Dominican government intensifies crackdown on Haitians
This Week in Haiti, Vol.17 no.35, 17-23 November 1999
The campaign to round-up and deport thousands of Haitians from the Dominican Republic to Haiti continued unabated last week, and tension between the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola, is growing daily.
Meanwhile, partisans of former right-wing Dominican president Joaquin Balaguer are planning a march in the Dominican capital on Nov. 20 to call for the expulsion of Haitians, while a coalition of progressive Haitian and Dominican organizations is planning a massive counter-demonstration the same day in New York City to denounce the racist anti-Haitian campaign.
In fact, many of the victims of the current crackdown in the Dominican Republic are Dominicans of Haitian descent, as Sonia Pierre of the Movement of Haitian-Dominican Women (MUDHA) told Haïti Progrès from her home in Santo Domingo."This is the most xenophobic situation I have ever seen in this country in my lifetime," said Mme. Pierre, who was born in the Dominican Republic 40 years ago to Haitian parents and who is today one of the most outspoken champions of Haitian and Haitian-Dominican rights. "I have been repeatedly harassed and aggressed at my home and office, and I can't even send my children to school. The other day a teacher approached my youngest child and said: 'It's your mother who is defending Haitians. You think we don't know it? We're going to send you back to Haiti.'"
Sonia Pierre has countless examples of how the xenophobic campaign has impacted Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry. A pregnant woman was ejected from a hospital and had to deliver her child outside its walls. Policemen and goons attacked women sidewalk merchants selling rice, coffee, and artisanal products; the women lost everything they had. Haitians have been hunted with dogs and guns.
"Children born here to Haitian parents can't go to school, can't be baptized, can't make their first communion, because they don't have a birth certificate" because their parents fear being deported, Mme. Pierre explained. Many of these children grow to be adults without ever acquiring the documentation that Dominican authorities demand as proof of identity and citizenship.
The present crackdown has a lot to do with the upcoming Dominican elections in May 2000 and a larger economic crisis, according the Sonia Pierre. "They have raised the price of gasoline, and now the price on more than 40 basic necessities has risen 70 to 100 percent," she said. "So the anti-Haitian theme gets whipped up. Each time there is a crisis in the country, whether electoral, social, or economic, they always scapegoat the Haitians."
As a result of the current crackdown, about 3000 Haitians have been deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti over the past two weeks, according to figures provided by Carol Joseph of Haiti's National Office on Migration (ONM). Less than a month after a Bilateral Mixed Commission from the two nations met from Oct. 6-8, the first official expulsions began on the weekend of Nov. 5-7 when 300 Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans were dumped in the southeastern Haitian town of Anse à Pitre. "In [the northeastern town of] Ouanaminthe, on Monday they sent across 240, Tuesday 300, Wednesday 360, Thursday 420, and Friday, it was 17 buses with 65 people on each," Joseph told Radio Haiti. "I will let the listeners do the math."
Joseph said that his border team was being "overwhelmed" by the influx, and last week Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis along with Diaspora Minister Jean Généus, Social Affairs Minister Mathylde Flambert, and National Police Chief Pierre Denizé visited four different border crossings to assess the crisis. "Not only have they not notified the Haitian government that they are making deportations, as stipulated in a clause in an agreement between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but they are doing the deportations in an inhuman fashion," Alexis said after the tour. "There are international laws and conventions on the matter of separating a family through deportation." Hundreds of families have been torn apart when people are picked up in sweeps and not even allowed to go home to collect their belongings.
"I have four children I left behind in Santo Domingo," a woman being deported to Malpasse told Radio Haiti. "They picked me up in the street and sent me back here with just the clothes on my back... I asked them to let me go back and get my children. Now my kids are certainly going through hell being left alone in Santo Domingo."
Many of the refugees who come across at Malpasse end up in a foul-smelling hangar-like warehouse near the border. Twelve-year old Emmanuel, who was deported with his mother and three siblings, is in Haiti for the first time. "They picked us up coming out of the hospital and brought us here," he said. Emmanuel's primary dream now is to return to his books and his school at La Romana where he was born, east of the Dominican capital.
The Dominican government has even begun arresting people on the basis of how they pronounce the word parsley (perejil) in Spanish, according to Joseph. This chilling test became infamous 62 years ago, when the soldiers and thugs of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo used it to determine their victims in the 1937 massacre of between 20,000 and 35,000 Haitians and Haitian- Dominicans along the Dominican frontier.
Tensions similar to those of 1937 began to emerge this week. Haitian President René Préval belatedly announced on Nov. 15 when leaving to attend the Ibero-American Summit in Cuba that his government "has protested officially to the Dominican government." He also said that he planned to raise the matter with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez at the summit.
Alexis also took aim at the Dominican government after his tour, referring obliquely to "a certain racism which is found among certain groups [in the DR] and there has even been talk of slavery."
The Haitian government also asked Santo Domingo since last Thursday for an urgent meeting on the crisis. The Dominican government snubbed the request saying it was too busy with other matters. "For reasons which we don't yet understand, the Dominican Republic has refused to receive our foreign minister to discuss the situation," said Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. "We hope that the Dominican government can explain this comportment which is a little irregular and above all that we can find an agreement between the two governments or a formula which will allow the deportations to be done in a normal manner according to international conventions."
But Haiti's National Popular Party (PPN) saw the snub as more than "a little irregular" and asserted in a Nov. 16 press conference that the Alexis government was again minimizing the conflict. "This refusal to have the foreign ministers meet is a de facto break in diplomatic relations," said PPN secretary general Ben Dupuy.
Last week the PPN charged that the Dominican Army, in cahoots with the Pentagon and CIA, is hatching plans for the invasion of Haiti if Washington remains unable to gain control of the political situation in Haiti and stop the continuing march of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide toward re-election in Nov. 2000 (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17 No. 34, 11/10/99). In a press communique, the Dominican government felt compelled to "formally deny this groundless rumor" and asserted that "the Haitian people can have the deep, absolute, and definite conviction that dangers toward their territorial integrity, their morality, and their security will never come from the Dominican Republic." History belies this assertion, since evidence and testimony has emerged in recent years that Dominican troops played a key support role for Haitian soldiers during the military coup against Aristide in Sept. 1991. Furthermore, the country still harbors hundreds of former Haitian soldiers, death- squad thugs, and dictators, like Gen. Henri Namphy.
Dominican troops are now massed on the border, according to Lt. Gen. Manuel de Jesus Fiorentino, head of the Dominican Armed Forces. Radio Haiti also noted that "the number of soldiers along the border has not only increased but there are combat-ready [Dominican] Marines deployed at Jimani."
Meanwhile, in New York, Haitian and Dominican community organizations held a press conference on Nov. 16 to announce a demonstration in front of the Dominican Consulate in Manhattan on Nov. 20. "A dangerous situation is unfolding which, if unchecked, may lead to a massacre against the darker population in the Dominican Republic, mainly Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent,"said Haitian unionist Ray Laforest, reading the prepared statement of the Justice Committee for Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. "The Dominican ruling classes are attempting to blame the economic crisis in the Dominican Republic on a so-called 'Haitian invasion' and are encouraging a climate of violence and hate against Haitians, casting them as the 'enemy.' We, a united coalition of Haitians and Dominicans, reject in the strongest way possible this overtly racist campaign, based on an ideology which seeks to cleanse the Dominican culture and landscape of all that is black, Haitian or African."
Wilson Spencer, a progressive Dominican activist in New York, said that alongside the crackdown on Haitians and Haitian- Dominicans, the Dominican government was waging war on the Dominican people in general and cited the killing of about 150 Dominican citizens over the past 5 months and the imprisonment of about 4,000 others without clear charges. "We have a corrupt government which does whatever it pleases and does not respect the law," Spencer said. "We think that the Dominican people's interests lie in allying themselves with the Haitian workers, not in allying themselves with the elite's racist campaign against the Haitian people. I would not even call it solidarity. The Haitians and the Haitian-Dominicans are a part of our country and our cultural heritage. So we are here to fight together."
Other speakers at the press conference who came out to support the Nov. 20 demonstration in New York included Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, Ron Daniels of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Nicole Pean of the December 12th Movement. Demonstrations against the Nov. 20th right-wing march in Santo Domingo are also planned in Florida and in the Dominican capital itself.
For more information on the New York march call the Justice Committee at (718) 284-0889 or (212) 219-0022 ext. 113, or (212) 942-7842.
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