EDITORIAL - Tell DR where to get off

Published: Friday | November 15, 2013 Comments 0

The visit to Jamaica by Haiti's president Michel Martelly provides an opportunity for a deepening of economic and political relations between the two countries.

It should also be a platform from which Jamaica rejects any idea of Haitians being on the periphery of the Caribbean family. That message must be sent firmly to the Dominican Republic.

On the economic front, President Martelly is in Jamaica at a time of debate on the relevance of our membership in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Haiti is also a member and with which we run a deficit of almost US$1 billion.

Most of the trade gap is accounted for by Trinidad and Tobago, the community's manufacturing leader and oil exporter, with which the rest of CARICOM finds it difficult to compete, and who Jamaicans sometimes accuse of unfair trade.

Jamaica should pursue any legitimate complaints against Trinidad and Tobago. But we must also fix the things that make our economy uncompetitive. And we must follow opportunities in markets where we have comparative advantage and can operate to the benefit of ourselves and our partners.

HAITI'S LEGITIMACY IN THE CARIBBEAN

Haiti, a close neighbour, with a population of nearly 10 million, is a market we have insufficiently explored.

While a few Jamaican businesses have gone into Haiti, economic relations are in the hands of criminals with their guns-for-drugs trade.

That should change. Mechanisms for doing this should be atop the agenda of the talks between President Martelly and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

It may be an opportunity, too, for them to consider the creation of a northern Caribbean axis within CARICOM; a subgroup that advances their interests without placing undue stress on the community.

On Haiti's legitimacy in the Caribbean family, Mrs Simpson Miller must loudly declare that this is not in doubt and warn that Kingston will not tolerate xenophobic behaviour against Haitians and people of Haitian descent. Specifically, our Government should use President Martelly's presence to tell the Dominican Republic that, if it does not desist, we may feel compelled to enjoin St Vincent's proposal for DR's suspension from CARIFORUM, in which it sits with CARICOM states and Cuba, as well as from the benefits of Venezuela's oil initiative, PetroCaribe.

A PERVERSE RULING

Two months ago, the Dominican Republic's constitutional court, in a perverse ruling, held that anyone born in that country after 1929, who could not show that their parents were Dominican citizens, were themselves not citizens. This law is retroactive 84 years.

While the law applies to people of all nationalities, its practical impact is on people of Haitian descent, more than 200,000 of them, who, having lived in the Dominican Republic for generations, will be stateless.

Mixed-race Dominicans have long been uncomfortable with the black Haitians. Seventy-five years ago, Dictator Rafael Trujillo's soldiers murdered 200,000 Haitians in a single week. There are echoes of that genocide in this constitutional court's ruling.

In decrying this latest injustice, our prime minister might invoke the name of a Dominican patriot and friend of Jamaica - the late José Francisco Peña Gomez. His Haitian parents fled the 1937 massacre. He was adopted. In the 1960s, he inspired an uprising against military dictatorship. Peña Gomez served as mayor of Santo Domingo. He three times ran for the presidency.

Peña Gomez was black.

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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