Vice Chairperson Policy,
Advocacy and Projects
Commonwealth Youth Council
Growing outrage over the treatment of people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic has the potential to ease domestic political pressures against the Michel Martelly administration but has the potential to end in violence of another kind—against Dominicans. Haiti’s Minister of the Interior, David Bazile, on Tuesday called on Haitians to remain disciplined and not attack Dominicans in the Haitian capital. Veteran journalist Guy Delva, who served briefly with the Martelly administration, told the T&T Guardian: “I have never seen relations between Dominicans and Haitians get this bad.” The country’s vigorous diplomatic tit-for-tat with the Dominican Republic escalated last week with the expulsion of more than 300 people of Haitian heritage and reports of killings, including the murder of suspects linked to the slaying of an elderly Dominican couple near the border with Haiti.
By the time Martelly returned from the November 26 Caricom Bureau meeting in Port-of-Spain, the Dominican Republic had also announced the suspension of further talks on the contentious September 23 immigration ruling which could lead to the expulsion of thousands of Haitians from the DR. “Going to the meeting (with Haiti) will not be prioritised,” an official statement from the Spanish-speaking republic said last Wednesday. “Haiti has preferred to take another route and that ends our conversations right now.” The Caricom Bureau issued a strong condemnation of the ruling by the constitutional court of the Dominican Republic and announced suspension of consideration of the country’s membership of the regional grouping. Haiti and its Dominican neighbours were due to hold Venezuela-mediated talks in Caracas on Saturday. Martelly had, however, already implied in Port-of-Spain that Haiti had also lost interest in the meeting. The escalation in tensions between the two countries has served to dramatically raise the profile of the issue domestically, even in the midst of last week’s violent demonstrations seeking the ouster of the Haitian president over cost of living issues.
According to senior Haitian journalist Gotson Pierre, in online correspondence with the T&T Guardian, the immigration conflict has indeed become “a current issue.” Only last week, thousands rallied on the streets of Port au Prince against the Martelly administration, which they claim has not done enough to ease the plight of poor Haitians since coming to power two years ago. More demonstrations are planned for coming days. They stand to be overshadowed, however, by calls for demonstrations to protest the action of the Dominican Republic against Haitian nationals. Haitian social media posts are now calling for everything from a ban on Dominican products to a cut in diplomatic ties. Haitian journalist Phares Jerome told the T&T Guardian: “There is a sense of outrage among most Haitians” on the issue. “The repatriation of hundreds of Haitians in humiliating conditions reinforces the wrath of Haitians,” he said.
On Martelly’s return to the capital after Tuesday’s Caricom meeting, he was also met with news of the death of up to 30 Haitians seeking to sail illegally to the United States on an overloaded boat. The incident appeared to link the president’s twin challenges of growing internal dissent over continued poor economic conditions and the attractiveness of life beyond the borders of the impoverished island state, at whatever cost. “The President of the Republic reiterates its commitment to maintaining in the country a stable environment conducive to investment and job creation in order to put an end to these dangerous practices,” Martelly said in a prompt response to news of the tragedy. Observers say they are hoping for an equally timely end to the mounting tensions between neighbours.
Caricom’s Statement (abridged)
The Caribbean Community (Caricom) condemns the abhorrent and discriminatory ruling of September 23 of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic on nationality which retroactively strips tens of thousands of Dominicans, mostly of Haitian descent, of citizenship rendering them stateless and with no recourse to appeal. It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 judgement made by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Dominican Republic adapt its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The ruling also violates the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations. Furthermore, the ruling has created an environment where, with the abrogation of rights that flow from citizenship, arbitrariness can flourish as illustrated by recent media reports of the forced deportation to Haiti of people claiming to be Dominican and with no linguistic or familial ties to that country. Caricom reiterates its call to the Government of the Dominican Republic to take the necessary political, legislative, judicial and administrative steps urgently to redress the grave humanitarian situation created by the ruling.
The Community also calls on regional and hemispheric countries and organisations to lend their voice to urge the Dominican Republic to right this terrible wrong. The Community welcomes the intervention by Venezuela to assist in resolving the issue but given the grave humanitarian implications of the court ruling the Community cannot allow its relationship with the Dominican Republic to continue as normal. In that regard, the Community, at this time, will suspend consideration of the request by the Dominican Republic for membership of the Caribbean Community. Furthermore, the Community will review its relationship with the Dominican Republic in other fora including that of Cariforum, Celac and the OAS. It cannot be business as usual. Caricom is prepared to engage the Dominican Republic but the government of the Dominican Republic must show good faith by immediate credible steps as part of an overall plan to resolve the nationality and attendant issues in the shortest possible time. —November 26, 2013.