Friday, June 19, 2015

Ethnic Cleansing in the Dominican Republic

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, Hispaniola.

Until recently, the Dominican Republic considered all persons born in the country to be citizens, but in 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court retroactively revoked citizenship for children born to foreign parents as early as 1929. Tuesday was residents’ last chance to petition for naturalization to regain citizenship (albeit a lesser form).

The ruling is expected to primarily affect persons of Haitian heritage, who have been targeted for expulsion previously. Applying the ruling as far back as 1929 meant that families who had been citizens for two or more generations lost their Dominican Republic citizenship and couldn’t turn to Haiti for a new home. A foreign-born person of Haitian descent is eligible for Haitian citizenship only if one parent is a natural-born Haitian citizen.

The Dominican Republic’s only attempt to mitigate the effects of the ruling has been a 2014 law allowing those who had previously been considered natural-born citizens to apply for naturalized citizenship, provided they had the documents to prove they were born in the Dominican Republic. Residents of Haitian descent have alleged that registration workers have illegally denied qualified applicants and even confiscated the documents that applicants provided. Even if the registration process weren’t drawing criticism, it would be of little help to many longtime Haitian residents of the Dominican Republic. According to the 2010 Dominican Republic census, 41 percent of all foreign-born Haitian residents live in rural areas, where their natural-born children are much less likely to be entered into the civil registry or to be issued an official birth certificate. 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

The final deadline to register for naturalization passed Tuesday, persons of Haitian descent are waiting to see what the government decides to do. The U.N. estimates that 210,000 residents of the Dominican Republic are now stateless. In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch described what happened to Haitians who were expelled from the Dominican Republic in previous deportation waves: late-night raids, forced busing across the Haitian border and abandonment in what was, to them, a foreign country with only the clothes on their backs. 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". 2,000 police and military officers and 150 inspectors had received special training for deportations. AndrĂ©s Navarro, the foreign minister, says they will wait until August to start deporting.

Once stateless people have been pushed out of their former home, they have no unique claim on any country in the world, which can wind up meaning that no nation offers them a new place to settle and be citizens. For example, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have been in limbo after escaping Myanmar. Although they have been given shelter in temporary camps, they have no new nation to belong to. If the Dominican Republic expels its newly stateless residents, they may also find that they have nowhere to legally live. 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. The Pope has berated the Dominican Republic's Catholic bishops for being silent on the potential catastrophe.

About a quarter of a million people have been 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 and xenophobia. 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). To Dominicans, the supposed distinctions are clear: Dominicans are European. Haitians are African. Dominicans are Christian. Haitians practice voodoo. 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.

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 (Trujillo’s men forced residents with dark skin to pronounce the word for parsley, perejil. If they could not roll the r like a Spanish speaker, they were executed), 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."

The Dominican Republic ratified its free-trade agreement with the United States in 2007, and since then the country has experienced growing rural and urban immiseration, even as its economy, praised by The Economist and Wall Street investors, has expanded. A “third of the country’s total population lives in poverty, and almost 20 per cent are living in extreme poverty.” In the cities, the number of poor people has doubled since 2000, from 1.2 million to 2.4 million, according to the World Bank. Such misery fuels populist nationalism. The elite powers in the Dominican Republic, its judges who passed the ruling, the law professors who provided juridical support, the politicians and the wealthy who use racism to deflect popular discontent—those who don’t suffer but benefit from the global economy—are driving the current wave of anti-Haitian xenophobia. The legal system has always reflected the class interests of the ruling class, and indeed the need for laws reflects the tensions between the classes. Socialists support campaigns to reform oppressive laws, such as the Asylum Act, whilst pointing out these are preliminary skirmishes in the war to overthrow the rule of the capitalist class. Immigration law has always been determined by the requirements of the capitalist economy. This politicking plays into genuine fears people hold for their own future and anger at a system that doesn’t work for them. The growing gap between rich and poor is being felt by many and they are looking for someone to blame. Socialists point people away from blaming those who are themselves victims of a rotten system and towards genuine solutions.

The World Socialist Movement challenges fellow-workers who cannot see beyond the existing divisions of the world, and who believe in punitive measures against people from other countries. Workers of the world unite! 


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