That Sweet Dominican Cane
“La caña dominicana se come de esta manera!” “This is the way you eat Dominican cane!” Pulling back the tough, purple stalk; chewed and dried cane falling from his mouth from a previous take in front the television camera, Ernesto Rosario showed me exactly how it is done. Perched on the seat of his bike, in the Le Cuadra Batey, a Haitian immigrant community, at 13 years old, he is an authority on eating Dominican sugar cane.
Although he speaks “ Kreyòl”1, as a second language, and is a Haitian-Dominican, he knows nothing of Haiti and has never been there. His peeling and grinding teeth and taste buds only know the sweetness of Dominican sugar cane.
His situation is not at all singular for Haitian-Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. Try as some of them may, to stay away from public glare or government authorities, for many Haitian-Dominicans, whose status on the Spanish-Speaking side of Hispaniola is not regular. Judgment 168/13 is bringing all of the “compatriotas”2 out.
Issued in September, it is a judgment 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.
La voz legal
In another part of the country, an hour away, in Santo Domingo, Dr. Juan Miguel Castillo Pantaleón sits comfortably in his office library. Very gregarious and welcoming, as was “joven”, young Ernesto, he asks the intentions of the foreign journalist, “Qué quieres escuchar? La verdad o ya tienes opinión?” “What do you want to hear, the truth or do you already have an opinion?”
Dr. Castillo Pantaleón then establishes why he is an authority on Dominican Law and Immigration. He gets up, goes to one of his shelves and pulls two books he authored. Derecho del Tránsito de la República Dominicana and La Nacionalidad Dominicana, which won a national prize. He is one of the most sought-after and competent lawyers in the country.
He says, for anyone who is not a lawyer and has strong opinions on the controversial sentence, “Yo hago sobre la base de una calificación técnica y por lo tanto sujeto a verificación de todo lo que te estoy diciendo.” “I do everything on the basis of technical qualification and therefore, everything that I am telling you can be verified.”
His loud tenor booming for an informative, hour-long lecture in Dominican Law, he explains that without laws and proper enforcement, there would be chaos. He says there are two categories of individuals who enter the D.R.: immigrants and non-immigrants. He says non-immigrants, according to the law, must be up front and state that they do not have “vocación de permanencia”.3
Dr. Castillo Pantaleón pulls from his vast, hemispheric legal knowledge and says: “I’m quoting from Article 20 of the Convention on Human Rights, regarding the right to a nationality and there are three principles: all persons have the right to a nationality; a person has the right to the nationality where one was born, if he or she does not have the right to another; and thirdly, a person cannot be a private. That is not a nationality. Children of Haitians have the right to the Haitian nationality. The Haitian constitution clearly establishes the right to nationality through origin.”
Other countries, he says, “don’t understand what offends us when they call us racists. When someone calls a Dominican a xenophobe, it offends us. How could they say ‘oh it is because they are black, we don’t want them’”.
He says the state has not been doing what it ought to: “The Constitutional Court says to the Director of Immigration: these persons cannot be deported. They cannot be deported because the individual says he was born here and has lived his entire life here... So they cannot go to a strange country, even though they are nationals there.”
The Court instructs the immigration director, ‘Give them a temporary residency permit until their situation is resolved.’ The sentence, he notes, is asking the president, “Where is the national regularisation plan to carry out what is in the law?”
The physically and opinion-burly Doctor, who wrote of Dominican identity for his award-winning, doctoral thesis says Caricom and other hemispheric bodies should not be too concerned, “The Dominican Republic cannot dictate anything to Trinidad and Tobago. Neither should it opine, far less interfere.”
Identity vs. nationality: the children should not suffer
The academic community in the Dominican Republic is divided on the issue. There are Haitian-Dominican teachers, lecturers in many schools and universities. Dr. Andrés Mateo is a linguist by profession and he squeezed in time for an interview before rushing off to a conference on the Spanish Language. He is also the Dean of General Studies at Universidad Apec, in Santo Domingo. He has a strong opinion on the matter and believes two issues are at play: the question of Identity and that of Nationality.
“Many say that a situation of illegality cannot be converted into a lawful one. Many Dominican-Americans, who today have residency in the United States, have an origin that is entirely illegal. They arrived there on tourist visas or they entered illegally. They cultivated a tradition there and now are legal.”
“The solution should not be for those who already have an identity, those who already have their documents. The children and grandchildren should not have to suffer for what their parents and grandparents did. They are not Haitian, they are Dominican.”
A Caribbean issue
He believes Caricom leaders have an essential role to play in denouncing the sentence.
“This is without doubt something that affects the entire region. I hope that by December there will be another resolution to this human, cultural problem. We are thankful Caricom leaders (PJ Patterson (former Prime Minister of Jamaica and Irwin La Roque, Secretary General of Caricom) have spoken out.”
In the Batey
Anthony Jimenez is 18-years-old and was born in the Dominican Republic. Sitting to study under a tree, calmly in Le Cuadra Batey, before the arrival of the effervescent Ernesto, five years his junior arrived he said: “those who are born here feel badly. The immigrants, those who come from there, no. They have to control the borders to control the numbers coming from that side.”
Anthony enjoys studying and believes that’s the only thing he can do to improve difficult living conditions.
With a hint of Kweyol twang he says, “But those who are born here have to grow here. Some have documents here, they study here, they know nothing of Haiti and they feel bad. And that’s the ‘veldad’” (verdad: truth, said with a Dominican accent.)
Por las calles
Of course, being the old city that Santo Domingo is, many citizens boast the large, waterfront capital has one of the first streets, as we know them in the Americas, “La Calle de las Damas”. So there was no better place to go for opinion than the streets, to hear from the typical Dominicao.
Demetrio, a decent taxi driver in the city, opines, “The judgement is fair. What is happening is that many persons want to see it from the Haitian perspective and that cannot be. The country has to regularise all of the foreigners there are, to be able to know how many illegal immigrants and foreigners there are here.”
A few metres away, Juan Felix took a break from a vigorous game of checkers in Plaza de Santo Domingo. Through his tinted glasses, under a stingy-brim hat, with the first two buttons of his brown and grey suede shirt jack undone, he speaks with drama and emphasis.
“That was a judgement given by a constitutional court. No person or country, far less a foreigner has the right to question a judgement given by a constitutionally-established court.” Thumping one of his pieces to the board, he says with indignation, “This is a free and sovereign country. Nobody has any business interfering with what we do. Nobody!
Participating in a Pan-Caribbean pastime, whether English or Spanish, Arebar Reyes slams down his dominos and shouts, “Those persons who are legal citizens, even though they are children of illegal citizens are really Domincans. I do not agree with the deportation of someone who does not know anything about Haiti, simply for being the child of a Haitian. I am against that because they only really know the Dominican Republic.”
Take ’em to Church
If she desired to conceal her age, the ornate, yet fragile, early Spanish colonial architecture would quickly reveal the secret of the city of Santo Domingo.
La Catedral de Santo Domingo stands majestically at the heart of the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo. While the stone walls that have stood there since 1512 may look weak, they are still quite solid and all that the Catholic Church there stands for is still very much present.
The Church has mixed positions on the issue. Monsignor Nicolás de Jesús Cardenal López Rodríguez has said no international body or country has any right to meddle in the affairs of the Dominican Republic.
In October, he called members of NGOs who have been campaigning against the ruling, “plagues, loud mouths and liars.” “They have been sent here and paid to discredit the country and the Constitutional Court, which defines who a Dominican is or is not.” However, his voice is not the only one from the Catholic Community here, as other priests have spoken out against the sentence.
El último aclamo
Opinion in the Dominican Republic is definitely split.
And for his last “play” in front the cameras, Joven Ernesto shrieks, cane spewing out his mouth, “Buena! Como esta no hay! Pura azúcar dominicana! “Great! There is not any other like this! Pure Dominican sugar!”
1 Haitian Creole
3 Intentions of becoming permanent resident