Deportation Cruelty Is The Last Thing The Dominican Republic's Cruel Image Needs

Jul 30, 2015

OPINION

You don’t need to be a detective to know that the Dominican Republic has already begun deporting Haitian-Dominicans.

International media report this week that tent cities are sprouting up at towns like Anse-à-Pitres on Haiti’s side of its border with the D.R. This morning I spoke by phone with Mia Pean, a Haitian-American relief worker who lives near Anse-à-Pitres. Her organization just received a group of Haitian-Dominican youths who say they were deported from the D.R. a few days ago – even though they claim they were born there.

“They don’t speak Creole,” Pean told me, referring to Haiti’s predominant language. “They speak only Spanish,” the D.R.’s official tongue.

None of this is surprising if you’ve followed the Haitian-Dominican crisis – which was sparked two years ago when the Dominican Supreme Court revoked the citizenship and residency of anyone born in the D.R. after 1929 if their parents were not Dominican.

RELATED: The Plight Of Haitian-Dominicans: Judicial Review Or Just Racism?

In response to the international outrage that followed that outrageous ruling – which effectively left close to half a million Haitian-Dominicans stateless – the Dominican government offered them a chance to legalize their status. But the document requirements for that program, which ended this summer, were so onerous that only a small fraction of Haitian-Dominicans were able to qualify.

And now, as the tent cities indicate, the Dominican Republic has begun booting Haitian-Dominicans who didn't.

No one condemns the Dominican Republic for eliminating birthright citizenship. But to make that measure so rabidly retroactive is a benighted mockery of constitutionality. It is, bottom line, sheer cruelty – and the last thing your image needs if you're the D.R.

In the process, the D.R. has proved incredibly oblivious not only to how racist this purge looks and is – just about all Haitian-Dominicans are black – but to its historical antecedents as well.

Starting, for example, with the 1937 massacre of as many as 20,000 Haitian-Dominicans ordered by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo to help “whiten” his country.

It’s always astonishing to watch any nation (including the U.S.) display this kind of public-relations cluelessness. Not to mention the Orwellian denial that usually comes with it.

Take the Miami Herald op-ed Dominican ambassador to the U.S., José Tomás Pérez, wrote this month. Pérez insisted the goal of the D.R.’s draconian new policy isn’t to expel Haitian-Dominicans, but to safeguard “their fundamental rights.”

You have to be wantonly naïve to swallow that, and here’s why.

This whole mess started in 2010, when Dominicans voted to eliminate birthright citizenship. Which was fine. Most nations don’t offer birthright citizenship. But to make that measure as rabidly retroactive as the D.R. did – to suddenly turn three or four generations of heretofore legal citizens and residents into illegal immigrants ripe for deportation – is a benighted mockery of constitutionality. It is, bottom line, sheer cruelty.

Which is the last thing your image needs if you’re the Dominican Republic.

Mind you, it was great to see Dominican pitcher Pedro Martinez get inducted into the Hall of Fame last weekend. I still listen to Juan Luis Guerra CDs. But national reputations are forged from more than baseball and bachata.

Angry Hashtags

Those profiles are defined most by governance – and in the D.R.'s case the picture isn’t all that pretty.

Name a few of the best known novels about the D.R. – say, “The Feast of the Goat” by Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, or the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Dominican-American author Junot Diaz.

Fairly or not, it’s the Trujillo dictatorship – and how its brutal spirit has lingered on (sometimes with U.S. help) long after the tyrant’s 1961 assassination – that dominates not just those works but much of the world’s view of the D.R.

Things may be more democratic there today – we no longer hear reports of authorities murdering dissidents by tossing them into shark-infested waters, as was common under Trujillo – but they certainly seem no less corrupt.

In one all too typical case, a Dominican judge recently acquitted a senator – despite what legal experts called detailed evidence – who’d been charged with embezzling more than $100 million of government funds. The verdict brought Dominicans, who are usually inured to judicial sleaze, out to the streets to protest their justice system.

The same justice system that’s condemned hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans to legal purgatory – or an exiled hell.

If Dominicans really want to improve their global brand, they should also march against the deportations of those Haitian-Dominicans and the trashing of “fundamental rights” that’s led to this humanitarian crisis.

Otherwise, the D.R. may have its own hell to pay: the Twittersphere is seeing more angry hashtags like #BoycottDR. That's not a real solution, but as we’re discovering in the U.S., racism doesn’t play so well in the 21st century. And it's time the D.R. realized this is no longer the 20th century.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.