Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On the upcoming ethnic cleansing of supposed Haitians from the Dominican Republic

Haiti has been mentioned here at Demography Matters a few times. In January 2010 after the devastating earthquake, for instance, I described the evolution and prospects of the substantial Haitian diaspora and also explained why a quixotic offer by the Senegalese president to resettle Haitians in Africa was not likely to lead anywhere, June 2010 mentioning that French-using Haiti was major source of immigrants to Québec and then in December 2011 noting how a migration of Haitian professionals to post-colonial Congo in the 1960s seems to have been the key movement that introduced HIV/AIDS to the Atlantic world. The Dominican Republic has come up more rarely, in 2006 and in 2009 being mentioned as a Caribbean Hispanophone society that has consistently seen more rapid population growth than once-dominant Cuba. As far as I can tell, the long and entangled history that has led, via migration from low-income Haiti to the middle-income Dominican Republic, to a population of Haitian origin in the latter country amounting well over a million people has never come up here.

It's coming up now. As The Guardian's Sibylla Brodzinsky reports, a new citizenship law is set to strip hundreds of thousands of these people of their citizenship in Dominican Republic, rendering them liable to deportation from the land of their birth and statelessness.

[Yesenia Originé] was born in the Dominican city of San Pedro de Macorís to Haitian parents. But because she has no papers to prove it, she, like thousands of other people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, risks being rounded up and deported to the neighboring country.

Many people in Originé’s situation are fearing the worst ahead of the Wednesday deadline for an estimated 500,000 undocumented persons living in the Dominican Republic to register with government authorities. The country’s authorities have reportedly lined up a fleet of buses and established processing centers on the border with Haiti, prompting widespread fears of mass roundups of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

“If they send me there, I don’t know what I’ll do,” says 22-year-old Originé who lives in a batey – a company town for sugarcane workers – in the south-west of the Dominican Republic.

A 2013 court ruling stripped children of Haitian migrants their citizenship retroactively to 1930, leaving tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent stateless. International outrage over the ruling led the Dominican government to pass a law last year that allows people born to undocumented foreign parents, whose birth was never registered in the Dominican Republic, to request residency permits as foreigners. After two years they can apply for naturalisation.

However many have actively resisted registering as foreigners because they say they are Dominican by birth and deserve all the rights that come with it – for example a naturalised citizen cannot run for high office.

Abby Philipp at the Washington Post went into more detail about the racism motivating this denationalization. Following the once Spanish Dominican Republic's separation from formerly French Haiti, the young republic set out to define its national identity in direct contrast to that of its neighbour. This meant, among other things, strong anti-black and anti-Haitian racism that culminated at least in the 20th century in an act of genocide.

There was a time when that split between the two countries was drawn with blood; the 1937 Parsley Massacre is widely regarded as a turning point in Haitian-Dominican relations. The slaughter, carried out by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, targeted Haitians along with Dominicans who looked dark enough to be Haitian -- or whose inability to roll the "r" in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley, gave them away.

The Dajabón River, which serves as the northernmost part of the international border between the two countries, had "risen to new heights on blood alone," wrote Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat.

"The massacre cemented Haitians into a long-term subversive outsider incompatible with what it means to be Dominicans," according to Border of Lights, an organization that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the massacre in 2012.
[. . .]
Cassandre Theano, a legal officer at the New York-based Open Society Foundations, said the comparisons between the Dominican government's actions and the denationalization of Jews in Nazi Germany are justified.

"We've called it as such because there are definitely linkages," she told The Washington Post this week. "You don't want to look a few years back and say, 'This is what was happening and I didn't call it.' "

Julia Harrington Ready, also of the Open Society Foundations, is right to call this ethnic cleansing.

The potential consequences of this for the two nations of Hispaniola, and for the wider region, cannot be understated. Even if this population at risk of mass deportation actually was Haitian, even five years after the earthquake Haiti is in no position to handle hundreds of thousands of deportees. For the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, I would be willing to bet that whatever nationalists might think they would gain in terms of a homeland rid of these people will be outweighed by the actual losses experienced. (Getting rid of large chunks of your workforce generally does not do good things for the economy.) Meanwhile, this ethnic cleansing will be certain to produce substantial numbers of people who will likely need resettlement outside of these region, just like other ethnic cleansings in the recent past.

This is not good. This is really not good at all. Be alarmed, readers. Maybe we can do something to prevent this catastrophe.

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