On June 16th about a quarter of a million people will be made stateless. They will have no homes, no passports, and no civil rights. There are several reasons for this, but the primary reason is racism.
At issue is a ruling by the Constitutional Court in the Dominican Republic to strip away the citizenship of several generations of Dominicans.
According to the decision, Dominicans born after 1929 to parents who are not of Dominican ancestry are to have their citizenship revoked. The ruling affects an estimated 250,000 Dominican people of Haitian descent, including many who have had no personal connection with Haiti for several generations.
What we are witnessing is one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere, except this one is completely by choice.
As a recent Peace Corps volunteer in the DR, stationed near the border of Haiti, I have a very personal perspective on this issue.
This may be hard to believe for most Americans, but racism in the DR is much worse than racism here in the United States. The idea of being black in the DR is wrapped up with being Haitian, and then takes on a xenophobic quality.
The thing is, 90% of Dominicans would be considered ‘black’ by American standards. So there is a huge difference between being considered moreno (brown) and negro (black). The Policia Nacional Dominicana are so underpaid and openly corrupt that being mistaken for being Haitian means having to bribe officers (which I’ve personally witnessed) or be arrested and possibly beaten. Being mistaken for being Haitian means being denied job opportunities, public education, bank accounts, and health care.
In other words, being black in the DR means being a second-class citizen with no legal protections. And now it means being stateless.
The Dominican government recently opened seven deportation centers near the Haitian border, and gave them the Orwellian name of “welcome centers”. The Dominican government has also requested 36 large passenger buses “be made available for continued use”.
“This is an extremely ominous sign,” [an anonymous aid worker] said. “Everything is set for the deportation and that the DR government is saying it is going forth on this Tuesday, June 16.”
The US State Department has denounced the Dominican government for this plan, and pointed out that it is a gross violation of human rights according to the U.N. charter. In February, Dominican-Haitian Henry Claude Jean (nicknamed ‘Tulile’), an impoverished shoeshine boy, was found lynched in a public park in Santiago, the DR’s second-largest city. His hands and feet were bound. The police were quick to blame it on the victim’s ‘criminal past’ and “rejected racism as a motive”, but it seems hard to believe that this is how criminals operate.
“For the Dominican authorities to rule out racism as a factor less than 24 hours after a man of Haitian descent was hanged in a public square is not just irresponsible policing, it is an outrageous example of discrimination endemic to the Dominican Republic,” McMullen wrote to HuffPost in an email. “And frankly it is all too reminiscent of the shameful denials of Southern officials during the decades of terror lynchings perpetrated against African-Americans here at home.”
The lynching came just one day after a protest in Santiago calling for the deportation of Haitians. Dominican officials began refusing to grant copies of birth certificates to the Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants in 2005. This was in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.
After years of protests and legal haggling, the Dominican government began allowing Dominican-Haitians to get copies of birth certificates again, but the process was badly flawed. Thousands of Dominican-Haitians have gotten no response from application submissions even after nine months, as protesters claim.
In the Dominican Republican being born in a hospital is the exception, even for people with Dominican parents.
It’s a charade. The offices are overcrowded, understaffed, and the needed paperwork doesn’t exist (many Dominicans of Haitian descent were born in rural areas, since their parents came to work the sugar fields, with midwifes and not in hospitals, and were therefore never issued birth certificates).
The US press has been largely silent on this rapidly approaching disaster. Even Human Rights Watch is silent on the issue. The pope has spoken on the issue to berate the Dominican Republic’s Catholic bishops for being silent on it.
Where will these people live in Haiti? Most of them have never been to Haiti. Haiti can’t even house all of its own people. Dumping a quarter of a million people on the border of the poorest nation in the hemisphere will quickly lead to a public health disaster.
He also reports that in the barrios, police trucks have come through to conduct limpiezas (“cleanings,” with the adjective implied: “social cleanings”): “The detained tend to range from intoxicated persons to suspected prostitutes, but are disproportionately Haitian or dark-skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features. These could just be guys drinking and playing dominos or women standing on street corners. More often, though, they tend to be young men with Haitian features and darker skin.
Dominican hatred of Haitians extends back to 1822, when Haiti invaded and conquered the Dominican Republic and promptly freed the slaves. In 1912, the Dominican government passed a law limiting the number of black-skinned people who could enter the country.
However, the racism peaked under dictator Rafael Trujillo. He was known for wearing makeup in order to make himself look more white. In 1937 he ordered the Parsley Massacre, also referred to as El Corte (the cutting) by Dominicans. It is unknown how many Haitians died in those five days, but it was in the tens of thousands.
President Joaquin Balaguer, Trujillo’s right-hand man, and the dictator that the United States installed in 1966, claimed that the Haitians were trying to invade and that their secret weapon was “biological.” As Balaguer put it, Haitians “multiply with a rapidity that is almost comparable to that of a vegetable species.”
Some Useful Background:
The average police officer in the DR makes around 6,000 pesos a month. To put that into perspective, I made 12,000 pesos a month ($350) in the Peace Corps, and while I never starved, I also didn’t live in luxury. I had no spare cash. Plus, the police officers have to kick money up to their superiors in bribes in order to keep their jobs. It’s a similar story with the over-sized Dominican military, which sets up check points all over the country.
So why would anyone want a job like that? Because of a chronically high unemployment rate. So where are they going to find the money to bribe their superiors, while also feeding their families? From shaking down Haitians for bribes. That’s why there are military checkpoints all over the country. That’s really all they do.
Back in the 80’s the Dominican Republic realized that they had a problem on their hands. American tourists were getting shaken down for bribes by the police. It was beginning to become a PR disaster. So instead of cleaning up the national police, they created the Policía Turística. This was a police force just for the tourist areas. The are better paid and better trained.
On a personal note: Believe it or not, the scariest part of a military checkpoint isn’t when the 19-year old in uniform with a machine gun gets on the bus and starts asking people for documents.
The scariest part is when the guy who is not in uniform gets on the bus. He generally was wearing a tight-fitting t-shirt, sunglasses, and has a pistol stuck in his wasteband. He was the one who was obviously in charge.
UPDATE: Believe it or not, this could actually get worse.
The Open Society says that naturalization law will “enshrine statelessness.” The problem is that the naturalization law’s “recognition of citizenship is based not on the fact of birth itself on Dominican territory, but rather on whether a birth was officially registered at the time.” Many, perhaps the majority, of impoverished Dominicans of Haitian descent didn’t have their births registered. Worse, the new law “lets stand the doctrine articulated by the Constitutional Tribunal that birth registration during the 1929-2007 period only bestows citizenship if the parents had formal status as migrants. However, much of the migration of laborers and their families from Haiti during the 20th century was informal. As a result, even individuals who were registered as Dominican citizens at birth may be vulnerable to denationalization at a future date because of the status of their parents, again leaving them stateless”.