NEW YORK — The news from the Dominican Republic has been very troubling for the last couple of years. Basing itself on a 2013 court decision, the government of President Danilo Medina has undertaken policies which effectively threaten several hundred thousand Dominicans of Haitian descent with the stripping of their Dominican citizenship, loss of political and civil rights (including the right to education and health care and other essential services), and potential deportation to Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic but is much poorer and has yet to recover from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and a cholera epidemic caused by careless handling of human waste by U.N. troops.
The friction between Dominicans and Haitians is rooted in a complicated mutual history, in which United States intervention at the beginning of the 20th and on several subsequent occasions has been an exacerbating factor. Regimes in both country that stoked up the conflict, such as those of Rafael Trujillo and Joaquin Balaguer in the Dominican Republic, both of whom promoted anti-Haitian bigotry, were supported by Washington, while Dominicans who worked to build unity between the two peoples, such as Juan Bosch, were undermined. In Haiti, the United States as well as France and Canada have interfered in favor of right wing political groups.
But the immediate problem is that, potentially, several hundred thousand Dominican born people of Haitian ancestry could find themselves stateless, derived of rights and pushed over the border into a country which some of them have never even visited or whose language they do not speak. This has led to sharp diplomatic exchanges between the Haitian and Dominican governments. The Dominican policy has also been criticized by CARICOM (the Community of Caribbean Nations) and by Haitian-Americans and others in the United States and worldwide, as well as in Haiti itself.
Faced with this reaction, President Medina backed off a bit and created a mechanism whereby people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic or have been settled there for a long time could regularize their status and move toward Dominican citizenship. But the paperwork demands have been such that most missed a June 17 deadline, and numerous Haitian descendants have already fled across the border and are ending up in makeshift refugee camps in Haiti.
Statements by right wing nationalists in the Dominican Republic have been fiercely anti-Haitian, accusing their neighbors of wanting to “invade” and “bring their poverty with them”. Haitians and Haitian Dominicans are accused of stealing jobs and using up social welfare resources, as well as of being criminally inclined.
However, the Haitian Dominicans have not been without their defenders in the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Diaspora, as statements coming out of both the Dominican Republic and the Dominican-American Communities in New York, Miami and elsewhere eloquently demonstrate.
In New York on August 5, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, a group of Dominican-American labor, religious and civic leaders forcefully expressed the views of those Dominicans who deplore the treatment of their fellow citizens of Haitian descent.
Edison Severino, Business Manager of Laborers’ International Union of America Local 78, who is of Dominican origin, expressed indignation at the conduct of the Dominican government and elites. Speaking in Spanish, he pointed out that large numbers of Dominicans have crossed the Mona Channel into Puerto Rico, risking their lives as undocumented immigrants, and that there are many undocumented Dominican immigrants living in the United States who hope to be legalized by immigration reform. Severino characterized as “aberrant and shameful” the stance of the Dominican government that people born in its territory, whatever their origin, are not Dominicans in every sense.
In the Dominican Republic itself, Matias Bosch, grandson of President Juan Bosch, also has spoken out eloquently and in detail against the anti-Haitian policy. Juan Bosch (1909-2001) was the first democratically elected president in Dominican history. Elected in 1963 after the fall of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, he had also spoken out in defense of the Dominicans of Haitian descent, but was, in a question of months, overthrown by a military coup. An effort to restore him to power in 1965 was blocked by U.S. intervention, and anti-Haitian propaganda became a staple of the long reign of right-wing, U.S. supported President Joaquin Balaguer.
Matias Bosch’s closely reasoned critique of the anti-Haitian policy in the Dominican Republic attacks the issue from many sides. On the one hand, Bosch destroys the idea that the Haitians constitute an uncontrolled wave “invading” the Dominican Republic by pointing out that the Dominican government spends a ridiculously small percentage of its budget protecting its border with Haiti; this suggests that talk of an invasion by criminally inclined Haitians is a smokescreen. He shows that far from being a drain on Haiti’s social welfare budget, Haitian workers, super-exploited for decades in the Dominican sugar industry, have contributed by their labor far more to the wealth of the Dominican Republic than they get back in the paltry services that they, and, indeed, all workers and poor people in the country receive in return in the form of educational, health and other public benefits.
Bosch also points out that the Dominican Republic is signatory to numerous international treaties regarding nationality and human rights which are violated by the 2013 court decision and the policies of President Medina’s government. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the San Jose Convention, which oblige signatory countries not to discriminate against anybody in their territory in the provisions of educational, health care and other services.
Because of the poverty and exploitation of both countries, Bosch points out, both are dependent on remittances that their emigrants in the United States and elsewhere send home to their relatives on the island of Hispaniola.
Finally, like Severino, Bosch points out the irrationality of Dominicans, who have had to flock to the United States with or without immigration papers because of their own dire economic need, being indignant when poor Haitians obey the same imperative.
Photo: Protesters join the Day of Action rally outside the Dominican consulate in Miami, July 1. | J Pat Carter/AP