EDITORIAL - Reject DR's xenophobia

Published: Monday | September 30, 2013 Comments 0

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Jamaica is a member and for which we carry the lead on issues of external relations, has a free-trade agreement with the Dominican Republic.

CARICOM and the Dominican Republic (DR) form CARIFORUM, a vehicle for pursuing certain common interests, including a trade pact with the European Union known as the Economic Partnership Agreement.

We assume, therefore, that the Dominican Republic values, and wants to maintain, its relationship with CARICOM, a grouping of 15, mostly English-speaking Caribbean countries.

If this is, indeed, true, CARICOM must make it absolutely clear to the Dominican Republic that this rests not only on its subscription to the letter of economic agreements. It must rest, too, on its maintenance of principled political relations with Community members and respect for the human rights of all its citizens, including those who may have their antecedents in CARICOM countries and, in particular Haiti, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.

racist agenda

A decision last week by the Dominican Republic's constitutional court deepens this newspaper's long-standing concern of that country's commitment to these principles, as well as a perception that xenophobes in Santo Domingo are pursuing a racist agenda.

The court held that anyone born in the Dominican Republic after 1929, whose parents were not citizens of the country, are themselves not Dominican.

Until three years ago, it was presumed that anyone born in the Dominican Republic was automatically a citizen of the country. However, in 2010, a new constitution held that citizenship was automatic only to persons born to parents at least one of whom was a Dominican citizen, and the other living legally in the country.

What is particularly pernicious about the constitutional court's ruling, which can't be appealed, is its retroactive application - 84 years. Its impact will be primarily on the descendants of Haitians, many of whom crossed their common border to work on sugar cane plantations or to find other work. Tens of thousands of these people are now effectively stateless, unless they make use of a citizenship legalisation plan that is yet to be promulgated, eight years after a law to allow it.

bigotry

The Dominican Republic will no doubt claim that there is nothing particularly anti-Haitian about the citizenship initiative. The history of the DR's relationship with Haiti and its policy response to immigration from that country, including past attempts of forced removal, bare the fallacy. The constitutional court's ruling could achieve the same ends by self-deportation.

Whatever genuine concern the Dominican Republic has with Haitian immigration - which ought to be the subject of discussion between partner states - bigotry is a significant factor in Santo Domingo's response: a fear among mixed-race Dominicans of their country being blackened by people of the world's most impoverished nation.

In the process, the Dominican Republic is in danger, by disenfranchising people who know no other country, of creating a major humanitarian crisis.

We expect that the Jamaican Government, in conjunction with P.J. Patterson, the former Jamaican prime minister, in his role as CARICOM's special envoy on Haiti, will urgently place this issue on the regional agenda. The Dominicans must be told that xenophobic jingoism is no way to solve problems.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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