Up to one million people of Haitian origin currently live in the Dominican Republic, and many are subjected to discrimination and violence.
Many impoverished Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic looking for arable land, fuel and work. Often, they face racial prejudice and their Dominican-born children are refused citizenship because they are considered “in transit.” These children are left stateless.
In May of this year, a Haitian migrant was beheaded in the Dominican Republic. The incident sparked renewed outrage over treatment of Haitians in the country. Roger Leduc of “Upside Down World,” a Worldfocus contributor, describes the escalating human rights concerns.
Recent incidents involving Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic should alert even the most jaded observers that an already very serious human rights problem is getting worse.
A confluence of factors — a rapid succession of executions in the last few months, arrogance and defiance from Dominican government officials, institutions and citizenry vis-a-vis the plight of Haitian workers, the shameful indifference of the Haitian government, and the relatively superior economic and military position of the Dominican Republic — has created a pre-genocidal atmosphere that raises the specter of the 1937 mass murder of tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants.
What is alarming about these events is the rapidity, spontaneity, anger and brutality with which Dominican mobs react to rumored misdeeds of Haitians. This points to a deep well of prejudice and hatred, fed by a negative, stereotyped view of Haitians. It also denotes the distorted self-image and misconceptions some Dominicans have about their cultural and racial differences with their island brothers. Some of these opinions are typical anti-immigrant resentments: Haitians are stealing jobs, depressing the price of labor, etc.. Other sentiments, evoking fears of the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” and of Haitians changing the DR’s supposedly European and Christian culture, stem from century-old events and a misunderstood history. They are emotional and even visceral – and therefore more explosive and dangerous. Haitians are considered as the “enemy” who deserve their lot and who should be punished whenever Dominicans deem it appropriate.
Dominican government pronouncements feed this xenophobia. They not only deny any mistreatment of Haitians but accuse Haitians of fomenting violence. Haitians, they say, should then be thankful that Dominicans, more than any other nation, give them aid and succor, a Dominican version of Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden.”
In 2005, the Dominican government reacted rabidly to the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that children born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic should be given full citizenship rights as Dominican law prescribes. It claimed that there was an international conspiracy against the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Haitian Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis’ mild protest over Nérilus’ decapitation received vigorous rebukes from both President Leonel Fernandez and the archbishop — the DR’s putative moral leaders. The Dominican police and judicial authorities are not only conspicuously silent but also take part in massive abuse and repression.
One of the reactions to Pierre-Louis’ whiny protest was that she should have toed the line set by President René Préval, who refused to denounce the beheading and stated that the case should be left to the Dominican authorities. There could be no better signal to Dominicans that they can do as they please with Haitians. […]
Many petit-bourgeois Haitians ignore the plight of Haitian sugarcane cutters, who come from either the poor peasantry or the slums. In the feudal caste system in Haiti, such working-class people are considered disposable sub-humans. Some well-to-do Haitians are proud to trumpet how often they go on vacation in the Dominican Republic and spend their money, oblivious to the abject situation of our compatriots and enthralled by the great “development” of our neighbor. Haiti’s moneyed class feels no remorse in taking profits reaped in Haiti and investing them in the DR, claiming that the situation is too unstable at home — an instability and precariousness many of them helped create.
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For more Worldfocus coverage of Haiti, visit our extended coverage page: Haiti’s Poor.