Saturday, February 17, 2018

Caricoming to come

Reginald Dumas logo19

Mark Fraser

On November 26 the Caricom Bureau issued a statement on the September 23 ruling of the Dominican Republic (DR) Constitutional Court on DR nationality.

The statement was a sea change from the organisation’s namby-pamby media release of October 17 on the same subject. This time the word “condemns” was actually used, and other strong language, too: “repugnant”, “arbitrariness”, “abhorrent” and so on.

Retaliatory steps were announced: Caricom would “suspend consideration of the (DR’s) request...for membership of (the body)”; it would “review its relationship with the (DR) in other fora (sic), including that (sic) of CARIFORUM, CELAC and the OAS”; it would “consider the introduction of a (UN General Assembly resolution)” condemning the ruling; it called on “the global and regional community (sic) to pressure the (DR) government (to reverse the ruling and guarantee) the full citizenship rights of persons of Haitian descent born in the (DR).” It stressed that the DR had to “show good faith by immediate credible steps” towards a resolution of the issue.

The Bureau statement followed by a few days the statement by the OECS authority at its Montserrat meeting. Strong language marked the OECS release as well: “collective abhorrence”, “repulsive and discriminatory”, “terrible wrong”, etc. And in two respects at least it went beyond the Bureau statement. First, it called for consideration to be given to whether the DR should continue to benefit from PetroCaribe while it had not put in place “any credible plan of corrective measures”. Second, it exhorted other regional and hemispheric organisations to condemn the DR ruling “unequivocally”.

The differences between these two statements and the original Caricom effort could not be more stark. As a Caricom citizen, I was frankly embarrassed by what Caricom put out on October 17. Whoever concocted that pabulum – I say nothing of those who approved it – ought to hang their heads in shame.

The new official Caribbean stance is largely inspired by civil society reaction to the DR ruling, and action against it, and by the unwavering firmness of one Prime Minister. Civil society has been particularly vocal and active in T&T, with inputs from other sources, and has been masterfully coordinated by UWI Emeritus Professor Norman Girvan, who has brought laser-like focus and eloquence to his labours.

The Prime Minister in question is, of course, Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Civil society might still be spitting in the wind if he had not intervened on October 11 with a robust letter to the DR President, Danilo Medina, and taken subsequent actions, including a second letter to Medina which upped the ante. His hand is visible in the OECS and later Caricom statements, and he has made it clear that the steps against the DR set out on November 26 are only the first; more will follow if the DR doesn’t change its ways.

The DR doesn’t seem about to change its ways. It now says that the hundreds of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans who in the last few days have suddenly found themselves in Haiti weren’t deported; rather, they asked to be sent to Haiti for their protection. (Protection from what or whom, one could well ask.)That a significant number of them, perhaps the majority, don’t know Haiti and cannot speak Creole is immaterial.

And after President Michel Martelly complained that the DR had unilaterally violated the agreement Haiti thought it had struck with the DR in Caracas a few weeks ago, Santo Domingo withdrew from further talks, claiming that Martelly, by coming to Caricom, had regionalised what was supposed to be a bilateral matter.

So it goes, as it has gone for nearly two centuries now between these two neighbours. The absence of mutual trust is palpable, and the contempt of many (I suspect most) Dominicans for Haitians, as an extraordinary recent open letter from a DR Congressman to the US Congress so pellucidly and sadly demonstrates, continues unabated.

Not in any way to my surprise, the DR “nationalists” have retreated into defiance: this is our country; we are a sovereign state; nobody can tell us what to do; those Dominicans who oppose us are traitors. That bunker mentality will almost certainly lead to increased anti-Haitian, anti-black sentiment, with consequences we may all regret. Don’t forget the late DR President Rafael Trujillo, himself with a mother of Haitian origin — and, like so many mixed-blood people, ashamed or resentful of his part-blackness — who introduced a government policy of antihaitianismo (anti-Haitianism), and who in October 1937 ordered the slaughter of between 20,000 and 30,000 Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans. That wouldn’t happen today, I imagine, but we would nonetheless be most unwise to neglect the lessons of history.

As Gonsalves has said, Caricom will be giving a graduated response to the DR position. He will for instance be speaking to the European Union about the DR’s participation in CARIFORUM, and he has already written Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on the DR’s benefits from PetroCaribe. I myself would have preferred the Bureau to hew more closely to the stronger OECS line, but I must for now be grateful for medium-size mercies. Whatever its advance, Caricom hasn’t quite satisfied me yet in this matter, but it comin’ to come. Gonsalves’ assumption of the Caricom chairmanship next January 1 would mark a major leap forward, not only on this front.

One last point. Pope Francis has just sent as his Nuncio (Ambassador) to the DR a black African, a Nigerian Archbishop called Jude Okolo (he served in T&T several years ago). Francis is clearly telegraphing a message. How will it be received, I wonder, by the DR chauvinists, including the head of the Catholic Church there, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, who two years ago declared that “Haitians born in (the DR)” could not be considered citizens of the DR?

Human rights, anyone?

* Reginald Dumas is a former ambassador and retired Head of the Public Service.