From late September to late October 1937, soldiers in the Dominican Republic rounded up Haitians in the country and brutally killed as many as 20,000 of them with rifles, bayonets and machetes. The killings became known as "The Parsley Massacre" because soldiers would hold out a piece of parsley and ask the person to say the word for it in Spanish, "Parejil." The Haitians spoke Creole and were not able to properly pronounce the word. Those who could not say the word properly were considered Haitian and were killed, including men, women and children alike.

Control of Land

No single reason for the Parsley Massacre has ever been determined. However, many hypotheses have been suggested. One of them is that Dominican ruler Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina ordered the massacre to gain enough power to begin colonizing land to take more control of exports on the island. The Dominican Republic took up two-thirds of the island, but some believed that Trujillo wanted to take control of the entire territory. Trujillo also saw the division of land as a threat to security since rebels could escape the Dominican border relatively easily.

Protection of Jobs

One of the more common reasons suggested for the massacre was that Trujillo wanted to protect jobs inside the Dominican Republic, which he felt were being eroded by Haitians. The country's economy was affected by the Great Depression in the United States, and many were resentful of the Haitians who crossed the border to work in the sugar plantations. The group Border of Lights, which raises awareness of the events of the massacre, says that Trujillo is said to have visited the border region and became enraged at seeing so many Haitians working and living there, promising to do something about it.

Political Revenge

Trujillo had been in power for nearly 10 years at the time of the massacre. During those 10 years, many Dominicans had fled to Haiti and were scheming together to overthrow his rule. Some speculate that Trujillo was angered that Haitian leaders had allowed these exiles a refuge and responded by taking his revenge in the massacre. The killings were thought to send a message not just to Haitian leaders but also to political dissidents.

Absence of U.S. Forces

Before the massacre, U.S. forces had occupied Haiti. The U.S. had moved into the country in 1915 to install a new government and to oversee the creation of a new constitution. U.S. forces also trained a new Haitian military and fought rebel forces. In 1934, U.S. forces officially withdrew from the island. Though their withdrawal was not a reason for Trujillo's attack, it is considered a reason that Trujillo was able to move forward with his plans. If U.S. forces had remained in Haiti, they would have been able to strike a counter-attack.