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The Haitian-Dominican migration crisis


Published: Oct 29, 2013

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On September 23, 2013, the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic handed down the decision TC0168/13 in the matter of Juliana Deguis Pierre, 28, a Dominican citizen with four children born in the Dominican Republic, ruling against her and all persons similarly situated.

The ruling stated that those persons born after 1929 in the Dominican Republic of parents who did not have proper documents while entering and continuing to live in the Dominican Republic without legalization are henceforth stripped of their Dominican citizenship.  The ruling will be enforced by all the branches of the Dominican government.

While the decision is global, it is of particular concern to some 210,000 Haitian-Dominicans who were born in the Dominican Republic, have received their birth certificates, have been to school in the Dominican Republic, have lived a normal life in the Dominican Republic and have little or no attachment to the Republic of Haiti.

The Dominican Republic, as the United States, utilizes the concept of jus solis as the basis to confer citizenship on people born under the sun of its territory.  The only exception to this rule has been children of diplomats accredited to the Dominican Republic who were considered persons in transit.

A 2004 law enshrined in the amended Dominican constitution of 2010 expanded the concept of persons in transit to include not only diplomats but also all persons who enter and remain in the Dominican Republic without proper documents.  Their offspring would step outside the umbrella of jus solis and, as such, they could not benefit from Dominican citizenship.

The Supreme Court used a strict framework in rendering its decision in the matter of nationality of who is and who is not a citizen of the Dominican Republic.  It sent scrambling the government and civil society, the Haitian and the international community that perceived an ethnic cleansing similar to or compared with what happened in Germany under Hitler, in Serbia under Milosevic and in Rwanda under Prime Minister Jean Kambanda.

E palante que vamos!

The Dominican Republic has been often in the news as a star nation that fits its slogan: We are pushing forward!  Its tourism business might be along with The Bahamas a booming industry in the Caribbean.  Its economy, in expansion since 2004, is sucking human resources (manual and professional) from Haiti to maintain the push forward.  Its balance of payments with Haiti from which almost everything is imported (mostly after the earthquake of 2010) is an enviable position of master/servant.  What, for God’s sake, did the Dominican Supreme Court have in mind in rallying against itself the wrath of the civilized world in pointing the country as a pariah state that uses the cleansing doctrine to solve other structural problems?

Playing the double advocate

The Dominican Republic, with a population of 10 million people, as the Republic of Haiti, has been absorbing some one million Haitian people in its midst.  In spite of infrequent skirmishes, life continues rather smoothly for this migrant population.  Some 150,000 attend colleges and upon graduation they find jobs in the hotel industry that prize their command of different languages as well as their demeanor of hard and professional workers.  Some 100,000 toil in the sugar cane industry, sometimes as slaves sent by their own government (in the past through a joint governmental agreement).  They are now lured by unscrupulous brokers, leaving conditions at home that are inhospitable that make them easy prey for an illusory eldorado in Santo Domingo.

Stan Golf, in an op-ed in the Push, says it best: “The Haitians cut the cane, labor in the most exhausting factories, perform the most grueling work with the least money and much like the Afro-American and the Latinos in the United States they provide the super exploited economic and safety valve against the demands to increase wages.”

It is hard for Haiti to blame a discriminatory situation in the Dominican Republic that it entertains itself at home.  The living conditions in rural Haiti or in the shantytowns surrounding the cities is, to put it simply, inhumane.  With no infrastructure and no institutional buildings in those catchment areas, past governments have been at best callous, at worst criminal, in dealing with their own citizens.  A brain surgeon’s qualification is not necessary to explain why so many poor Haitians are fleeing home seeking a friendlier sky not only in the Dominican Republic but also in The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominica, Florida and now Brazil.

The ghost of Plessey vs. Ferguson in the Dominican Republic

Homer Plessey was a rich citizen of New Orleans with light skin color.  The law around 1892 in the United States and in Louisiana was that persons of color could not ride in the same train car with a white person.  Homer Plessey was chosen to test the practice.  Upon boarding the train in a white section and informing the conductor that he was a colored person, he was ordered to leave the car and sit in a black only compartment.

He refused, was escorted out and arrested.  He later sued all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, where he lost.  The court in a seven to one decision upheld the constitutionally of state laws that recognized the principle that in public facilities the doctrine of separate but equal shall remain the law of the land.  It was such until 1954 when the decision was reversed by Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

It is not difficult to envision the ghost of Homer Plessey in Juliana Deguis Pierre challenging the decision of the lower court until the Constitutional Court rendered its decision that stripped all persons similarly situated of Dominican citizenship, in particular its target the Haitian-Dominican community.  Will it take 54 years to find the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of the Dominican Republic so as to bring that nation to reason and into the humanist rationality as proffered by Emil Vlagki in his book “Les Miserables de la Modernite”?

The antecedents

The history of the Republic of Haiti and of the Dominican Republic is intertwined for the last five centuries.  The big island or Ayti – land of mountains – as it was called by the Taino, was discovered by Christopher Columbus, on December 5, 1492, who renamed the island Hispaniola.  The Spanish conquistadors who came along with Columbus took only 30 years to facilitate the decimation of the Taino population that was estimated at around one million people.  It happened because they were submitted to hard labor and because the diseases brought by the Spaniards to the island, such as smallpox, measles, influenza, gonorrhea and typhoid, ran amok in a population not immune to such illnesses.

The richness of Hispaniola lured to the region French buccaneers, who settled first in the small island of Tortuga – la Tortue – before moving to the western part of the mainland.  They grew in number and in strength, fighting with the Spanish until the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 settled the issue, granting the western part of the island to France and the eastern part to Spain.

With grueling slave labor imported from Africa, the western part became one of the most prosperous colonial sites of the world, enriching France up to 60 percent of its national budget.  The eastern part languished under Spanish rule with only 6,000 inhabitants in Santo Domingo around 1697.

Through the Treaty of Bale in 1795, France took complete control of the island.  It was also around this time that Toussaint Louverture came on the scene, defeating the British, the Spanish and later the French to govern the entire island around 1801.  The independence of Haiti from France led by Jean Jacques Dessalines in 1804 left the eastern part an open front that could have brought back slavery to the newly independent country.  As such, all governments thereafter have sought to fight to maintain control of the entire island.

Under Jean Pierre Boyer, the fourth Haitian president, his governance of the eastern part (as well as the western part) was so callous that the Dominicans organized a war of independence under the leadership of Pedro Santana, Francisco Sanchez and Ramon Malla leading to the liberation of the country on February 27, 1844, from the yoke of the Republic of Haiti.

The nation building process in the Dominican Republic was not a smooth one; dissension amongst the founding fathers led to the reoccupation of the Dominican Republic by Spain and the offer of annexation by the United States.  It was again the Republic of Haiti that came to help the Dominican Republic regain once more its independence.

The Haitian and the Dominican dilemma

While Haiti in its first constitution stated clearly that from now and for the future all Haitians are black (in spite of the color of their skin), the Dominican Republic has enshrined in its ethos that all Dominican are white (in spite of the color of their skin).

One of the most revered Dominican heroes and presidents was Ulysses Heureaux or Lilis.  He was a dark-skinned Dominican, the son of a Haitian father and of a mother from St. Thomas.  He ruled the Dominican Republic for decades, building infrastructure and bringing stability to the nation.

Yet the Haitian card is put on the table every time a score must be settled by some politicians.  Rafael Trujillo used the card to kill some 35,000 Haitian people around the border of Ouanaminthe and Dajabond in the Parsley massacre to take revenge against Haitians who were supposedly siding with the opponents of his government.

Is the nationality card a new tool crafted by the Dominican government and adopted by the judiciary to enforce the white only ethos for some political game?  Haiti has played those two cards and it has failed miserably in both.  In spite of the terms of its constitution that all Haitians are black, the light-skinned Haitians have dominated the political panorama for the first 150 years after the country’s independence with no apparent nation building results.  The rest of the nation’s history has seen since 1946, or the last 50 years, the emergence of the dark-skinned Haitians in the sphere of power with similarly dim and poor results for the nation.

In conclusion: Two wings of the same bird

The Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic that occupies the same island named Ayti, by the Taino, or Hispaniola, by Christopher Columbus, are condemned to live together.  Whether the two wings will fly in tandem to y palento que vamos – push the bird forward – will depend on the wisdom and the applied policies of the governments and civil society on both sides of the border.

I have often argued for the concept of hospitality for all as defined by Ernest Renan in his formula for building a great nation as the best model for y palento que vamos!  The Dominican Republic, in spite of its slogan y palento que vamos, will stall in the long run if it continues to marginalize the weakest segment of its population, the Haitian-Dominican one, as well as the native-born dark-skinned Dominican.

The Republic of Haiti’s operation decollage – operation take off – will remain on the ground as long as the majority of its population, rural Haiti and Haiti of the shantytowns, is treated as second-class citizen.

The best course of action for each one of those two nations is to start treating each one of its citizens as a valuable resource.  Carthage, London, New York, Singapore and now Shanghai did not use any other method to occupy at a time in world history the status of the premiere city of the globe.  They provided the best education to all citizens within their territory, and they incubated all the able bodies to create and produce for their benefit, and for the benefit of the nation, immense wealth.

In following these models, the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti will y palento que vamos huntos!  They will be pushing forward together!

• Jean H. Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with caribbeannewsnow.com.  He can be reached at jeanhcharles@aol.com and followed for past essays at caribbeannewsnow/haiti.  Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.

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