No Peace on Hispaniola

Downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1982 (Image: Mike Mangrove)

Haitians in the Dominican Republic

At first, one would assume that the Dominican Republic and Haiti have much in common. Both share the island of Hispaniola, have spent much of their history as European colonies and share some cultural similarities from their shared history as destinations for African slaves. The one thing the countries have struggled to foster, however, is peaceful coexistence. This comes largely as a result of the economic imbalances between the neighbours. Up until the middle of the twentieth century both countries had largely equal economies dependant upon sugar production. The second half of the century, though, saw Haiti struggle economically with a rapidly rising population and internal political strife as a result of the authoritarian rule of François Duvalier. The Dominican sugar industry thrived. This led to the migration of Haitians into the republic since the 1920’s, a trend that continued despite the mechanisation of the sugar industry in the 1960’s.

Haitian migration to the republic has continued apace

The Haitian population in the Dominican Republic has proved itself to be a point of tension in recent times too. It first exploded onto the political scene, however, with the 1937 massacre of Haitians on the Dominican-Haitian border at the orders of Dominican President Trujillo. Both countries have come a long way since, but inequality between the two is still stark; Dominican GDP per Capita is $5894 as opposed to Haiti’s $854. This has meant that Haitian migration to the republic has continued apace, fuelled by a desire to escape poverty, natural disaster and political unrest. Haitians in the Dominican Republic account for about 7% of the population as of 2012, a sizeable proportion even when the number of illegal and undocumented migrants isn’t taken into account. The Dominican Government has continued to use the citizenship status of migrants as a political football, largely to pander to vocal nationalists.

Those born to Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic may not have guaranteed Dominican citizenship

Most recently, the government of President Medina had set a June 17th deadline for Haitians in the Dominican Republic to apply to stay in the country legally. Democracy Now reported that as of the deadline, only 300 people, of an eligible estimated 250,000, had received residency paperwork. The biggest threat, however, is that those born to Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic may not have guaranteed Dominican citizenship and could be deported to Haiti, effectively making them stateless. Many have criticised the Dominican government for not having the bureaucratic muscle to handle its own deadlines and accuse the government of undeniable racism. On the 19th of June, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees attempted to intervene and appealed to the Dominican government that those deprived of their Dominican Citizenship in a 2013 High Court ruling not be deported. The ruling of 2013 decreed that only those born in the Dominican Republic and who have a parent with Dominican Citizenship are eligible for Dominican citizenship. This was then applied retrospectively, stripping many, often middle-aged, of their Dominican Citizenship, which they had obtained having been born to Haitian parents resident in the Dominican Republic.

Both countries need to change their approach

No-matter whether mass deportations take place (which they shouldn’t), both countries need to change their approach to one another. The onus for change, however, lies with the Dominican authorities, who would do better to offer blanket citizenship to Haitians resident in the republic and better spend resources on controlling their border. The racism and xenophobia which has stained the countries’ recent relations needs to become a thing of the past. Not only this, but the rest of the world needs to do a better job of promoting dialogue between Santo Domingo and Port au Prince.


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