If You Are Black, Get Out: The Crisis of Statelessness in the Dominican Republic.
Par Denise Olivier Velez
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com./freelanceartist
The decision by the high court in the Dominican Republic to declare anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 Dominicans who may have Haitian ancestry "not citizens" with a start date of birth of 1929 is simply appalling.
For four generations Banesa Blemi's family, descendants of Haitian immigrants, put down roots as low-wage sugar cane cutters in their adopted homeland, and came to consider themselves Dominicans.
Then, last month the country's Constitutional Court issued a decision effectively denationalizing Blemi and her family, along with an estimated 250,000 fellow immigrants born after 1929.
"I have no country. What will become of me?" said Blemi, 27, standing with relatives outside the family's wooden shack near La Romana, the heart of the Dominican Republic's sugar cane industry and one of the Caribbean's top tourist resorts.
"We are Dominicans - we have never been to Haiti. We were born and raised here. We don't even speak Creole," she said, referring to Haiti's native tongue.
Many headlines of stories dealing with this travesty, simply call these people "Haitians" and few point to what is obvious—the role of racial markers and skin color.
Follow me below the fold for a closer look.
This one said it for me:
Columnist Reginald Dumas, writing for the Trinidad Express put it bluntly in the headline "If you are black, go back," which I've amended to "get out," since how can you go back to somewhere you have never been? Dumas does make that point in his article:
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”.
Many readers here have ancestors—parents, grandparents and perhaps even great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States after 1929. They became citizens, and their children and grandchildren born here are now part of the tapestry of the U.S. Imagine what would happen if the U.S. Congress passed a law rescinding that citizenship currently based on jus soli, and demanded that all of you "go back to where you came from."
This is just what is happening in our neighboring country of the Dominican Republic, where Dominicans who have some Haitian ancestry are now being forced into statelessness by the modification of jus soli, which is retroactive.
People without a country.
For Dominicans of Haitian descent, obtaining proof of citizenship—required for everything from education to employment to voting—has become a legal and bureaucratic impossibility.
A stateless person is not recognized as a citizen by any state. Citizenship enables you not only to vote, hold public office, and exit and enter a country freely, but also to obtain housing, health care, employment, and education. It is vital in order to live a decent human life. Stateless people are denied that right.
On the left we have spent years paying attention to the statelessness of Palestinians. Many of us have not spent a lot of time looking closer to home.
There has a been a history of challenges, including the manipulation of the " in transit" clause (which is not invoked for children born of U.S. parents, for example) and the issue was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In October 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in Costa Rica, issued a landmark judgment, Yean and Bosico, which found that the Dominican Republic had denied citizenship on the basis of race, thereby rendering children of Haitian descent effectively stateless. The court gave the government until mid October 2006 to apologize, pay damages to the two children involved, publish the ruling, and implement measures to ensure equal access to birth certificates and school enrollment. The government has done nothing to comply and stated it is bound by the Supreme Court judgment that Haitians are in transit.
The ugly part of all of this is that "Haitianness" in the DR is most often related to dark skin color. The irony in this is that the majority of Dominicans have African ancestry, though there is a visible difference at times between hues of "brown" and dark chocolate, and Dominicans are raised to embrace and aspire to lighter skin complexions.
This herb name became the vehicle for death, in what has become known as "the Parsley Massacre" which took place in October of 1937, and which is now being commemorated after having been buried in history.
The shibboleth, in this case, cost the lives of between 20,000 and 30,000 people who were executed under the orders of the President of the Dominican Republic Rafael Trujillo (whose mother was half-Haitian).
One of my favorite poets, who was the former Poet Laureate of the United States, and of the Commonwealth of Virginia, tells the tale.
Michele Wucker from the World Policy Institute wrote about that period Dominican history and Hitler's influence on Trujillo in " The River Massacre: The Real and Imagined Borders of Hispaniola":
Hitler's ideas gave Trujillo a racist and nationalist plan to distract Dominicans from their empty stomachs. Reminding Dominicans that they could not afford to feed foreigners too, Trujillo cracked down on migration from Haiti. But powerful American sugar cane plantation owners, who brought in Haitians to cut cane because, unlike Dominicans, they worked for practically nothing, forced him to make huge exceptions. He resorted to deporting Haitians and tightening border patrols, but the Haitians kept coming. On October 2, 1937, while Trujillo was drunk at a party in his honor not far from the Massacre River, he gave orders for the "solution" to the Haitian problem.
In the Book of Judges, forty thousand Ephraimites were killed at the River Jordan because their inability to pronounce "Shibboleth" identified them as foreigners. On the Dominican border, Trujillo's men asked anyone with dark skin to identify the sprigs of parsley they held up. Haitians, whose Kreyol uses a wide, flat "R", could not pronounce the trilled "R" in the Spanish word for parsley, "perejil." Dominicans still refer to the massacre as El Corte, the cutting, alluding to the machetes the Dominican soldiers used so they could say the carnage was the work of peasants defending themselves; only the government could afford to kill with bullets. El Corte also suggested to the Haitians' work of harvesting sugar cane (ironically, soldiers did not touch the Haitians who stayed on the Americans' sugar plantations).
The ugly specter of race/racism and anti-Haitian attitudes in the DR, and its history, is being explored in both academia and by noted novelists like Haitian-American Edwidge Dandicat in her award-winning book, The Farming of Bones.
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