By Freddie Allen, NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A Dominican Republic court order threatens to force more than 200,000 Dominican-born Haitians from their homes in an effort that many human rights watchers have called modern-day ethnic cleansing.
Just days after the Rachel Dolezal episode captivated America and a few days before the mass murder of nine church members studying the Bible in Charleston, S.C., the June 17, 2015 deadline expired for Dominican-born Haitians to request residency papers proving their citizenship in the Dominican Republic leaving hundreds of thousands of people stateless.
Media outlets have reported that the government has announced plans to start deportation efforts deploying the military and transport vehicles in neighborhoods where Dominican-born Haitians live. The Dominican government officials also said that they would allow undocumented foreigners to be-gin the path to become naturalized citizens in the future.
Ron Daniels, the president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, a group that advocates for social, economic and political equality for marginalized people in the United States and around the world said that the treatment of Dominican-born Haitians, especially those working on the sugar plantations, is a festering cancer on the island of Hispaniola.
“It’s really a schizophrenic relationship between the government of the Dominican Republic and the government of Haiti to ensure that Haitian migrants work in the sugar fields,” said Daniels.
Bill Fletcher, a global justice activist, writer and the host of The Global African on Telesur-English, said that the tension between the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola dates back to the 18th century when French and Spanish colonists imported African slaves to the island to harvest sugar cane.
After the successful slave rebellion on the French-ruled western part of the island, Haiti declared its independence from France in 1804. Then in 1822, the Haitians invaded the Spanish-ruled east, in their minds, to unify the island and to end slavery, said Fletcher.
Haitian military forces occupied what is now the Dominican Republic for more than 20 years. After their own war for independence, the Dominicans won their freedom from Haitian rule and declared their sovereignty in 1844.
“There was a tension that existed and a deep suspicion that existed on the island of Hispaniola,” said Fletcher. “That tension ratcheted up with the regime of Rafael Trujillo.”
Fletcher called Trujillo “a perfect example of self-hating mulatto” and some historians claim that he even wore makeup and hair dyes in an effort to appear more European.
Trujillo ruled from 1930-1961 and, “He focused on the Haitians in much the same way that Hitler focused on the Jews,” Fletcher said.
Trujillo’s solution to the Haitian problem in the Dominican Republic culminated in the Parsley Massacre of 1937. Historians estimate that 10,000 to 25,000 Haitians, many of them Dominican-born and living on the border between the neighboring countries, were executed under orders from Trujillo’s government.
Trujillo served as president until 1952 and continued to rule the country after he left the office wielding power through his military ties under a succession of paper presidents. In 1961, Trujillo was assassinated while traveling near Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, ending his long and brutal reign.
Fast-forward to 2010, Dominican lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that denied citizenship to Dominican-born children whose parents, were considered “in transit,” often a result of their temporary and seasonal work status, even though many of them had long ago taken up residency in the Dominican Republic.
International outrage over the amendment gave the Dominican government pause and lawmakers appeared to back down from their plans for full-scale deportation. That reprieve would be short-lived.
Then, in 2013 a court stripped Dominican Haitians and their children of their citizenship unless they could prove their legal status prior to 1929. Others can request residency permits as foreigners or apply to become naturalized citizens, but for now more than 200,000 Dominican Haitians are effectively stateless, because most have lived in the Dominican Republic for generations and have no familial ties to Haiti or even speak French or Creole.
Daniels said that the ugly backdrop to the self-hatred and racism, behind the constitutional amendment is the fact that many Dominicans share an African heritage.
“This was a conscious decision to identify themselves as Hispanic,” said Daniels, noting there was a time in the Dominican Republic’s brief history that government officials prioritized importing European Hispanics to the island in an effort to “whiten” up the population. “It really was a part of their self-hatred, if you really want to get down to it.”
Many Dominicans who have shunned their African roots claim “Taíno” heritage for the indigenous people of Hispaniola that were all but wiped out when European settlers began to colonize the island. Anthropologists have used DNA evidence to prove that more than 80 percent of Dominicans have some African ancestry.
Daniels continued: “Even some Black Dominicans don’t consider themselves Black, because of this psychology. They don’t want to be associated with Haiti; they don’t want to be identified as Black.”
Fletcher said that there are right-wing elements within the Dominican Republic that are racist and xenophobic and focused on Haitians and the Haitian descendants as the source of the economic problems in the country.
“I don’t know if the majority of the Dominican population agrees with that or that right-wingers and the ultra nationalists are so loud-mouthed that they’re silencing reasonable voices,” said Estela Vazquez, an executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a labor rights group.
Vazquez said that Dominicans living in the United States should be raising their voices and declaring that the Dominicans of Haitian-descent should stay in the Dominican Republic.
“Not only should we reach out to the Dominican government and say that, ‘This is wrong and the whole world is watching,’ we should also call on the Obama Administration and the State Department to intervene. We should call on our ministers, our rabbis, our priests and our imams to write letters to the Dominican government and direct their congregations in a day of prayer,” for the Dominican-born Haitians suffering in the Dominican Republic.
Vazquez compared the actions taken by the Dominican government, forcing thousands of Dominican Haitians to flee their homes to Nazis rounding up German Jews and herding them into concentrations camps in the 1930s. Other human rights activists also fear that the crisis could devolve into armed conflict between the neighboring countries and even genocide of the Dominicans of Haitian-descent.
“There’s an anti-Haitian posture and attitude that permeates much of Dominican society that needs to change,” said Daniels, adding, “And if it can’t change through moral appeal, than it needs to change through our ability to exact pain,” through economic sanctions in the tourism industry.
Daniels said that the life-blood of the Dominican Republic is tourism and that’s where economic boycotts should start.
Daniels noted the success of the threat of economic boycotts in Indiana after the state promoted a “Freedom of Religion” act that many people feared would allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
“People and companies decided to exercise a tourism boycott of that state and [Indiana state lawmakers] changed their tunes immediately,” said Daniels. “The Dominican Republic would change its tune immediately, if there were any effective challenge to its tourism or sanctions on its tourism. That message would change everything. We need to shut it down and they will change their tune.”
Fletcher said that the growing humanitarian crisis in the Dominican Republic is not a situation where people should just close their eyes or turn to the sports page.
“It’s important for steps to be taken to weaken the regime of the Dominican Republic to the point where they will never, ever consider such a horror again,” said Fletcher. “The next time an African American is thinking about taking a trip to the Dominican Republic, they should think twice. The next time that someone is considering a real estate investment in the Dominican Republic, they should think twice.”
Fletcher added: “Sitting back and simply shaking your head is unacceptable and it’s not an option.”