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Haitians challenge injustice in Dominican Republic

Black Miami stands firm in criticism of efforts to “purge” shores of Haiti’s neighboring country

D. Kevin McNeir | 1/1/2014, 9 a.m.
Last September, the high court of the Dominican Republic [DR] ruled that thousands of men, women and children of Haitian ...

Last September, the high court of the Dominican Republic [DR] ruled that thousands of men, women and children of Haitian descent would retroactively lose their citizenship — even if they were born in the Dominican Republic, allegedly because they were “undocumented.” But after public outcry from Haitians in the Diaspora, including here in Miami, and from Blacks across the country, the U.S. State Department recently commented on a plan by the DR to restore legal status to those affected by the controversial citizenship ruling. The State Department said it still has “deep concerns” about the impact the decision will have.

“We’ve urged the government to continue close consultation with international partners and civil society to identify and . . . address, in a humane way, concerns regarding the planned scope and reach to affected persons,” said a State Department spokesperson.

Magalie Austin, chairperson of the Miami-based Haitian Americans for Progress, said that her organization appreciates the U.S. government’s expressed concern, she believes “it will take a coalition of organizations and countries to increase awareness of this issue and to pressure the Dominican Republic to restore the legal status of Dominicans of Haitian descent.”

Austin also pointed out that there are several reasons why Dominican officials supported the ruling including: a political party that wins if Dominicans of Haitian descent are no longer allowed to vote; and the creation of a permanent underclass that would be working on far below minimum wage for the owners of the largest sugar cane plantations.

“Most people in the [local] community are shocked by the ruling and weren’t aware of the history of racism in the Dominican Republic,” she added. “However, there is a significant portion, particularly the Haitian American community, who is not surprised by the discrimination . . . The racism isn’t just perceived. This is about the moral lessons that the world needs to live by: never be a perpetrator, never be a victim and never be a bystander. This kind of heinous act on the part of the government can never be allowed to happen without the world taking a stand.”

Miami stands in solidarity

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson had this to say: “It is impossible to deny that in the Dominican Republic there is a long history of shameful discrimination against Haitians living there. Racial discrimination likely played a role in the ruling and this is part of why — as a longtime civil rights activist — that I am so committed to undoing this injustice. As Dr. King said, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

She added that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [IACHR], which was established to investigate these kinds of abuses, began a formal investigation in early December.

“In a recent Congressional letter that I along with Congressman Joseph Kennedy [MA] led more than a dozen colleagues in submitting,” she said. “I requested that Dominican President Medina wait until the IACHR has released its preliminary recommendations before implementing the court’s decision. If he fails to honor this request, we will need to consider all economic options.”