Haitians merit justice like everyone else

Who will stand up and speak out in defence of the rights of the marginalized and long-suffering people of Haiti when they are facing abuse –– be it at home or in the Diaspora? It seems hardly anyone cares to do so, including Haiti’s own regional neighbours, despite the fact they sit around the table together and collaborate on several issues as members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Within our Caribbean region, a major humanitarian crisis, triggered by actions rooted in a history of racism against Haitians, is waiting to unfold. Authorities in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, are getting ready to perpetrate a most flagrant violation of the rights of Haitians living there.

So serious is the crisis that some international commentators have drawn a comparison with the denationalization of Jews in Nazi Germany, ahead of their forced expulsion, under the crazy dictator Adolf Hitler. Others have referred to it as a case of ethnic cleansing in the making, similar to what has happened in countries like Serbia and Rwanda in the not so distant past.

As we write, thousands of people of Haitian descent, born in the Dominican Republic but without documentation, are facing deportation across the border to their ancestral homeland, even though their families, in some instances, have lived in the so-called “mulatto republic” for more than 50 years. Some came freely, others were brought forcibly, to do mostly menial work, especially as labourers in the sugar cane fields under almost slave-like conditions. Such exploitation is well documented by human rights groups and other organizations.

Dominicans have never really welcomed Haitians, who face rampant discrimination and generally live on the fringes as second-class citizens. Dominicans, who are mostly white or mulatto, see themselves as racially superior to Haitians who are mostly black. This ugly aspect of Dominican culture, known as “antihaitianismo”, is a theme in a well-known 1984 book entitled La Isla al Revés (The Upside Down Island), written by the country’s former six-time president the late Dr Joaquin Balaguer.

The objective of “antihaitianismo” is to prevent “contamination” of Dominican culture by keeping out Haitian influences. It was behind a bloody 1937 massacre of Haitians perpetrated by the Dominican military dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. In 1994, electoral irregularities in the name of “antihaitianismo” blocked a popular politician, the late Dr José Francisco Peña Gomez, from becoming the first black president of the Dominican Republic.

His Haitian father and Dominican mother fled the country to avoid being victims of the 1937 massacre.

“. . . The Negro, abandoned to his instincts, and without the restraint on reproduction that a relatively high level of living imposes on all countries, multiplies himself with a speed similar to that of vegetable species,” wrote Balaguer, Peña Gomez’ 1994 rival, in his bestseller. The planned Haitian crackdown can be seen, therefore, as 1937 again, albeit in a different form. It has been facilitated by a constitutional court ruling two years ago that persons born in the country after 1929 are not automatically entitled to Dominican citizenship.

Some persons who fear being sent home have complained of trying to regularize their status but being frustrated by the authorities. Many are undocumented as a result of poverty and ignorance, which are the unfortunate lot of so many Haitians in the DR. However, the circumstances of their birth should not be grounds for disqualification from citizenship. Their human rights must be upheld and CARICOM governments in particular have a moral duty to speak out against the injustice because CARICOM countries are predominantly black.

We fought tooth and nail for Blacks in faraway South Africa against the racist system of apartheid which was eventually toppled. CARICOM countries must take a similar stance in defence of Haiti which is within our region. Indeed, Haiti’s value to CARICOM must go beyond the mere fact that it was the first country in the region to win its freedom and independence as a result of a slave rebellion. If that is where Haiti’s value begins and ends, then the region is only paying lip service.

Hopefully, the issue will receive the full attention of CARICOM leaders at their annual summit which Barbados is hosting early next month. In the meantime, any application by the Dominican Republic to join CARICOM should be placed on hold until it can be verified that Santo Domingo is practising a policy that promotes full respect for the rights of the country’s Haitian population.

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