Issues & Ideas

Dominican Republic’s deportation of Haitians is ‘akin to apartheid’

Removed: Milene Monime, 16, rests as her 2-month-old son Jefferson Thezon, center, sleeps next to another person’s child inside a school classroom where her family and others are staying after being deported the previous day from neighboring Dominican Republic, in the village of Fonbaya, Haiti.
Removed: Milene Monime, 16, rests as her 2-month-old son Jefferson Thezon, center, sleeps next to another person’s child inside a school classroom where her family and others are staying after being deported the previous day from neighboring Dominican Republic, in the village of Fonbaya, Haiti. AP

Dominican officials are poised to deport thousands of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent to Haiti in an ethnic-cleansing folly with wide-range repercussions.

The Dominican officials, who fancy their country as being white, are determined to rid the Dominican Republic of as many people as possible who “look Haitian,” meaning too black for their taste. (Although of fairer skin than Haitians, the overwhelming majority of Dominicans would be classified as black in the U.S.)

The latest crisis began in September 2013, after the highest Dominican court issued a ruling stripping Dominican-born Haitians of their citizenship retroactive to 1929.

I would be among the thousands of “denationalized” Dominican-born Haitians if I had accepted an offer of Dominican citizenship made to me in 1976 by the Dominican Consul General in New York. I had gained notoriety when my byline appeared in The Wall Street Journal on articles about corruption in the Dominican government. I thanked the consul and told him I had chosen Haitian nationality at age 18. Although I was born in 1931 near San Pedro de Macoris, I was never issued a Dominican birth certificate. When my parents fled after the 1937 massacre, I got my birth certificate in Haiti.

By mentioning 1929, the court pointed fingers at the U.S. It was in the 1920s that Haitian workers were trucked to the Dominican Republic by U.S. sugar interests to do the back-breaking job in the sugar cane fields. The U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. That facilitated the informal human trade without documentation.

At a time that sugar fetched a high price internationally, the development of the Dominican sugar industry depended on cheap laborers from Haiti who were housed and guarded in the bateyes, those makeshift camps with rudimentary facilities. It was akin to slave labor.

Fluctuation in the price of sugar dictated the treatment of Haitians. During the depression of the 1930s, the price of sugar tanked and Haitians became expendable. So expendable that the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered the massacre of 20,000 to 30,000 in October 1937. That “Caribbean Holocaust” had little echo in the world, as if to say “Black Lives Didn’t Matter.”

Trujillo remained an ally of the U.S., which provided his country a substantial sugar quota after 1934. In the 1950s, when the price of sugar rebounded, Trujillo signed a pact with Haitian President Paul Magloire for Haitian laborers. This practice continued during the nearly 30-year dictatorships of the Duvaliers. Haitian laborers were sold for a fee.

Obviously, the presence of so many Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic resulted from economic interests on both sides of the border of Hispaniola, the island shared by the two nations. But the sugar industry doesn’t need them anymore. From 1928 to 1937, sugar represented more than 50 percent of Dominican exports. But in 2014, the CIA’s World Factbook reported that the Dominican agricultural sector, including sugar, employed 14.6 percent of the labor force and accounted for only 6.3 percent of GDP. The economy relies mainly on its services sector, including tourism, telecommunications and free trade zones, employing 63.1 percent of the labor force and contributing 61.6 percent to GDP. Industry accounts for the remaining 32.1 percent.

The decline of sugar has pushed the Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent from the bateyes. They now compete for jobs in the cities. Thus the outcry of the “silent invasion” and the “Haitianization” of the Dominican Republic.

It is in this context that the Dominican officials changed their laws in 2004 to deny citizenship on the basis of birthright — jus soli — and declared that jus sanguinis, or blood relation, to be the ultimate rule of citizenship. To benefit from Dominican nationality, one must have Dominican blood through at least one parent.

Politics also play a role in the anti-Haitian campaign. The ruling PLD, or Party of Dominican Liberation, fears that the PRD, or the Revolutionary Dominican Party, would benefit from Dominicans of Haitian ancestry. The PLD is haunted by the ghost of José Francisco Peña Gomez, the late leader of the PRD who was of Haitian ancestry. Twice elected mayor of Santo Domingo, the capital, he would have been elected president were it not for the color of his skin. Will he be “denationalized” posthumously? Born in 1937, he died in 1998.

Dominican officials have been defiant in carrying out ethnic cleansing. Twice, in 2005 and 2014, the Court of the Inter American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States ruled against the Dominican Republic in cases related to their treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. Both times, the Dominican High Court thumbed its nose at the hemispheric court. Finally, in November of last year, it annulled participation of the country in the Inter American Court on the basis that the Dominican Congress hadn’t validated that membership.

By imposing a system akin to apartheid, the Dominican Republic runs the risk of becoming a pariah state. Reputable international organizations and personalities have expressed concern about the situation. A resolution in the U.S. Congress, sponsored by Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., emphasizes “the right to nationality without arbitrary deprivation by any state, as articulated in article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The resolution calls on the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States to pursue a multilateral approach to promptly address the political crisis in the Dominican Republic.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio may be the most outspoken critic of the Dominican officials. He issued a statement in English and Spanish on June 17 expressing his “extreme concern.” Last Sunday, he had a press conference in Washington Heights, home of the largest Dominican community in New York. The Dominican government, he said, is “defying our common sense of humanity. … It’s clearly an illegal act, it is an immoral act, it is a racist act. And it is happening because the people are black. And it cannot be accepted.”

A multilateral approach should have been followed from the beginning of the crisis, as CARICOM, the Caribbean political group, wanted to do. Instead, the Haitian authorities pursued a bilateral approach — to their detriment and that of the country.

Five years after the devastating earthquake of 2010 that killed about 250,000 and made 1.5 million homeless, Haiti faces a man-made tragedy with thousands of deportees already arriving. With about 70,000 homeless from the 2010 earthquake still living in tents, Haiti can hardly absorb the new homeless.

For a long-term solution, however, Haiti must adhere to the principles of a state of law and provide an economic and political atmosphere to keep its citizens, the manual laborers, as well as the professional and intellectual classes, that keep emigrating to survive.

Mr. Joseph is a former Ambassador of Haiti to the United States and author of For Whom the Dogs Spy, published last January.