Caribbean leaders consider sanction against the Dominican Republic



As new tensions mount between Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, the top brass of the Caribbean Community will decide Tuesday whether to impose sanctions against the Dominican Republic over a high court ruling denying citizenship to tens of thousands of Haitian descendants

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and incoming chairman of Caricom, flew to Trinidad on Monday, as did Haitian President Michel Martelly, the immediate past chair. On Tuesday, the two will meet with current chairwoman and Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for a special meeting to discuss a range of sanctions that include freezing the Dominican Republic’s application to join their grouping.

In July, Dominican President Danilo Medina flew to oil-rich Trinidad hoping to charm Martelly and other Caribbean leaders over his country’s long-standing request to join the 15-member mostly English-speaking political and economic bloc.

Gonsalves, whose tiny nation recently led the charge against the Dominican Republic at an Organization of American States meeting, said Santo Domingo needs “to correct an egregious wrong.”

“This is the 21st century in our hemisphere, and we are having this kind of ethnic barbarism. It’s absurd, and unacceptable among civilized people,” Gonsalves said told the Miami Herald. “You can’t use national law and sovereignty to take away people’s rights.”

The court’s decision has reverberated in enclaves where Haitians and Dominicans live in the United States, as well as in the Caribbean where pressure has been building for Caricom to take a tough stand in support of Haiti, one of its weakest members. Among those denouncing the decision in the Caribbean: The Justice & Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston, as well as the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the Caribbean Civil Society Organizations.

Tuesday’s meeting comes as new tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic continued to escalate. In recent days, hundreds of Haitians have been expelled by Dominican authorities — and many continued to leave voluntarily Monday — after violence broke out in a southwestern Dominican border town of Neiba after an elderly couple was fatally stabbed in an apparent home burglary. Residents killed a Haitian man in retaliation, Haitian officials said.

Dismayed by the incident, Haiti’s Foreign Ministry late Saturday demanded an explanation from Dominican authorities whose soldiers reportedly drove Haitians across the border into Haiti. As of Monday, no formal explanation had been given, Foreign Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir said from the Port-au-Prince international airport as he and Haitian President Michel Martelly left for Trinidad.

The latest deportations underscore the ongoing hostility toward Haitians in the Dominican Republic where there has long been a debate over undocumented workers — mostly Haitian — and their children.

On Sept. 23, the Dominican Constitutional Court issued a ruling that human rights and immigration advocates say strips citizenships from as many as 300,000 Haitians. Retroactive to 1929, the court denied citizenship to anyone whose parents was not legally in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican officials have defended the decision saying it ends the uncertainty for children of immigrants and opens the door for them to apply for residency and eventually citizenship. Last week, after widespread international condemnation, officials announced they had come up with a plan to address the legal status of those impacted by the ruling, and would announce it in coming days.

The Foreign Ministry also released a statement saying the country was involved in a diplomatic outreach “to avoid distortions and misinterpretations” of its position.

Gonsalves said the Caricom leaders on Tuesday plan to consider formally condemning the ruling and adopt the position taken Friday by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. Eastern Caribbean leaders described the constitutional court decision as “repulsive and discriminatory,” and expressed “collective abhorrence.”

The leaders also called on Caricom to suspend the Dominican Republic’s application to join their community until corrective measures are taken and for the country’s membership in CARIFORUM, a grouping of former European colonies that get preferential trade terms from the European Union, to be reviewed.

Caribbean leaders also said they want countries such as Venezuela, which recently brokered talks between Haiti and the Dominican Republic over the issue, and members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to condemn the ruling.

“We want CELAC to make a statement,” Gonsalves said, adding that Venezuela should considering dropping the Dominican Republic from the Petrocaribe oil subsidy program.

While Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe have been criticized for not taking a more public position on the ruling, Gonsalves defended the Haitian leaders. He said they are “being very measured and careful. They have criticized the decision, but said this is a matter for the Dominican Republic to solve. They don’t want to get involved in the Dominican Republic internally.”

Still, he said, Medina has a decision to make.

“He has to decide which side of history he’s going to end up on,” Gonsalves said. “The backward side or the side of progress.”

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