The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that while it has seen a plan by the Dominican Republic to restore legal status to those affected by a controversial citizenship ruling, it still has “deep concern” about the decision’s impact on the status of persons of Haitian descent born on Dominican soil.
“We've urged the government to continue close consultation with international partners and civil society to identify and expeditiously address, in a humane way, concerns regarding the planned scope and reach to affected persons,” said Marie Harf, the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman.
The Dominican constitutional court’s Sept. 23 ruling retroactively stripped citizenship from anyone born in the country to undocumented parents dating back to 1929.
Harf acknowledged that the majority of those affected are of Haitian descent and said, “We’ll continue to dialogue, but we have expressed our concerns over it.”
The statement marked the first time the United States has publicly addressed the ruling, which triggered an intense outcry against the Dominican Republic by Caribbean leaders, human-rights activists, Dominicans and Haitians at home and abroad.
But just as the United States’ silence had been notable, so too is the deafening silence of Haiti’s normally outspoken President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Neither leader has addressed the issue publicly in Haiti, where it continues to dominate the airwaves. Advisers have quietly said that the matter is an internal Dominican issue, but critics have accused the leaders of remaining silent because the country is beholden to Dominican investments.
Some frustrated Haitians have taken matters into their own hands. The country’s famed Oloffson hotel has suspended sales of Presidente, the Dominican beer. And earlier this month, hundreds of Haitians demonstrated against the ruling, carrying bright yellow signs with blue writing that said, “Stop Travelling to Dominican Republic” and “Dominican Republic is a racist country,” as they attempted to make their way to the Dominican embassy and consulate in Petionville.
Outside Haiti, some have started to respond with a growing boycott of Dominican tourism. On Tuesday, the National Bar Association, a U.S. group made up predominantly of black lawyers, informed members that it was relocating its March conference, previously scheduled for Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, to Curaçao. The boycott came at the urging of Haitians in South Florida.
Neither the Dominican government nor its tourism marketing company responded to a Miami Herald request for comment about the boycott. But President Danilo Medina recently said he has “always believed that the DR and Haiti are joined till death do us part.”
The National Bar Association’s decision came just weeks after two of Haiti’s top konpa bands, Miami-based T-Vice and New York-based Carimi, simultaneously announced to fans on Twitter that they were canceling upcoming shows in the Dominican Republic because “our fellow Haitians are suffering.”
Two days later, Miami travel agency owner Darvin Williams took a similar decision, quietly spreading the word to employees that the agency was “no longer selling DR.”
“I am not a fan of the word ‘boycott,’ ” said Williams, noting that he did more than $600,000 in sales to Dominican resorts this year before making the “personal decision.”
“I am a fan of democracy and the vote. A country should be able to govern itself autonomously. But that doesn’t mean we have to financially support them,” he said.
Jean-Philippe Austin, a Miami doctor who runs Haitian Americans for Progress with his wife, Magalie, applauded such decisions.
On Nov. 11, the group wrote to the bar association informing it of the Dominican court’s ruling and what they called the Dominican Republic’s discriminatory history against Haitians.
“While American-based organizations cannot erase that history, they certainly should not endorse the Dominican government’s human rights violation through economic sponsorship,” the letter said.
“We are going to fight back and see if we can reverse it. It’s wrong, so wrong,” Jean-Philippe Austin said. “I don’t know if we will be successful, but I want the world to know what the Dominican Republic is doing to its own people.
“This happens to be one issue where the Haitian-American community, those of us who have the opportunity, who have a voice, should fight for people who have no voice.”
In announcing its decision, bar association president Patricia Rosier said it was calling on other “bar, governmental, and corporate leaders to condemn the action of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic . . . and join us as we continue to Stand Our Ground For Justice.”
Roberto Martino, the lead singer of T-Vice, estimates that his group and Carimi stand to lose more than $30,000 as a result of the cancellations. But the money means little, he said, after seeing “how our Haitian brothers and sisters were being treated in the DR.”
“The response from our fans has been huge. They all support our decision. Many Dominican fans have written me as well to say that they understand and that not all Dominicans agree with what’s going on,” he said.
Richard Cave, lead singer of Carimi, said the band was “bombarded with emails and texts from Haitians living in the Dominican Republic” with complaints about discrimination.
But it was the story of a doctor born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian migrant parents, who is now being denied citizenship, that moved him, Cave said.
“It’s crazy. You are talking about a guy who studied and is almost part of the community,” he said. “We made the first step. The Haitian government has to make the second one.”
On Tuesday on the sidelines of a Petrocaribe meeting in Venezuela, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the same island, agreed to resume talks over what they called issues of mutual interests with Venezuela serving as mediator.
Medina had called off the talks after Caribbean Community leaders formally condemned its decision and blocked its entry into their economic bloc because of the ruling.