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Haitians in Santo Domingo : Needed not Wanted

March 1, 2007      Commentary Archives

While the Caribbean people at home and abroad are either excited or concerned
about what's going on in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). In the extended
Caribbean family, the least fortunate among us: Haitian people in Santo Domingo
live an existence comparable to South Africa's apartheid system.

They're needed for the cane fields, but not wanted. Though the constitution of the
Dominican Republic guarantees the right to citizenship for anyone born within the
country's borders. Haitians born in Santo Domingo are not afforded a birth certificate.
The history of Haitians in Santo Domingo is replete with institutionalized hate and
violence against them.

The Island of Hispaniola
The history of mankind is replete with instances of nationalistic fervor fed by institutionalized bigotry and racism. The history of Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and Santo Domingo, is such a place. During the French occupation of Santo Domingo the white elite emphasize they Hispanic-Catholic culture. This turned to an emphasis on racial difference during the Haitian occupation. From 1822 to1844 Haitians occupied Santo Domingo, and as is the case of any occupying army the Dominican elite was displaced by people they considered beneath them.

Once the Haitians left the elite European class would set about channeling their
contempt for their former occupiers into stirring up nationalist fervor in  the Dominican
people, fortified with a repugnant dose of ant-Haitian rhetoric. Referred to as
"Antihaitianism."

Antihaitianismo In Santo Domingo
You can easily see the anti-Haitian in this Spanish term, which would come to represent an institutionalize subjugation of  Haitians in Santo Domingo by the elite. They sought to put the greatest possible distance between themselves and the Haitians, through racial divisions.

The elite started their campaign to reduce the Haitian to inferiority status by reclassifying all Dominicans as "indio." Suggesting that they were descendants of Amerindians who once lived throughout the Caribbean. While Haitians were Black slaves. At every turn  this new nationalism was constantly reinforced with a heavy dose of "Antihaitianismo." In other words this new nationalism, for all intent of purpose was anti-Haitian. But the worse was yet to come for Haitians in Santo Domingo.

Trujillo's Santo Domingo
Antihaitianismo in 1937 under dictator Rafael Trujillo, appeared in literature by some of the noted authors of the era. Authors like Joaquin Balaguer President and apologist for Trujillo's policies, would passionately spread the Trujillo anti-Haitian campaign.

 Antihaitianismo was now the policy of the Santo Dominican government. It even found it's way into the judicial system. For the thirty-one years of Trujillo's dictatorship this anti-Haitian was ever present. One of the many pieces of Literature circulated, admonished Dominicans to look for Haitian influences. Rumors of Haitians plans to take over Santo Domingo again, were also circulated.

This Antihaitianismo can be found in history books in schools. Best selling authors the likes of Joaquin  Balaguer  president and Trujillo point man. The Dominican Republic under Trujillo spewed much of these  modern day lies and distortions, to demonize and reduce the Haitian to a subhuman level.

In 1937 Trujillo's men would force, 30,000 Haitian to the cliffs at gunpoint forcing them over the edge into the sea. It was also rumored that Trujillo had a Haitian lineage, an accusation he denied.

Santo Domingo Today
Rafael Trujillo has been long gone, but to this day Haitians born in  Santo Domingo still live in a different existence. They're citizens of nowhere.  There're some 650,000 Haitians born in Santo Domingo that aren't afforded the rights of other Dominicans, not even a basic right of a birth certificate, schooling, or marriage. All the basic rights Dominicans take for granted are denied the Haitian.

Last year the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered  the Dominican government to issue birth certificates to Haitians born in the country. It has yet to happen.

Haitians born in Santo Domingo are denied the right of citizenship by a discriminatory registration system that is in violation of the Dominican Republic's constitution, which guarantees citizenship to those born within its borders. For children of Haitians born in Santo Domingo accesses to schooling and health care are denied or at best, restricted.

Fighting for Dominican Haitians
The Movement of Dominican Women of Haitian Decent (MUDHA). An organization fighting for the rights of Haitians in the  Dominican Republic. Directed by Dominican born Haitian, Sonia Pierre.

Back in 2006 Pierre received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, for protecting the rights of Haitian immigrants and their decedents, and the empowerment of Haitians to fight discrimination.

A footnote: Some of the Dominicans I spoke to implied a fear of the Haitian  practice of Voodoo as a major contention between Dominicans and Haitians in Santo Domingo.

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