyone but Turkey) that the island is one country with a de facto division. The resolution of the division of Cyprus has been on the table since its independence in 1960. Recent events may finally bring a solution.

Independence and Division

Internal struggles started immediately after Cyprus’s independence from the British empire in 1960. Three years later, violent outbreaks burst in Nicosia as the Greeks and the Turks could not find a suitable political arrangement, following which the Turkish Cypriots were confined into enclaves (or ghettos), which forced UN peacekeepers to deploy as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) with the mandate “to prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities”.

Cyprus Map

Map of Cyprus

In 1974, the Greek junta toppled the Turkish Cypriot-led government. As a reaction, the Turkish government invaded the island and effectively seize control of the northern third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots unilaterally declared the independence of the territories they controlled under the name of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) which is only recognized by Turkey as an independent state.

In reaction, the UN peacekeepers’ role extended to “include supervising a de facto ceasefire, which came into effect on 16 August 1974, and maintaining a buffer zone between the lines of the Cyprus National Guard and of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces.”

The EU as a potential game changer

In 1990, Cyprus applied for EU membership, which was finally granted in 2004. Cyprus joined although de facto divided. The “EU acquis – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under the internationally recognized government, and is suspended in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.” The strategy of the European Union was to allow Cyprus to join, hoping that it would unite the two communities around a common project, which would lead to the resolution of the situation. It was also expected that it would incentivise Turkey to withdraw from the island to secure its own membership in the EU. The results were, however, not as positive as anticipated.

Role of the UN

Peace talks between the two sides of the island were rare and unfruitful until 2014 when they officially resumed under the auspices of the UN. Many agreements have been put on the table, such as “the High-Level Agreements, an Interim Agreement, the Gobbi Initiative, the Proximity Talks, the Draft Framework Agreement, the First and Second Sets of Ideas, and finally the Annan Plan” but have always failed to lead to a solution as when one party was ready, the other was not. Resentment and the inability to acknowledge one another’s wounds and guilt are part of why the two sides have not been successful in finding a common accord.

Finding a solution

The division of the island did not happen in a nutshell. The Brits considered this option on the eve of decolonization but rejected it due to the risks associated with that solution. In order to secure the stability of the island, Cyprus’s constitution included the necessity for both ethnic groups to be represented at the political level, a clause which actually triggered the violent outbreaks in the 60s and 70s.

The inherent problem to finding a solution to the division of Cyprus is, however, not solely in the hands of the island. The 1960 Constitution actually designated Greece, Turkey and the UK as protecting powers of the newly-independent nation, a role which has given some legitimacy to Athens and Ankara’s interventions into the island’s affairs. In addition, the UN’s involvement in maintain the peace in Cyprus as well as the latter’s EU membership add the two international institutions as players to reckon with.

Davos

Cyprus photo

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) attends a trilateral luncheon in Davos, Switzerland, with Nicos Anastasiades (left), President of the Republic of Cyprus and and Mustafa Akinci, Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community.

Although not the primary goal of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, diplomatic talks often happen in margin of the gathering, as demonstrated by the ‘Reuniting Cyprus’ roundtable which took place there on January 21st. It was announced that the leaders of the two Cypriotes communities had been involved in negotiations since May 2015 in the hope of reuniting the island which is viewed by all parties as their common future.  He also declared that:

These are decisive times, for Cyprus, for the wider region, for the EU and the international community. I can assure you that living in the midst of a region of turmoil, we are committed to continue working with resolve to heal what is an open wound at the heart of Europe, so as for Cyprus to be established as a reference point and symbol for co-existence of the whole region.

Many issues, however, remain on the table. Cooperation and reconstruction will take a long time to implement, and “a settlement would require billions of euros in international aid to help resolve property issues”. But above all, trust will be the hardest to rebuilt.

The next step is to agree on the details of the agreement and gain the support of their respective political leaders as well as that of the international community.

flora 

(Read the full address by Greek President Anastasiades here).

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Divided Islands

The divided islands: Hispaniola

The next series of articles will focus on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

From quickly scanning through the cases of split islands, it is easy to see that the divide is more than just about sovereignty and statehood. In a vast majority of cases, it is possible to see a broad gap between the parts although they share a common border and the same floating piece of land.

Map Hispaniola

Map of Hispaniola

Let’s dig into the first case, Hispaniola. The latter can also be referred to at Santo Domingo, after the name of its original capital.

Conquest and division

Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint Louverture

Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, Hispaniola, or La Isla Española as it was first named, is located in the Greater Caribbean. The location of the island was a strategic asset for Spain’s expansion in the Americas, notably in Mexico, Cuba, Panama and South America.  Upon discovery, the Spaniards killed the majority of the local populations, the Tainos, and principally settled in the South East region of the island, allowing France to occupy parts of the West. The French presence was recognized by Spain in 1697. In 1804, the slaves, under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, revolted again the French and seized their independence under the name of Haiti. The West then invaded the rest of the island, after which the Spanish part declared its independence in 1844 under the name of the Dominican Republic. Unhappy about the situation, the Spaniards regained control of their territory to again become a Spanish dominion. Real independence was finally proclaimed in 1865. Haiti covers about one third of the island, or about 27 000 sq. km.

The island is prone to hurricanes and other weather-related disasters.

The Dominican Republic

Official language: Spanish

Population: 10,478,756 (July 2015 est.)

GDP per capita: $14,000 (2014 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 18.84 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 77.97 years

Human Development Index rank: 101

The Dominican Republic (DR) is a relatively stable democracy despite the recurring political scandals that shake the government in place every now and then. It was not always like that as before 1996, periods of dictatorship, coups and civil war followed one another. The current President is Danilo Medina Sanchez.

Economically speaking, the service sector has taken over the nation’s agriculture productions (sugar, coffee, tobacco). Tourism and telecommunication are the most important sources of revenue for the country. The extraction of silver and gold is also a non-negligible asset for the local economy. “Remittances amount to about 7% of GDP”, and come from Dominicans who emigrated to the US or Puerto Rico where they found better working conditions and higher salaries. In the Dominican Republic, unemployment is high (14,5% as estimated in 2014) and income inequalities force many to leave the country.

The Dominican Republic was not affected by the 2010 Earthquake which destroyed Haiti. The government, however, immediately sent aid to its neighbouring country.

Haiti

Haiti earthquake

The damaged National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake that occurred on Jan. 12, 2010. (Image: Logan Abassi—Minustah/Getty Images)

Official languages: French and Creole

Population: 10,110,000 (est. 2015)

GDP per capita: $1,800 (2014 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 47.98 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 63.51 years

Human development index rank: 163

Although rich under the colonial rule of the French due to the slave trade and deforestation, Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The country has been rules by a succession of dictators, notably François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Political instability is still very important today, and the UN has had to get involved several times in order to organize local democratic and fair elections, like in 2004 after the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned. The current President, Michel Martelly, is currently running for re-election.

Haiti UN

UN peacekeepers attempting to direct earthquake victims queuing for aid outside the National Palace, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 25, 2010. (Source: Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images)

The development of the country is hindered by corruption, the low level of education, and dependence on foreign aid. In addition, the 7.0 of magnitude earthquake which epicentre was located 25km off of Port-au-Prince, the capital city, destroyed most of the city and killed over 300,000 people. 1,5million Haitians were left homeless after the disaster. The reconstruction of the country is still in progress with the help of international economic assistance. This disaster was a massive blow to the economy and development of Haiti, from which the country is still struggling to recover.

The future of Haiti is, however, not very bright as the lack of local infrastructure impedes foreign investment. The instability of the country has also demanded for UN peacekeepers to deploy there for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in 2004 “to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote the political process, to strengthen Haiti’s Government institutions and rule-of-law-structures, as well as to promote and to protect human rights.”

Contrast & cross-border issues

The contrast between the two sides of the island is drastic. One side, Haiti, is poor and underdevelopped, while the other, DR, is consistently developping.

Of course, some traits can be found in both Haiti and DR, such as their vulnerability to natural disasters and governmental instability. They, however, do not have the same means at hand to respond to those issues.

The main issue that affects the island of Hispaniola as a whole is migration, and more specifically from the West to the East. Immigration from Haiti to its neighbouring country has been important for centuries due to the lingering economic problems Port-au-Prince has been faced with. Discrimination against Haitian is, however, strong in Santo Domingo against the darker-skinned migrants. This originates from the colonial era as Haitians’ ancestors are the African slaves who rebelled against their white owners. Illegal immigration has been a recurring problem that the Dominican political class has tried to stop several times with gruesome methods. For example, in 1937, dictator Rafael Trujillo, ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians who had crossed the common border into his country.

Haiti at the border

At the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. (Image: Alex Proimos/Flickr)

Today, it is estimated that 300,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic to work in fields or dig the ditches to support the expansion of the country’s infrastructure, for the meager salary of $4.50 a day. Thousands of Haitians also cross the porous border every day to work in DR. In order to stop the illegal migration flows, the Dominican government has put in place “Operation Shield” to post more troops at the border. In addition, “a September 2013 Constitutional Court ruling revoked the citizenship of those born after 1929 to immigrants without proper documentation, even though the constitution at the time automatically granted citizenship to children born in the Dominican Republic”. This ruling has created indignation and fear amongst the Haitian population in DR as the Operation has the potential to the create the status of statelessness for those who have no family connection with the DR but have never lived in Haiti. 10,000 undocumented Haitians have already been expelled and many more have left DR out of fear. They now live in shanty towns on the Haitian side of the border and cross everyday to got to work.

The differences between the two countries are easy to see; they are the result of the colonial era, their respective political evolutions as well as weather conditions which affect each sides the island differently. All in all, Haiti and the Dominican Republic started their history together but are now on two very different paths. Hispaniola is divided, between languages, cultures, wealth, history, and skin colours. History is rarely linear, and Hispaniola is the perfect example of that.

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