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UN peacekeepers escort a convoy carrying relief supplies from the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince. (Win McNamee/2010 Getty Images)
UN peacekeepers escort a convoy carrying relief supplies from the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince. (Win McNamee/2010 Getty Images)

Dominican Republic becomes Haiti's hope for swift relief - and its biggest hurdle Add to ...

It's known by locals as the "bad crossing," a cratered dirt trail where the Dominican Republic's modern highway meets Haiti's gravel roads. And it is this desolate crossroads - more reminiscent of a junkyard gate than an international boundary - that poses one of the biggest hurdles to the quick arrival of foreign assistance to quake-ravaged Haiti.

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With more and more aid being directed through the Dominican Republic to avoid the chaos of entering through Haiti's shattered capital, the relief effort is facing a whole new set of bottlenecks: a tense border; over-crowded roads; and major logistical challenges in the staging ground of Santo Domingo, a relatively small seaside city not prepared for a major influx of global relief.

"This is going to be tricky," said Chris Weeks, director of humanitarian affairs for DHL Deutche Poste who is working with the World Food Program to turn the small, cramped cargo area at the Santo Domingo airport into a hub that will be able to unload dozens of planes full of supplies and get the badly needed material on to trucks headed to Port-au-Prince.

"I haven't seen an [emergency relief]scale like this since the tsunami."

Already Mr. Weeks has identified a series of problems. Customs clearance, security issues, cargo handlers and private truckers who will expect to be paid up to $2,000 per load. He shakes his head at the thought of trying to move thousands of tons of supplies through the narrow warren-like streets of the cargo area. The only solution, he muses, would be help from the Dominican Republic military. But there's been no offer yet.

Others at the airport share Mr. Weeks' concerns.

"It's crazy," Raymond Alonzo, who runs Dama Airline Cargo Management, said when asked about the demands being put on the airport. He added that he is happy to do all he can. But his workers have to be paid and he has other clients to keep happy.

The relationship between the two countries is partly a reaction to a long history of invasion and plundering by Haiti in the 19th century. It also touches on race. Many Dominicans see Haiti as a backward African contrast to their own Hispano-European sophistication. Military officials in the Dominican Republic have bolstered their ranks along the border amid rising fears of illegal crossings by Haitians. The Dominican government also expects Haitians admitted for emergency reasons to return home once the crisis has subsided.

Most private vehicles aren't allowed across the border, so drivers and passengers on cheap public transit arrive at one checkpoint, and walk or ride special motorcycles to the other. It's hardly an efficient model for the movement of goods and human capital.

In Port-au-Prince, aid distribution sprang up at scattered locations, drawing huge crowds. Much of the city's main routes were gridlocked with traffic. Some drivers drove for kilometres along a riverbank to avoid thoroughfares.

In the Dominican Republic, officials have adopted a similar stand. The Secretary of Foreign Relations has ordered only Haitians with medical emergencies be allowed into the country, and the army has established checkpoints on roads leading from the border.

Even though just about anyone who has asked has passed through the gate that separates the two countries, giving the impression of a free flow, the army has established several checkpoints along the highway that leads out of Jiman.

Jerry Willem Wesner, a Dominican truck driver, was selling pasta and apple juice out of the back of his truck yesterday. He said the state of the border on Dominican territory is easy to explain.

"The Dominican government is not interested in Haiti, and even less in Haitians before the earthquake," he said. "Now, it's different. But you can't fix the border crossing now, can you?"

******

WHERE HAITI STANDS

RACING AGAINST TIME

43 rescue teams are still fighting to find people alive under collapsed buildings. 90 people have been pulled from the rubble. "Today is the last day that I think we will be able to find survivors, mainly because of dehydration," said rescuer Rami Peltz.

THE BUSIEST STRIP

The Port-au-Prince airport, which handled just 30 flights a day before the earthquake, is now handling 180 flights a day. Aid flights will also begin using airports in Jacmel, where a Canadian Forces Hercules landed yesterday.

OUT OF GAS

U.S. considers air-dropping supplies as gasoline shortage becomes new impediment to aid delivery.

FENDING FOR THEMSELVES

Using cars as blockades and armed with machetes, residents create their own security forces. 'We never count on the government here. Never.'

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