In the blue and white media room, decorated by the backdrop of the party insignia of “La Fuerza Nacional Progresista” (National Progressive Force, a political party), television crews bustle in and out of the office of Pelegrín Castillo. This foreign journalist, one of those seeking the perspective of the lawyer and politician.
He welcomes media, offering water and coffee, very willing to give his opinion and that of the Dominican Committee for International Solidarity with Haiti, of which he is the founder.
“The Dominican Republic is being accused of ethnic cleansing and of perpetrating civil genocide, of being a state that encourages xenophobia and racism. The only thing that they are yet to accuse us of is having chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction. That is the only thing that is missing. ”
He has a battery of like-thinkers in his media room; two well-dressed and opinionated professional women. One, a bilingual communication specialist, the other a career diplomat. The other man in the room, an intellect dressed in the typical Spanish-Caribbean shirt jack, scrupulously taking notes as Mr. Castillo spoke.
Pelegrín Castillo has political pedigree. He is the First Vice President of la Fuerza Nacional Progresista, son of its founder and has been a member of the Dominican parliament since 1994. He is one of the outspoken politicians in favour of Judgment 168/13 of the Constitutional Court.
Issued in September, it is a contentious ruling that has rubbed regional and international human rights NGOs the wrong way and brought out rightist feelings of many-a-Dominicano. It is a judgement that seeks to reinforce the requirements of Dominican nationality and get a head count of the number of persons who do not meet those requirements.
It reinforces the stipulations set out in the constitution for Dominican nationality. Its critics say it will render approximately 250,000 individuals stateless, at least 200, 000 of those, persons who were born in the Dominican Republic to illegal Haitian immigrants. Those in favour of the ruling say it is absolutely necessary to maintain order.
Those opposed say it is an outright violation of human rights.
Mr. Castillo believes the judgement is “correct and responsible” and says the Constitutional Court has given the state the guideline to put the Regularisation Plan in action. He believes it gives the state space to do something that is very important: the cleaning of the civil registry. “It is no secret that, as revealed by the President of the Central Electoral Board that the Dominican Civil Registry has been penetrated by fraudulent practices. They are wrongful and irregular practices, which have allowed many persons to appear in the Dominican registry, without being Dominican.”
He says this does not only apply to the children of Haitian nationals, but also to “international mafiosos1, including persons from the Far and Middle East. So it is not only a migration issue but also a national and international security issue.”
He is insistent that no other country has assisted Haiti the way the Dominican Republic has. “We continue to cooperate and assist the Haitian community.”
With the party watch words, Paz, Justicia and Libertad2 behind him he says, “I say this crisis has much to do with the weakness of the Dominican state to carry a failed and collapsed state in Haiti. The Dominican Republic has shown a fundamental inability to put limits on cooperation.”
Mr. Castillo believes that no other country is willing to assist “a country that was the fruit of a slave rebellion”, the international community has consolidated its isolation of Haiti and “Dominicans are not responsible for that.”
The Haitian Dominican perspective however, is very different to the pretty picture painted by the politician. Most members of that community give first-hand accounts of instances of discrimination.
The Dominican Dream
Many Haitian-Dominican youth, just as any other young Dominicanos dream of becoming the next Sammy Sosa3; making millions, playing in the North American, Major League Béisbol4 being the ultimate goal.
Luis Pierre Benza is a sturdily-built young Haitian-Dominican. He once had it in his head that he would become a professional baseball player. Judgment 168/13 put an end to his development as a professional athlete, as it has done to other blossoming pitchers and bateadores5.
“At one point I was training at the Olympic Stadium but since this problem presented itself, I stopped training. They wanted me to present a copy of El acta de nacimiento6.
Sitting on a table at Centro Bonó, an NGO in Santo Domingo where Haitian-Dominicans meet every fortnight in the spirit of Liberté, égalité et fraternité7, to support each other with their common, burdensome situation; Luis says:
“Because I am the child of an immigrant, a Haitian immigrant, they told me that if I did not have a copy of the “acta”, I could not stay in the school. It was an athletics school, run by the Ministry of Sport. I had to stop playing béisbol.”
With his bag on both shoulders, ready to leave to a far-off Batey (Haitian immigrant community), where he lives, he says, “I believe the sentence is something that goes against the constitution of our country, against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and violates many other universal rights that we have as human beings.”
In his red polo shirt, tucked neatly into his pants, he says with confidence and without any fear of conviction, “This is my country. I was born here. I believe this sentence is not constitutional as they like to say. It is anti-constitutional.”
No certificate, no certification
Esteffanie Feliz Pérez has also had her life put on pause because her birth certificate is not recognised.
“My dream was to become a Social Sciences teacher and now I cannot study.”
At twenty three, she says it has been five years since she graduated from high school. Also at Centro Bonó, she speaks with a melancholic tone, yearning for something better; to achieve her dreams.
The bright, colourful backdrop of murals of Haitian-Dominican life, painted by “graffiteros8” at Centro Bonó are in sharp contrast to the mood she is in while talking about her dreams, yet unachieved.
“I have not been able to begin university, because of the “Sentencia”.
Now, my life has been suspended because really, my life project has been paralysed and I still have not been able to start university.”
“It is something that has me in a tough place emotionally, even in depression. It has been a hard blow.”
She says she has even experienced what she says is a clear case of racism while using public transport.
“I tried to go on to a bus once and the driver told me: ‘get off, I do not pick up Haitians.’”
After proudly showing their various forms of Dominican ID, recognised or not by authorities, the young people of Centro Bonó end their fortnightly roundtable discussion and interview with the foreign journalist, with a vigorous chant and beating of the zinc table. It is a rhythmic expression of the thing they want the most. To be, “Reconocidos! Reconocidos! Reconocidos!” “Recognised! Recognised! Recognised!”
1. Criminal – mafia member
2. Peace, Justice and Liberty
3. Sammy Sosa – Famous Dominican Baseball player
4. Béisbol – baseball
5. Bateadores – batters
6. El Acta de nacimiento – birth certificate
7. Liberté, Egalité et fraternité – liberty, equality and fraternity – words and ideas associated with the French and Haitian Revolutions.