In March 2007 Amnesty International (AI) published a report which stated that some 20-30,000 Haitians were expelled every year from the Dominican Republic (DR) and that many of these expulsions breached international human rights law. Haitians and Dominico-Haitians were often rounded up and deported with no chance of appeal, purely on the basis of their skin colour (my emphasis). Many had valid work permits and visas, and some were in fact Dominicans with no family ties to Haiti (my emphasis).
In my 2008 book, An encounter with Haiti: notes of a Special Adviser, I referred to the AI report and added: “Dominican children of Haitian ancestry (who...are not considered citizens of the DR) face barriers when they try to obtain a birth certificate, and without that document they are unable to study beyond the primary level. They are also unable to claim an identity card when they turn 18, and are thus barred from the formal job market and from voting. Since parents without documents cannot register their children, many thousands are effectively stateless, and they in turn perpetuate the cycle of deprivation of rights... (This) policy of exclusion...bears many of the hallmarks of past South African apartheid...”
Now, five years later, comes the September 23 ruling of the DR Constitutional Court that “the provision of citizenship in the 1929 DR Constitution, which recognises as a citizen anyone born in the country, should not apply to the children of parents who were not ‘legal residents’ at the time of their birth, on the basis that their parents were ‘in transit’” (Open Society Justice Initiative press release, October 2). In transit! From where to where? From Haiti to the US, via the DR? Or from Haiti to Haiti?
But we shouldn’t be surprised, because the DR Supreme Court had already found in December 2005 that children of illegal immigrants (the DR code phrase for Haitians and Haitian-origin Dominicans) could not become citizens because they were—what else— “in transit”, and thus ineligible.
The Constitutional Court has widened the net: parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are now trapped, all the way back to 1929. Several hundred thousand persons in the DR have suddenly been rendered stateless: they are not citizens of the DR, they are not citizens of Haiti. But they are black. They must go back—to a country which most of them didn’t come from, and which they do not know. By all means work in the cane fields and on the coffee plantations and in the brothels of the DR. But go back, or move along; you are “in transit”.
There is nothing new under the Hispaniola sun. In Why the cocks fight, her 1999 book on relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR), Michele Wucker says that when she told her landlady in Santo Domingo she was doing research on Haiti, the latter sniffed, then “lifted her long white finger, tapped her freckled forearm, and whispered that Haitians were so black, black as a telephone.”
I recounted that story in my 2008 book. And I went on: “That of course is the root of the problem, however differently some Dominicans might try to explain it away. Drugs, yes; illegal entry, yes. But people always, for whatever reason, find others to look down on. Frequently, that reason is race and/or skin shade. For the Dominican, the Haitian is not merely a social inferior, he is a racial inferior. Black as a telephone.”
I said also: “The Dominican, contemptuous of the Haitian, yet has come to depend on the latter’s labour, especially since it is labour scorned by Dominicans and provided by Haitians at rock-bottom rates, in domestic service, the cane fields, etc. And, of course, one must never forget the benefits—what else could they be?—of prostitution.
To a significant degree, all these services are furnished by children, in whose movement to the DR from Haiti there is a thriving trade—about 30,000 annually, the UN and the OAS estimate. Abuse, sexual and other, is rampant.”
Caricom, other than a bloodless statement from the Secretary-General (who was apparently speaking in his personal capacity), has not, at this writing, uttered a syllable on the September 23 ruling that so gravely affects a member state. But Caricom can find the time and fortitude to talk about chemical weapons in Syria! It is highly ironic that at a moment when the organisation—for reasons that escape me—has deemed the issue of reparations for African slavery to be of primordial importance, it holds its tongue when the descendants of those African-Haitian slaves who fought courageously and successfully for their independence over 200 years ago are subjected to a new system of slavery. But we should live in positive anticipation. Perhaps, who knows, Caricom is quietly drawing up a claim for reparations from the DR?
The DR is a member of Cariforum and has, so I hear, expressed an interest in joining Caricom. A serious organisation would not even entertain such an idea while the DR’s contemptuous and racially-driven denial of human rights to Haitians and Dominico-Haitians on its territory continues.
In the meantime, we must hear the voices of Caricom leaders, raised loud in protest and action. Where is Ralph Gonsalves, the reparations protagonist who was so voluble in 2004 at the forced departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti, and who is to be the Caricom chairman from January 1 next year? Where is Kenny Anthony? Denzil Douglas? Where indeed is Caricom?
• Reginald Dumas is a former
ambassador and head of
the Public Service