Andre Wright | Jamaica honouring Dom Rep's shame
Prime Minister Andrew Holness faces a moral test when he meets today with the president of the Dominican Republic (DR), Danilo Medina Sanchez, as Jamaica and its northern Caribbean neighbour seek to strengthen economic and other relations.
What is galling about Mr Medina's one-day visit is that Prime Minister Holness' Government has endorsed Mr Medina's induction into the prestigious Order of Excellence, Jamaica's second-highest honour. In other words, Mr Medina will be just short of national-hero status.
Jamaicans must remember that it is the Medina administration that spearheaded the xenophobic policy that has sought to disproportionately target Haitian migrants.
Judgment 168/13, passed in the Dominican Supreme Court in 2013, is a piece of revisionist racism that was geared towards rendering stateless hundreds of thousands of Haitians, many of whom had been born in Dom Rep to illegal migrants. The legislation is retroactive to 1929. The issue of citizenship, whether by birthright (jus sanguinis) or by the soil (jus soli), is not at the core of global denunciation; it is that this iniquitous action will be retrospective.
International outrage, including from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Jamaica is a leading member, has been swift and unequivocal in condemning the Medina regime for its poorly disguised attempt at ethnic cleansing.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are tangled in a troubled history that has been embittered by colonialism, conquest, racial tensions and economic victimisation. The Dom Rep government has, under duress by protesting human-rights lobbies and governments, granted extensions for Haitians to regularise their status but continues to deport Haitians by the thousands every month. The calculated purge is on in earnest.
Mr Holness must be commended in his ambitions to deepen Jamaica's economic ties with the Dominican Republic, something which his predecessor, Bruce Golding, championed in a revisioning of this country's trade ties away from CARICOM and to pivot more towards Cuba and the Dominican Republic. (Perhaps the Golding report on Jamaica's future relationship with CARICOM has not been unveiled because it reinforces Mr Golding's sometimes icy apathy towards the regional bloc, in contradiction to Mr Holness' rhetoric on broadening its footprint).
Jamaica should exploit its geographic proximity to the Dominican Republic, and exporters, especially, should maximise the prospect of tapping a market of nearly 11 million.
Increase in exports
When Mr Medina assumed the presidency in 2012, Dom Rep exports to Jamaica topped US$48 million, while traffic in the other direction was less than US$600,000. Five years later, Dominican exports to Jamaica and the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean are valued at US$180 million, according to Fernando Gonzalez Nicolas, president of the Roundtable of Commonwealth in the DR. And they are hungry for more.
Mr Holness can use his leverage not only to open up markets in the Dominican Republic for Jamaican exporters while feeding Santo Domingo's growing appetite, but to emphasise to President Medina that this country has always stood up for global moral causes - whether on South Africa, Cuba and, in this case, Haiti - even when it was not popular to do so.
Jamaica's kinship with Haiti should jolt our collective conscience into action. President Medina does not deserve the honour of Jamaica's Order of Excellence.
- Andre Wright is opinion editor of The Gleaner.