Editorial: Xenophobic Dom Rep
There is as yet no mass deportation from the Dominican Republic of people of Haitian descent. It might still happen. So, Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners must be alert to this human-rights crisis, with deeply racist overtones, that is unfolding in their backyard and be prepared to stand against it.
This week was the end of the deadline for an estimated quarter million people, essentially rendered stateless by Dominican law, to supposedly regularise their status and to place themselves on a path to citizenship. Only a small fraction or proportion of that number has started the process and a mere 300 had, up this week, received formal documents.
That people have been reluctant to submit to a new arrangement is quite understandable. Until a decade ago, persons born in the Dominican Republic were automatically citizens of the country. In 2004, the automaticity of birthright was changed in law. The new arrangement was enshrined in a new constitution of 2010, which required that citizens be born to parents of whom at least one is Dominican and the other living in the country legally. Three years later the Dominican Republic's Supreme Court retroactively applied the arraignment to 1929, or 84 years. The upshot: hundreds of thousands of people stripped of their citizenship.
Few will doubt that this law is aimed primarily at black people of Haitian descent, who the mostly brown, mixed-race 'Dominicans' have historically held in contempt. The Dominican Republic and Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, share the island of Hispaniola, and have had a history of tension between them. For periods in the 19th century, Haiti, the world's first black independent republic, occupied the Dominican Republic.
In the 20th century, poor Haitian workers had crossed the border to work on Dominican sugar plantations and in other agricultural enterprises. They established communities and raised families, but, over generations, were treated as an underclass, deprived of their full rights as citizens. In a single week in 1937, soldiers of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, in one of the periodic anti-Haitian pogroms, massacred an estimated 200,000 people. There may not now be blood, but the constitutional initiative echoes of that massacre.
The Inter-American Court for Human Rights has held that the Dominican Republic's behaviour violates the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Santo Domingo doesn't recognise the ruling. Indeed, it has continued to snub its nose at the protests of the international community.
Jamaica and its partners in CARICOM, of which Haiti is a member, may not have the power to exert their will in the Dominican Republic, but they are not totally without leverage. The Dominican Republic with CARICOM form CARIFORUM, as a vehicle for specific global engagements, including a trade agreement with the European Union.
CARICOM must tell the Dominican Republic that its treatment of its citizens of Haitian descent is unacceptable. Nor is it an internal matter of protecting borders. It is a policy that carries the stench of racism and a xenophobic assault against one of the Community's members. Ultimately, too, it is a statement about large swathes of CARICOM's citizens, who resemble the majority of Haitians. The Dominican Republic's behaviour is not the basis on which it can maintain a relationship with CARICOM. In other words, if Santo Domingo doesn't shape up, CARICOM must be prepared to walk.