Friday, June 12, 2015

Hating Haitians in Hispaniola

Two countries share one island. Haiti and the Dominican Republic have divided Hispaniola, a lovely topical isle… sort of. Haiti is defined by dire poverty and still recovering from a horrific earthquake in 2010; it is the poorest nation in the Caribbean with the largest population in the area (almost 10 million crowed into about one third of the island). The DR is slightly less populated but occupies about two thirds of Hispaniola. Christopher Columbus landed here in 1492. But the history of these two nations, carved out of a single island, is very different.
The Spanish-speaking DR has GDP of around $135 billion while French-speaking Haiti’s is around $19 billion. While the DR is not rich by any standards, it is quantum leaps over Haiti. Haiti started out as a Spanish colony, and the “Spanish passed the Laws of Burgos, 1512–1513, which forbade the maltreatment of natives, endorsed their conversion to Catholicism, and gave legal framework to encomiendas. The natives were brought to these sites to work in specific plantations or industries.” Wikipedia.
French pirates had always operated from the western part of the island, and as Europeans battled among themselves over ownership, the western side of the island was ultimately ceded to France; Haiti (then named Saint-Domingue) was born in 1697. The French had vastly different views of their colony, which rapidly became defined by slavery. The ratio of black to white inhabitants was 10 to 1.
Saint-Domingue shuddered under brutal French rule. “The French-enacted Code Noir (‘Black Code’), prepared by Jean-Baptiste Colbert and ratified by Louis XIV, had established rules on slave treatment and permissible freedoms. Saint-Domingue has been described as one of the most brutally efficient slave colonies; one-third of newly imported Africans died within a few years. Many slaves died from diseases such as smallpox and typhoid fever. They had low birth rates, and there is evidence that some women aborted fetuses rather than give birth to children within the bonds of slavery.” Wikipedia. Civil unrest simmered, broke out in the late 1700s and resulted in revolution in 1803 and independence from France in 1804.
Haiti was not warmly received by the United States, however. “Fearful of the influence of the slaves' revolution, US President Thomas Jefferson refused to recognize the new republic, as did most European nations. The US did not officially recognize Haiti for decades, until after the American Civil War.” Wikipedia.  With military threats looming, France demanded reparations in 1825 so as not to resume control over Haiti. The Haitian economy was crushed. Violence and instability became the norm as differing powers jockeyed for control.
“In January 1914, British, German and U.S. military forces entered Haiti, ostensibly to protect their citizens from civil unrest at the time. In an expression of the Theodore Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, the United States occupied the island in 1915. U.S. Marines were stationed in the country until 1934, a period of nineteen years.” Wikipedia. The United States also demanded that Haiti pay off massive debts that arose during the occupation, and the export of cash to the United States once again decimated the Haitian economy and reinforced the kind of never-ending poverty that defines Haiti even today.
A series of brutal dictators – known for torture and secret police – finally gave way to an unstable democracy in 1986 which staggered and fell until a modicum of stability settled in the mid-1990s. Revolution roiled again through the country in 2004, settling into relative stability in 2006. Hurricanes have plagued the country, and 7.0 earthquake in 2010 decimated the already-impoverished nation… and Haiti has yet to recover.
Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic remained relatively stable and relatively prosperous. Many Haitians had escaped to the eastern part of their island into the DR over the many years of turmoil that continuously slammed Haiti. Some historical-Haitians have been born and raised in the DR for generations, do not speak French and most have never even travelled to Haiti. But this group of historical Haitians have been the whipping boys for the DR, often treated like second class citizens compared to their Hispanic counterparts.
It seems that anyone of Haitian descent, dark-skinned and often employed in the most menial of jobs in the DR, is looked down upon by the traditional and dominant DR Hispanic community. Haitians, even those who have lived in the DR for over a century (folks who were born in the DR), are viewed as unwanted immigrants. The constitution in the DR grants unequivocal citizenship to people who are born and raised in the DR, but these is a movement in this eastern part of Hispaniola, upheld by the highest court in the land, to deport every single person from Haiti or who is “ethnically” Haitian, even if they have been born and raised in the DR. If your ancestors came here illegally, no matter how long ago, you are illegal, say the authorities.
[T]he Dominican government has publicly stated that mass deportations of its citizens of Haitian descent will commence on or about June 17, 2015. That government has massed a fleet of buses to deport these Dominicans to a land largely foreign to these people. The Dominican military, for its part, is ramping up efforts at collective deportations, according to reports, sweeping up anyone who ‘looks’ Haitian, and dumping them in Haiti. Despite these horrors, no world leader and few media outlets are focusing on this very real human rights tragedy…
“The Dominican constitution in question specifically recognized Jus Solis citizenship, also known as birthright citizenship. In fact, in addition to the language of the constitution itself, more than one international court decision specifically interpreted the constitution in that fashion. To add to the absurdity, the Dominican [High] Court did not stop there, it held that its decision of stripping of citizenship to its citizens of Haitian descent, albeit couched in ‘immigrant’ rhetoric, applied retroactively for nearly 100 years. In other words, despite the language of its own constitution, human rights norms, and decades of reasonable practice, in one stroke of a pen, the Dominican government actually held that generations of Dominican citizens were stateless under a logic that makes even our own tragic racially motivated decisions of Dred Scott (the 1800s decision holding African-Americans incapable of becoming citizens) and Korematsu (the WWII decision upholding the internment U.S. citizens of Japanese descent) seem logical.” Professor of Law Ediberto Roman, Florida International University writing in the June 6th Huffington Post. 
Bet you didn’t know any of this. And most of us do not care; it “their problem” over “there.” That indeed Haiti cannot even take care of its own now has to deal with this mass deportation of strangers, not remotely familiar with Haiti, poor, stripped of house and home, is sadly astonishing. If this horrific deportation is left to occur without global protest, we are all demeaned as human beings. But the reminder for us is our own hostility to immigrants – even though at some level virtually all Americans came from immigrant stock. As horrible as this message is, we really need to look at ourselves and our desire to exclude the rest of the world from the land of opportunity that once defined the United States of America.
I’m Peter Dekom, and this is another harsh reminder of exactly how harsh human beings can be with other people.

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