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“I'm Dominican, Just Like You”: Thousands of Dominicans of Haitian Descent Are Left Stateless

Protesters against the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic’s decision to strip thousands of citizens of their nationality. Taken from the reconoci.do Facebook page.

Protesters against the Constitutional Court's decision to strip thousands of their nationality. Taken from the Facebook page of the organization, reconoci.do.

[All links in this article lead to Spanish language sites, except where otherwise noted.]

¿Por qué en el Caribe siempre hay que huir hacia la libertad, o mejor, hacia un espacio que se dibuja en la imaginación como el de la libertad? La respuesta es obvia: las sociedades caribeñas son de las más represivas del mundo.

Antonio Benítez RojoLa isla que se repite: El Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna

Why is it that in the Caribbean people must always flee in search of liberty, or towards an imaginary space portrayed as liberty. The answer is obvious: Caribbean societies are among the most repressive in the world.
Antonio Benítez RojoLa isla que se repite: El Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna

Following the decision by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic (Tribunal Constitucional de la República Dominicana) to strip citizenship from all those born in the country to immigrants with an illegal status, the truth contained in the above quote is revealed with stunning clarity.

The repercussions of this unappealable decision by the Constitutional Court will affect several generations of Dominicans of Haitian origin, whose families came to make their lives in the Dominican Republic. The majority have never even visited Haiti, nor have family there. Even so, from one day to another, thousands of people have been left effectively stateless.

It is unknown exactly how many people will be affected by this decision. According to information from the National Office of Statistics (Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas), there are 244,151 persons born of “foreign” parents in the Dominican Republic; 86 per cent of these are people of Haitian origin.

The reconoci.do campaign has taken up the task of collecting testimonies from Dominicans whose legal situation is now in a limbo due to the denationalisation policy of the Dominican government. Below, Deisy Toussaint [fr], a young author, the recipient of numerous national literary prizes,  describes how she was not allowed to obtain a passport in order to represent her country at international cultural events:

The reconoci.do campaign also has a Twitter presence (@reconoci_do), where it it is in active communication with its followers. On Twitter, the #EsoNoSeHaceRD [You do not do that DR] hashtag has also been created.

@Evenelr: One hundred years of injustice do not create rights… #EsoNoSeHaceRD

This Constitutional Court sentence reminds us that: racism and xenophobia are the shame of humanity.

Imagine that a group of people full of prejudice are able to decide who is and isn't Dominican. How would they feel?

The international community responded to the Constututional Court's decision with alarm. Chiara Liguori, investigator for Amnesty International in the Caribbean said:

Esta última decisión destroza totalmente las vidas de los ciudadanos dominicanos de origen haitiano, especialmente si son obligados a salir del país por el Plan Nacional de Regularización.

Es totalmente injusto decir que personas que han vivido como dominicanos durante décadas ya no pertenecen al país ni tienen ningún derecho en él.

This recent decision totally destroys the lives of Dominican citizens of Haitian origin, especially if they are forced to leave the country due to the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan).

It is totally unjust to say that people who have lived as Dominicans for decades now no longer belong to the country, nor do they have any rights here.

UNICEF (The United Nations Childrens Fund) followed suit in its press release, stating that, long before the Constitutional Court’s decision, it had expressed its concern regarding the large number of children who would be left stripped of all legal protection:

En 2008, en las observaciones finales para la República Dominicana, el Comité de los Derechos del Niño señaló que el derecho constitucional de adquirir una nacionalidad por jus solis se negaba frecuentemente a niños que carecían de certificados oficiales de nacimiento o que habían nacido de padres sin residencia oficial en la República Dominicana. El Comité expresó su grave preocupación por el amplio número de niños apátridas que generaba esta política.

In 2008, in the concluding observations on the Dominican Republic, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the constutional right to acquire nationality by jus solis was frequently denied to children who lacked official birth certificates or who had been born to parents without legal residency in the Dominican Republic. The Commitee expressed its grave concern for the high number of stateless children created by this policy.

This past January, the blog La neurona impasible posted a reflection on Haiti which gains special relevance in the current moment:

Realmente somos todos Haiti ? Cuando hace tres años tembló la tierra y arrasó un ya de por sí desolado país, la comunidad internacional enseguida salío al paso con promesas de ayudas materiales y económicas. Que muchas de ellas se quedaron en eso, en promesas, al fin y al cabo publicidad para sus causas particulares y sus ansiado y ególatras baños de masas.

[...]

La comunidad internacional no ha hecho seguramente todo lo que podía, aunque los ciudadanos han hecho el grueso.

Quizás vaya siendo hora de redimirse y enmendar todos los errores del pasado.

Really are we all Haiti? When three years ago the earth shook and tore apart an already desolate country, the international community got away with mere promises of material and economic aid. The fact is that most of them remained just that; promises. Ultimately, publicity for their personal causes and ambitions, complete with egomaniacal photo-ops mingling with the victims.

[...]

The international community has clearly not done all that it could, while ordinary citizens have provided most of the relief.

Perhaps the hour of redemption and remedying of all the errors of the past is on its way.

The multifaceted author and singer Rita Indiana Hernández added her voice to the chorus of indignation in the El País newspaper:

La maldición que ahora se cierne sobre los haitianos es producto de artilugios más potentes, siniestros y escurridizos que los que se hacen acompañar del tambor. Esta magia, como otros colegas han señalado, es la que se ampara en la ley para justificar un racismo despiadado. Ya la temían las víctimas del holocausto esclavista, quienes durante generaciones le vieron la cara a esa maldad que la avaricia habilita en los hombres. Entre las muchas tradiciones heredadas por la sincrética sociedad dominicana, esta magia sobrevive de manera especial. Tras casi un siglo de trabajos forzados y maltratos de todo tipo, queremos arrebatarle el derecho a la nacionalidad a los hijos que los haitianos tienen en la República Dominicana.

The curse which now hangs over the Haitians is the product of more powerful, sinister, slippery devices than those accompanied by the beating of a drum. This magic, as others have pointed out, is enshrined in the law to justify a ruthless racism. The victims of the holocaust of slavery lived in fear of it, generations of them stared at the evil that avarice builds in men. Among the many traditions passed down by the syncretic Dominican society, this magic survives in a special way. After nearly a century of forced labour and abuse of all kinds, we want to destroy the right to citizenship of the children born to Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

Narciso Isa Conde, in the Lo Cierto Sin Censura blog, points out the racist motives behind the Constitutional Court’s decision:

Mis abuelos paternos eran árabes libaneses, vinieron con pasaportes turcos truqueados y se registraron con nombres no originales, al punto que el abuelo Antonio Isa no era ni Isa ni Antonio.

Si nos atenemos a la esencia de esa cruel sentencia, mi papá, Tony y yo, sus hijos y los míos, descendemos de “ilegales” y, entonces, deberían despojarnos de nuestra nacionalidad y documentos dominicanos.

Pero sucede que somos “blanquitos” y no provenimos de la inmigración haitiana.

Es claro que más allá de la población dominicana haitianodescendiente, muchos dominicanos y dominicanas de hoy estamos en condiciones parecidas, procedemos de troncos familiares traídos o venidos de fuera. Nuestros habitantes originarios, llamados “indios”, fueron exterminados por invasores blancos.

Entonces, es fácil percatarse del carácter racista, neonazi, de esa sentencia, en un país donde el racismo y la xenofobia dominantes se expresan fundamentalmente contra la emigración negra de origen haitiano y contra su descendencia; al extremo de imponerle la declaración como “indios/as” en el registro de identidad a los/as dominicanos/as color café o café con leche claro u oscuro.

My paternal grandparents were Lebanese Arabs, they came here on forged Turkish passports and registered with names so altered from their originals that Granddad Antonio Isa was, in actuality, neither Isi nor Antonio.

If we accept the essence of this cruel verdict, my father Tony and I, his sons and mine, descend from “illegals” and thus we should also be stripped of our Dominican nationality and papers.

But as it happens we are “white” and do not descend from Haitian immigration.

It is clear that beyond the population of Dominicans of Haitian descent, many Dominicans today are in similar circumstances; we descend from family trees which came or were brought from abroad. This country’s original inhabitants, commonly called “indios”, were exterminated by white invaders.

Thus it is easy to perceive the racist, neo-Nazi character of this decision, in a country in which the dominant racism and xenophobia is expressed fundamentally against black immigrants of Haitian origin and against their descendants. A racism which goes to the extreme of imposing the categorization of “indio” on Dominicans with coffee or milk-and-coffee coloured skin in the national identity registers.

Earlier coverage of this story can be read here.

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