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AFRICA AND THE DIASPORA
Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court
Topic: Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court (Read 6690 times)
Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court
November 14, 2013, 04:15:58 PM »
Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
October 24, 2013
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — For generations, people of Haitian descent have been an inextricable part of life here, often looked at with suspicion and dismay, but largely relied on all the same to clean rooms, build things cheaply and provide the backbreaking labor needed on the country’s vast sugar plantations.
Now, intensifying a long and furious debate over their place in this society, the nation’s top court has declared that the children of undocumented Haitian migrants — even those born on Dominican soil decades ago — are no longer entitled to citizenship, throwing into doubt the status of tens of thousands of people here who have never known any other national identity.
“I am Dominican,” said Ana María Belique, 27, who was born in the Dominican Republic and has never lived anywhere else, but has been unable to register for college or renew her passport because her birth certificate was no longer accepted. “I don’t know Haiti. I don’t have family or friends there. This is my home.”
In a broad order that has reverberated across the hemisphere, the court has instructed the authorities here to audit all of the nation’s birth records back to June 1929 to determine who no longer qualifies for citizenship, setting off international alarm.
The United Nations high commissioner for refugees warned that the decision “may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality,” while the regional alliance of Caribbean nations, which the Dominican Republic has sought to join, condemned how masses of people are “being plunged into a constitutional, legal and administrative vacuum.”
“It is remarkably sweeping in terms of numbers: over 200,000 made stateless — a staggering figure,” said Laura Bingham, who tracks citizenship issues for the Open Society Justice Initiative. She and other legal experts called it one of the more sweeping rulings denying nationality in recent years.
To some extent, the ruling, issued Sept. 23, and the intensity of emotions around it carry echoes of the immigration debate in the United States and other countries, with wide disagreement on how to treat migrant workers and their children.
But given the history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti — a sometimes cooperative, often tense and occasionally violent relationship between two nations sharing one island — the decision has brought to the surface a unique set of racial tensions and resentment toward the waves of impoverished Haitian migrants that fill menial jobs on this side of the border.
An estimated 200,000 people born in this country have Haitian parents, according to the last census, by far the largest immigrant group here and thus the one most widely affected by the ruling. Haitian immigrants occupy the lowest rungs of society here, and have for generations, living in urban slums or squalid sugar plantation camps where wage abuse remains common, as a United States Department of Labor report found last month.
For decades, Haitians, housed in remote shantytowns known as bateys, were brought over on contracts for sugar plantations to cut cane under the blistering sun. Many still labor in the fields, while others work as maids, construction workers and in other low-paying jobs.
Many Haitians proudly embrace the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s founding as a nation. But Dominicans, although they rushed aid to Haiti after its devastating 2010 quake and maintain many cultural and social exchanges, historically have viewed their neighbors with qualms, identifying more with their nation’s Spanish colonial past and, despite their own racially mixed heritage, often deriding anyone with dark skin as “Haitian.”
“The Dominican Republic is at a crossroads right now over the question, ‘What does it mean to be Dominican in the 21st century?’ ” said Edward Paulino, a historian at John Jay College who has studied the relationship between the two countries. “It is a country of immigrants, but no other group is like the Haitians, which arrived with the cultural baggage of a history of black pride in a country that chose to identify with the European elite.”
Top officials in the government met on Wednesday to determine how to carry out the ruling, which cannot be appealed. In the meantime, the migration director, José R. Taveras, said that people in limbo would be issued temporary residency permits while the country comes up with a plan to grant them some form of immigrant status. But to many people, that means losing the benefits of citizenship, which beyond basics like voting also allows for lower tuition at state colleges and public health insurance for low-income citizens.
Although Haiti technically bestows citizenship on the children of its nationals, the process can be full of bureaucratic entanglements and slowed by missing or incomplete records, let alone the fact that few of the children of migrants here consider themselves anything but Dominican.
The battle has been in the making for years. People born on Dominican soil, with some exceptions, generally were granted citizenship for generations. But people of Haitian descent often complained of discriminatory practices when getting official documents, and in recent decades the country’s civil registry officials often excluded the children of migrants whose papers were in question by considering their parents “in transit.”
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2005 denounced the practice as a way of discriminating against people who had been in the country for a lifetime. Still, the Dominican Republic enshrined the rule in 2010 by a constitutional amendment that excludes the Dominican-born children of those in the country illegally, including seasonal and temporary workers, from Dominican citizenship. The new court decision not only ratifies the change, but also goes a step further by ordering officials to audit the nation’s birth records, compile a list of people who should not qualify for citizenship and notify embassies when a person’s nationality is in question.
Legal experts, as well as two dissenting judges on the constitutional court, called it a violation of legal principles to retroactively apply the standard of citizenship established in the 2010 Constitution. “As a consequence of this restrictive interpretation and its retroactive application, this ruling declares the plaintiff as a foreigner in the country where she was born,” wrote one of the dissenting judges, Isabel Bonilla.
The case arose from Juliana Deguis, a 29-year-old woman born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian migrants and working as a maid. She sought her national identity card, using her Dominican birth certificate, but was rejected because the document indicated that her parents were Haitian migrants, not legal residents. Legal advocates for Haitian migrants and their children took the case to court, arguing that Ms. Deguis’s parents were residents because they had been contracted to work on a sugar plantation and never returned to Haiti, but the court ruled that they were “in transit.”
That came as a surprise to Ms. Deguis, her family and her neighbors, who have scratched out a living for decades in a remote village populated by former sugar-cane workers. Ms. Deguis has never been to Haiti, only knows a few words of Creole and never thought of herself as anything other than Dominican. “I feel terrible because I cannot work without my ID card and without that the school may not register my children either,” she said.
Supporters of the decision, including the immigration commissioner, said it would help the government regularize people and clarify the citizenship rules. The archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, called the ruling just and nodded to a sentiment among some Dominicans that international organizations were meddling in their affairs.
“International organizations don’t rule here,” he told reporters after the ruling was announced. “I don’t accept anybody coming here to decree anything. No country, not the United States, not France, nobody. Here, we are in charge.”
For now, Dominicans caught up in the ruling await the next steps. Ms. Deguis is not working and worries about caring for her four young children, all born in the Dominican Republic as well. “If there is now this confusion about me,” she asked, “what about them?”
Re: Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court
Reply #1 on:
November 14, 2013, 04:30:38 PM »
The Dominican Republic and Haiti: one island riven by an unresolved past
The republic's plans to revoke the citizenship of many Haitian descendants draws on a long history of prejudice and conflict
By Carrie Gibson
theguardian.com, Monday 7 October 2013
When Haiti was hit by the devastating earthquake in 2010, its island neighbour, the Dominican Republic, rushed to help. It was among the first to send rescue workers, food and water, and also allowed overseas relief agency flights to land at Santo Domingo airport.
But three years on, the goodwill seems to have dissipated and old tensions resurfaced. Just over a week ago the Dominican Republic's highest court ruled to revoke the citizenship of children of illegal Haitian migrant workers – a measure to be applied to anyone born after 1929, and thus affecting not only migrants' children, but their grandchildren and, in some cases, even great-grandchildren.
This is the latest legal attack on the rights of Haitians and their descendants; measures in the past few years have included reclassifying migrant workers as "in transit" rather than legal residents. This meant any child born in the Dominican Republic – which had been one basis for citizenship – also needed one Dominican parent, or one who was a legal resident.
The latest ruling could leave thousands who identify themselves as Dominican but may have had a Haitian ancestor facing an uncertain future – already some 40,000 people have been told they will not receive identity documents. Without official papers, it is impossible to access services such as schools or healthcare. Human rights groups and local NGOs have expressed their concern, and the UN will be reviewing this ruling.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, where Christopher Columbus established the first European settlement in 1492. Despite their shared history of colonialism and slavery, dictatorship and oppression, a physical and emotional border has long separated them.
The western third of the island was ceded by Spain to France in 1697, and the entire island by 1795. By 1801 the famed former slave General Toussaint Louverture had freed all the slaves on the island and united it under his governorship, though this was short-lived.
In 1808, a group of Dominicans started the war of reconquest to drive out the French and return the eastern part the island to Spanish rule – the west by this point was the republic of Haiti. But by 1822 Haiti had established control of the whole island once more. Indeed, the Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti, not Spain, in 1844.
Modern times have been no less complicated. In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo – who wore makeup to lighten his skin and was obsessed with "whitening" the predominantly mixed-race island – ordered the massacre of Haitians in border areas, where many worked cultivating sugar. To determine who was Haitian, soldiers with machetes asked dark-skinned people to say the word "perejil", which is Spanish for parsley. For Creole-speaking Haitians, the "r" sound was difficult to pronounce, and a slip of the tongue became a death sentence. Estimates of the massacre range from 10,000 to 25,000 people killed over the course of a few weeks. And the bitter irony was that Trujillo's grandmother was Haitian.
Today the border continues to inspire fear. Dominican-born children of Haitian descent number around 210,000, in a nation of 10 million. Haitians have long been migrant workers, with many finding seasonal employment in sugar cane fields or other low-wage work, which has become especially crucial in the aftermath of the earthquake. And, like immigrants elsewhere, they are often blamed for taking jobs. At the same time, racialised fears of "Haitianisation" are still regularly voiced by politicians and sections of the media, though many Dominicans have expressed shock and anger over the court's decision. But violence is still directed at Haitians; crimes against them often go unreported; and many continue to live in dire poverty.
Deportations of workers who have no chance to appeal are common – the Dominican military reported it sent away some 47,700 Haitians in the past year, up from 21,000 the year before. And now tens of thousands of people who consider themselves Dominicans face a one-way trip to a country where they cannot speak the language, may not have any family, and face extreme economic hardship. The Haitian government said it "strongly disagrees" with the decision and has recalled its ambassador to the Dominican Republic for consultations on the implications of the ruling.
Anti-Haitianism in the Dominican Republic reaches back decades, if not centuries; unacknowledged and institutionalised, it has been manipulated and put to political use. Rather than being united by their shared histories, the two sides of Hispaniola remain riven by an unresolved past. It is not yet clear how this ruling will be turned into policy, but in facing such an uncertain future, these Dominicans also carry with them a heavy burden of the past.
Re: Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court
Reply #2 on:
November 14, 2013, 04:37:09 PM »
Dominican Republic denies immigration ruling is 'racist'
By Vanessa Buschschluter BBC News
31 October 2013
The Dominican Republic has denied that a ruling by its highest court which says that the children of undocumented migrants are not eligible for Dominican nationality is discriminatory.
Human rights groups have warned that it could leave tens of thousands of people of Haitian descent stateless.
But the Dominican Republic says it is trying to "regularise" the status of undocumented immigrants to its country.
It also said it would provide migrants with temporary resident permits.
Dominican Ambassador to London Federico Cuello Camilo told the BBC that there would be "no mass deportation" of undocumented workers from the Dominican Republic in the wake of the ruling.
The ruling by the Dominican constitutional court was issued in September in response to a case brought by the Dominican-born daughter of Haitian migrants, who had been refused a Dominican identity card.
The judges ruled that because both of her parents were undocumented migrants they were considered to be "in transit" through the Dominican Republic and therefore she was not automatically entitled to Dominican citizenship.
The decision caused an outcry among the country's 450,000 immigrants of Haitian descent, many of whom consider themselves Dominican and do not hold Haitian papers.
They called it "racist" and accused the Dominican Republic of discriminating against Haitian immigrants, who often work in low-paid and low-skilled jobs.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was "extremely concerned" as it "may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights".
But Mr Cuello said the Dominican Republic was just "seeking to put its house in order" and that there would a plan to "regularise the situation of all migrants, no matter their nationality".
He said that contrary to the fears expressed by human rights groups that undocumented migrants could face discrimination and even deportation, the ruling would be "a positive".
The ambassador said that undocumented workers would be issued with temporary residency cards and even those lacking documentation would continue to be given access to the country's health and educational services.
He said migrant workers would continue to be welcomed in the Dominican Republic, which "treasures their commitment to hard work".
The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the island of Hispaniola and since the beginning of the 20th Century, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have crossed into the neighbouring country, hoping to escape the rampant poverty of their homeland to work on Dominican sugar cane plantations and on construction sites.
Confronted with the criticism by the UN and regional body Caricom that the constitutional court ruling could leave stateless hundreds of thousands of people who consider themselves Dominican, Mr Cuello said it was up to their countries of origin to issue their citizens with the relevant papers - and make them affordable.
"In Haiti, it's very expensive to get papers, and I don't see any NGO raising this issue in the international arena," he said.
"The Dominican Republic is ensuring that on our side of the border the procedures are transparent and non-discriminatory, and I hope this will lead our neighbouring authorities to do their part," he added.
Mr Cuello also called on the international community to look at why so many Haitians were leaving their country to find work in the Dominican Republic.
He said little of the money pledged around the world to help Haiti following its devastating 2010 earthquake had arrived.
Re: Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court
Reply #3 on:
November 14, 2013, 06:48:04 PM »
Timeline: Dominican Republic
A chronology of key events:
1492 - Christopher Columbus visits the island, which he names Hispaniola, or "Little Spain".
1496 - Spaniards set up first Spanish colony in Western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, which subsequently serves as capital of all Spanish colonies in America.
1697 - Treaty of Ryswick gives western part of Hispaniola island (Haiti) to France and eastern part (Santo Domingo - the present Dominican Republic) to Spain.
1795 - Spain cedes its portion of Hispaniola island to France.
1808 - Spain retakes Santo Domingo following revolt by Spanish Creoles.
1821 - Uprising against Spanish rules is followed by brief period of independence.
1822 - Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer marches his troops into Santo Domingo and annexes it.
Republic is born
1844 - Boyer overthrown; Santo Domingo declares its independence and becomes the Dominican Republic.
1861-63 - President Pedro Santana returns the Dominican Republic to Spanish rule.
1863-64 - Spain withdraws from, and annuls its annexation of, the Dominican Republic following a popular revolt.
1865 - The second Dominican Republic proclaimed.
1906 - Dominican Republic and US sign 50-year treaty according to which the US takes over the republic's customs department in return for buying its debts.
1916-24 - US forces occupy the Dominican Republic following internal disorder.
1924 - Constitutional government assumes control; US forces withdraw.
1930 - General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina establishes personal dictatorship following the overthrow of President Horacio Vazquez.
1937 - Army massacres 19,000-20,000 Haitians living in areas of the Dominican Republic adjacent to Haiti.
1960 - Organisation of American States adopts resolution calling for severance of diplomatic ties with the Dominican Republic.
1961 - Trujillo assassinated.
1962 - Juan Bosch, founder of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) elected president in the first democratic elections for nearly four decades.
1963 - Bosch deposed in military coup and replaced by a three-man civilian junta.
1965 - Some 30,000 US troops invade the Dominican Republic following a pro-Bosch uprising.
Return to democracy
1966 - Joaquin Balaguer, a Trujillo protege and former leader of the Reformist Party (later to become the centre-right Christian Social Reform Party (PRSC)), is elected president.
1978 - Silvestre Antonio Guzman (PRD) is elected president and proceeds to release some 200 political prisoners, ease media censorship and purge the armed forces of Balaguer supporters.
1979 - Two hurricanes leave more than 200,0000 people homeless and cause damage worth 1 billion dollars as the economy continues to deteriorate due to high fuel prices and low sugar prices.
1982 - Another PRD candidate, Jorge Blanco, elected president.
1985 - IMF-prescribed austerity measures, including price rises for basic foods and petrol, lead to widespread riots.
1986 - Balaguer (PRSC) re-elected president.
1988 - Jorge Blanco tried in absentia and found guilty of corruption during his presidential tenure.
1990 - Balaguer re-elected, defeating Bosch by a small majority.
1994 - Balaguer re-elected, but agrees to serve only a two-year term after being accused of fraud.
1996 - Leonel Fernandez Reyna of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) elected president.
1998 - Hurricane George causes widespread devastation.
2000 - PRD returned to power with Hipolito Mejia as president.
2001 May - Appeals court quashes a conviction against former president, Salvador Jorge Blanco, on charges of corruption.
2001 November - US jet bound for Santo Domingo crashes in New York killing all 255 people on board. Three days of national mourning declared.
2002 July - Former president Joaquin Balaguer dies aged 95; thousands pay their last respects to a man who dominated politics for more than 50 years.
2003 November - Deadly clashes between police and protesters during demonstrations against high prices, power cuts. Two months later, demonstrations about economic policies leave at least five dead.
2004 May - Former president Leonel Fernandez defeats incumbent Hipolito Mejia.
Severe floods in the south-west, and in parts of neighbouring Haiti, leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared.
2005 September - Congress approves a proposed free trade agreement with the US and Central American nations. The DR enters the accord in March 2007.
2008 May - President Leonel Fernandez is re-elected.
2010 May - Congressional elections. Governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) retains firm grip on power.
2010 October - Dominican Republic tightens border restrictions to prevent cholera spreading from Haiti.
2012 May - Governing Dominican Liberation Party candidate Danilo Medina wins close presidential election over former president Hipolito Mejia.
Thought you were a citizen? Dominican Republic changes the rules
Reply #4 on:
November 14, 2013, 07:13:55 PM »
Thought you were a citizen? Dominican Republic changes the rules
The Dominican Republic’s top court ruled that children of immigrants don't qualify for citizenship, even if born there. The move could be hugely disruptive to Haitians in the DR.
By Ezra Fieser
October 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm EDT
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic
For five years, Altagracia Jean Joseph has fought for the Dominican government to recognize her as a citizen.
Born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, she was 23 when she first asked for a copy of her birth certificate, a document needed here to do everything from marry to attend university.
Even though Ms. Jean Joseph was previously registered as a citizen and her father was in the country legally when she was born, the civil registrar refused to provide the document because they assumed she was Haitian, she said.
“All of the sudden one day they told me I wasn’t Dominican because I had a strange last name,” says Jean Joseph.
She eventually convinced the civil registry to give her a copy of her birth certificate, only to watch her three siblings later struggle through the same situation. “This is our lives they are affecting,” says Jean Joseph. She may have been legally registered here at birth, but many government institutions and employers require a recently certified copy of a birth certificate to apply for basic services.
Now, her future is again in question. Last week the Dominican Republic’s top court ruled that children of immigrants – like Jean Joseph – do not qualify for citizenship even if they were born here.
In a ruling that shocked both national and international observers, the Dominican Constitutional Court ordered authorities to review the civil registry dating back to 1929, potentially stripping citizenship from hundreds of thousands of people, and creating a massive population of stateless people.
"This would qualify as one of the largest populations of functionally stateless people in the world,” says Liliana Gamboa, a Santo Domingo-based representative for the Open Society Justice Initiative. "We’re talking about potentially four generations of people who always believed they were Dominican being now told they are not."
It is a blow to generations of people born and raised here who have lived their lives as Dominicans. They are now left to ponder a life without citizenship or pursuing the arduous task of applying for citizenship in Haiti, a country many of them do not know. Rights groups say they will challenge the Dominican government in international courts. Meanwhile, observers wonder how the broad ruling will affect relations between two countries that share an island but often find themselves at odds with each other.
“This is a violation of the human rights of thousands of people,” says Joseph Cherubin, who migrated from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and founded MOSCTHA, a non-profit organization that advocates for Haitians and their families here. “This is state-sponsored xenophobia coming from a government that says anti-Haitianism does not exist in the country,” Mr. Cherubin says.
The United Nations Refugee Agency said it would look into the ruling, while the Haitian government recalled its ambassador, Fritz Cineas, for consultations.
'Unifying the country?'
For decades, Haitians have traveled to the Dominican Republic to work in sugar fields and banana plantations and, more recently, in the booming construction sector. Hundreds of thousands of families have settled. The government used to grant citizenship to all children born in the country, with the exception of people “in transit,” a group that included little more than foreign diplomats posted here.
But in 2004, a new migration law expanded that category to include non-residents, such as undocumented Haitians. Migration authorities then began to refuse to supply certified copies of birth certificates to the children of Haitians. In 2010, the government installed a new constitution that formalized the distinction.
Since, children of Haitians have regularly demonstrated, rallying for recognition from the only country many of them have ever known. Haitians make up the largest immigrant group in the Dominican Republic, with an estimated 458,223 residing here, according to an immigrant census released earlier this year.
Members of a dozen other civil society groups said in a statement they will continue protesting “until the rights violated by this sentence are reinstated." Government officials said that those affected by the ruling would be able to apply for residency and eventually naturalize. “The ruling unifies the country, clarifies and defines … a legal framework for a humanitarian way out for those people,” says Roberto Rosario, president of the Central Electoral Board, which oversees the civil registry.
Human rights groups are doubtful the process will be easy or swift. Without proper documentation, people living here are likely to be subject to deportation and a lack of basic services, including health care.
Wade H. McMullen, Jr., staff attorney at the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, says groups will move quickly to request protective status for at-risk individuals from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights previously ruled that Haitians living here, regardless of documentation, should not be considered “in transit” and that their children are entitled to birthright citizenship.
Mr. McMullen says last week’s ruling was a shock to those who have worked on the issue.
“No one predicted that the court would reach so broadly with the decision, ordering a review of thousands of records back to 1929,” he says.
A government survey released earlier this year estimated 244,151 children of immigrants are living in the Dominican Republic, the vast majority of whom are descendants of Haitians. The number affected by the ruling is likely larger, however, as it will touch several generations, observers said.
'I'm not Haitian'
The ruling comes amid a deteriorating relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Relations seemed bound for better days after a 2010 earthquake destroyed parts of Haiti and drew the sympathy and support of Dominicans. But recently there's been a trade row over chicken and egg exports to Haiti.
Late last week, the US Department of Labor issued a scathing evaluation of the Dominican sugar cane industry, finding appalling conditions for workers, who are mostly Haitian. The report, which came in response to a complaint brought under a trade pact between the countries, also found that the government failed to uphold its labor laws.
The Haitian government had long steered clear of commenting on the citizenship controversy, save for a vague mention of the issue by President Michel Martelly during a state visit last year.
The Haitian foreign ministry said Monday it was “very concerned by the decision,” but many are doubtful the ruling will become the basis for a larger spat.
“Unfortunately the government of Haiti has in recent years taken a rather equivocal and ineffective line [in terms of being] an advocate for the rights of the Haitian-ancestry minority,” says Samuel Martinez, a University of Connecticut professor and anthropologist who studies Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic. “So I doubt that this measure will add much if any lasting tension. … In the long run they will shrug this off.”
That leaves hundreds of thousands of people like Jean Joseph with a stark choice: Return to Haiti and apply for citizenship or live as part of a permanent underclass in the Dominican Republic.
“I’m not Haitian. I’m Dominican,” says Jean Joseph, who visited Haiti once, after the 2010 earthquake to help in the humanitarian response, and speaks only limited Haitian creole. “I’m not about to give up a single right, not one,” she says.
“I’d prefer to die than to live as a foreigner in the country where I was born.”
Commentary: The Haitian-Dominican migration crisis
Reply #5 on:
November 14, 2013, 10:29:21 PM »
Commentary: The Haitian-Dominican migration crisis
Published on October 26, 2013
By Jean H Charles
On September 23, 2013, the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic handed down the decision TC0168/13 in the matter of Juliana Deguis Pierre, 28, a Dominican citizen with four children born in the Dominican Republic, ruling against her and all persons similarly situated. The ruling stated that those persons born after 1929 in the Dominican Republic of parents that did not have proper documents while entering and continuing to live in the Dominican Republic without legalization are henceforth stripped of their Dominican citizenship. The ruling will be enforced by all the branches of the Dominican government.
While the decision is global, it is of particular concern to some 210,000 Haitian-Dominicans who were born in the Dominican Republic, have received their birth certificates, have been to school in the Dominican Republic, have lived a normal life in the Dominican Republic and have little or no attachment to the Republic of Haiti.
The Dominican Republic, as the United States, utilizes the concept of jus solis
as the basis to confer citizenship on people born under the sun of its territory. The only exception to this rule has been children of diplomats accredited to the Dominican Republic that were considered persons in transit.
A 2004 law enshrined in the amended Dominican constitution of 2010 expanded the concept of persons in transit to include not only diplomats but also all persons who enter and remain in the Dominican Republic without proper documents. Their offspring would step outside the umbrella of jus solis and, as such, they could not benefit from Dominican citizenship.
The Supreme Court used a strict framework in rendering its decision in the matter of nationality of who is and who is not a citizen of the Dominican Republic. It sent scrambling the government and civil society, the Haitian and the international community that perceived an ethnic cleansing similar to or compared with what happened in Germany under Hitler, in Serbia under Milosevic, and Rwanda under Prime Minister Jean Kambanda.
E palante que vamos!
The Dominican Republic has been often in the news as a star nation that fits its slogan: We are pushing forward! Its tourism business might be along with The Bahamas a booming industry in the Caribbean. Its economy, in expansion since 2004, is sucking human resources (manual and professional) from Haiti to maintain the push forward. Its balance of payments with Haiti from which almost everything is imported (mostly after the earthquake of 2010) is an enviable position of master/servant. What, for God’s sake, did the Dominican Supreme Court have in mind in rallying against itself the wrath of the civilized world in pointing the country as a pariah state that uses the cleansing doctrine to solve other structural problems?
Playing the double advocate!
The Dominican Republic, with a population of 10 million people, as the Republic of Haiti, has been absorbing some 1 million Haitian people in its mists. In spite of infrequent skirmishes, life continues rather smoothly for this migrant population. Some 150,000 attend colleges and upon graduation they find jobs in the hotel industry that prize their command of different languages as well as their demeanor of hard and professional workers. Some 100,000 toil in the sugar cane industry, sometimes as slaves sent by their own government (in the past through a joint governmental agreement). They are now lured by unscrupulous brokers, leaving conditions at home that are inhospitable that make them easy prey for an illusory Eldorado in Santo Domingo.
Stan Golf in an op-ed in the Push says it best: “The Haitians cut the cane, labor in the most exhausting factories, perform the most grueling work with the least money and much like the Afro American and the Latinos in the United States they provide the super exploited economic and safety valve against the demands to increase wages.”
It is hard for Haiti to blame a discriminatory situation in the Dominican Republic that it entertains itself at home. The living conditions in rural Haiti or in the shantytowns surrounding the cities is, to put it simply, inhumane. With no infrastructure and no institutional buildings in those catchment areas, past governments have been at best callous, at worst criminal in dealing with their own citizens. A brain surgeon’s qualification is not necessary to explain why so many poor Haitians are fleeing home seeking a friendlier sky not only in the Dominican Republic but also in The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominica, Florida and now Brazil.
The ghost of Plessey vs. Fergusson in the Dominican Republic
Homer Plessey was a rich citizen of New Orleans with light skin color. The law around 1892 in the United States and in Louisiana was that persons of color could not ride in the same train car with a white person. Homer Plessey was chosen to test the practice. Upon boarding the train in a white section and informing the conductor that he was a colored person, he was ordered to leave the car and seat in a black only compartment.
He refused, was escorted out and arrested. He later sued all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, where he lost. The court in a seven to for one decision upheld the constitutionally of state laws that recognized the principle that in public facilities the doctrine of separate but equal shall remain the law of the land. It was such until 1954 when the decision was reversed by Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
It is not difficult to envision the ghost of Homer Plessey in Juliana Deguis Pierre challenging the decision of the lower court until the Constitutional Court rendered its decision that stripped all persons similarly situated of Dominican citizenship, in particular its target the Haitian-Dominican community. Will it take 54 years to find the Dr Martin Luther King of the Dominican Republic so as to bring that nation to reason and into the humanist rationality as proffered by Emil Vlagki in his book: Les Miserables de la Modernite?
The history of the Republic of Haiti and of the Dominican Republic is intertwined for the last five centuries. The big island or Ayti – land of mountains -- as it was called by the Taino, was discovered by Christopher Columbus on December 5, 1492, who renamed the island Hispaniola. The Spanish conquistadors who came along with Columbus took only 30 years to facilitate the decimation of the Taino population that was estimated at around one million people. It happened because they were submitted to hard labor and because the disease brought by the Spaniards to the island such as smallpox, measles, influenza, gonorrhea and typhoid ran amok in a population not immune to such illness.
The richness of the Hispaniola lured to the region French buccaneers, who settled first in the small island of Tortuga – la Tortue -- before moving to the western part of the mainland. They grew in number and in strength, fighting with the Spanish until the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 settled the issue, granting the western part of the island to France and the eastern part to Spain.
With grueling slave labor imported from Africa, the western part became one of the most prosperous colonial sites of the world, enriching France up to 60% of its national budget. The eastern part languished under Spanish rule with only 6,000 inhabitants in Santo Domingo around 1697.
Through the Treaty of Bale in 1795, France took complete control of the island. It was also around this time that Toussaint Louverture came on the scene, defeating the British, the Spanish and later the French to govern the entire island around 1801. The independence of Haiti from France led by Jean Jacques Dessalines in 1804 left the eastern part an open front that could have brought back slavery to the newly independent country. As such, all governments thereafter have sought to fight to maintain control of the entire island.
Under Jean Pierre Boyer, the fourth Haitian president, his governance of the eastern part (as well as the western part) was so callous that the Dominicans organized a war of independence under the leadership of Pedro Santana, Francisco Sanchez, and Ramon Malla leading to the liberation of the country on February 27, 1844, from the yoke of the republic of Haiti.
The nation building process in the Dominican Republic was not a smooth one; dissension amongst the founding fathers led to the reoccupation of the Dominican Republic by Spain and the offer of annexation by the United States. It was again the Republic of Haiti that came to help the Dominican Republic regain once more its independence.
The Haitian and the Dominican dilemma
While Haiti in its first Constitution stated clearly that from now and for the future all Haitians are black (in spite of the color of their skin), the Dominican Republic has enshrined in its ethos that all Dominican are white (in spite of the color of their skin).
One of the most revered Dominican heroes and president was Ulysses Heureaux or Lilis. He was a dark skinned Dominican, the son of a Haitian father and of a mother from St Thomas. He ruled the Dominican Republic for decades, building infrastructure and bringing stability to the nation.
Yet the Haitian card is put on the table every time a score must be settled by some politicians. Rafael Trujillo used the card to kill some 35,000 Haitian people around the border of Ouanaminthe and Dajabond in the Parsley massacre to take revenge against Haitians who were supposedly siding with the opponents of his government.
Is the nationality card a new tool crafted by the Dominican government and adopted by the judiciary to enforce the white only ethos for some political game? Haiti has played those two cards and it has failed miserably in both. In spite of the terms of its constitution that all Haitians are black, the light skinned Haitians have dominated the political panorama for the first 150 years after the country’s independence with no apparent nation building results. The rest of the nation’s history has seen since 1946 or the last fifty years, the emergence of the dark skinned Haitians in the sphere of power with similarly dim and poor results for the nation.
In conclusion: two wings of the same bird
The Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic that occupies the same island named Ayti by the Taino or Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus are condemned to live together. Whether the two wings will fly in tandem to y palento que vamos -- push the bird forward -- will depend on the wisdom and the applied policies of the governments and civil society on both sides of the border.
I have often argued for the concept of hospitality for all as defined by Ernest Renan in his formula for building a great nation as the best model for y palento que vamos! The Dominican Republic, in spite of its slogan y palento que vamos, will stall in the long run if it continues to marginalize the weakest segment of its population, the Haitian-Dominican one as well as the native-born dark-skinned Dominican.
The republic of Haiti’s operation decollage – operation take off -- will remain on the ground as long as the majority of its population, rural Haiti and Haiti of the shantytowns is treated as second class citizen.
The best course of action for each one of those two nations is to start treating each one of its citizens as a valuable resource. Carthage, London, New York, Singapore and now Shanghai did not use any other method to occupy at a time in world history the status of the premiere city of the globe. They provided the best education to all citizens within their territory and they incubated all the able bodies to create and produce for their benefit and for the benefit of the nation immense wealth.
In following these models the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti will y palento que vamos huntos! They will be pushing forward together!
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