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Dominican Republic high court ruling sparks international outrage

Yawu Miller | 11/20/2013, 10:51 a.m.
A controversial ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court to strip citizenship from people of Haitian descent born there has ...
Kendra Lara says many Dominicans in Boston are outraged by the republic’s Constitutional Court ruling stripping citizenship from people of Haitian descent. Photo by Yawu Miller

Yawu Miller

A controversial ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court to strip citizenship from people of Haitian descent born there has sent shockwaves through the Caribbean and in the Dominican and Haitian communities in the United States.

At the root of the court ruling, critics say, is a centuries-long effort by the Dominican ruling class to purge their country of its African history.

“This is an ugly legacy of the Dominican Republic,” says New York-based Dominican historian Luis Alvarez. “The ruling class really believes they are a white people.”

The ruling, handed down Sept. 23, has sparked outrage among Dominicans in the United States and Latin Americans around the world.

Peruvian novelist and one-time presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa penned an op-ed titled, “The Pariahs of the Caribbean,” denouncing the ruling in the Spanish Newspaper El Pais.

Dominican novelist and MIT professor Junot Diaz co-authored a scathing op-ed in the Los Angeles Times describing the Constitutional Court’s ruling as “an absurdity” along with Dominican novelist Julia Alvarez, Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat and U.S. born author Mark Kurlanski.

“Isn’t it time that the world tells the Dominican government that stripping people of their rights based on their ethnic background, setting up part of the citizenry for abuse and establishing an apartheid state is unacceptable?” the op-ed reads.

Members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation joined other lawmakers representing constituencies of Caribbean descent in writing a letter to Dominican President Danilo Medina Sanchez urging him to “take all necessary steps to stay the tide of the denationalization campaign.”

Under the Dominican constitution, anyone born in the Dominican Republic is automatically a citizen. The Constitutional Court’s ruling would revoke citizenship to anyone born after 1929 to Haitian parents. The ruling — which could render as many as 250,000 people stateless — is the latest development in the Dominican Republic’s longstanding campaign against people of Haitian descent, a history many trace back to Haiti’s 1822 annexation of the country.

Over the last two centuries, Haitians have travelled back and fourth across the border with the Dominican Republic in search of labor on Dominican plantations. In 1937, in what was widely seen as the most violent display of anti-Haitian racism in the country’s history, Dominican dictator Raphael Trujillo ordered the massacre of Haitian migrant workers, giving orders that resulted in the slaughter of an estimated 20,000 people.

Trujillo’s successor, Joachin Balaguer promoted his own brand of “antihaitianismo,” railing against not only Haitians, but all people of discernible African descent, famously arguing against interracial marriage in one of his many books.

In the late ‘90s, the Dominican Republic seemed poised to enter a more enlightened era of race relations. After Balaguer stepped down under pressure from the international community in 1996, President Leonel Fernandez and his Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party) brought the country into the 21st century.

But while that party began as a socialist party, it has morphed into a more conservative party that is now advancing the interests of the racist ruling class, according to Luis Alvarez.