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Dominican Republic President Medina Speaks About Ending Constitutional Nightmare Over Haitian Citizenship

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COMMENTARY

Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Should we accept the word of the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina when it comes to ending the abusive treatment of Haitians in the DR?

Because we want to see a speedy and positive change to the current odious impasse between Dominicans and Haitians over the constitutional rights of the latter in the DR our first reaction was to answer in the affirmative. But until President Medina spells out in detail the solution he has in mind we are adopting a wait-and-see attitude to his pledge to introduce a naturalization law in the National Assembly, one that would eliminate the concerns of Haitians, many of whom were born in the DR and know no other country than the Spanish-speaking republic.

In a two-hour long speech the other day, President Medina promised to act in a way that would ease the concerns of Haitians who were told almost six months ago by the Constitutional Court in Santo Domingo that they weren’t entitled to citizenship. The DR’s head of state said he would take steps to end the citizenship nightmare but unfortunately, he didn’t provide a timetable to end the crisis and he kept the steps he plans to take close to his chest.

Actually, Medina used the occasion of the 170th anniversary of his country’s independence from Haiti to give the grand assurance, not simply to Haitians but to the international community. The trouble is that Medina knows better than most that his country has a lot to lose, economically, socially and otherwise if changes aren’t made to the law there and if the court’s decision was implemented.

As a matter of fact when the Constitutional Court ruled last September that tens of thousands, perhaps more than 100,000 children of Haitian parents weren’t entitled to DR citizenship, the international reaction was revulsion in and out of the United Nations, the Caribbean Community, the Organization of American States and the European Union.

The idea that Haitian families, some of whom were living in the DR since 1929 would be suddenly become stateless persons in their birthplace was so offensive that it triggered international outrage on human rights grounds alone. The fallout from the ruling can harm the DR’s relations with its neighbors, especially the members of Caricom which decided that the Dominican Republic wouldn’t be allowed to join the regional group if it didn’t reverse the Court’s decision.

In its folly, court ruled that anyone born to undocumented parents couldn’t be considered Dominican, a decision that was made retroactive to 1929. The ruling can’t be appealed to any higher legal or executive authority, conveniently ignoring the DR’s obligations to Haitians under international human rights laws.

Medina gave the OAS a solemn promise that he would do something about the situation and one of his diplomatic representatives in Washington gave a similar assurance to the Western Hemisphere’s top decision-making arm the Permanent Council.

Anything that falls short of restoring the full rights of Haitians would be totally unacceptable. After all thousands of Dominicans who are undocumented immigrants in the U.S. enjoy the rights their birthplace is seeking to deny to Haitians. Dominicans who came to the U.S. and later became undocumented immigrants have children who were born in New York, Miami, Boston and other cities and towns they enjoy American citizenship by virtue of their birth in the U.S., yet the DR’s court didn’t think twice before denying Haitians their birthright of citizenship. In effect, the court ruled that it was alright for Dominicans in the U.S. to become citizens but Haitians in a similar condition in the DR should not. That’s unconscionable and hypocritical.

Aria Maria Belique, who belongs to a movement that it is working to protect the rights of people affected by the court’s decision reacted, quite sensibly when she describe the situation as being quite “absurd. How are you going to take away a document that I already have, that is mine and give me the one as a foreigner when I have never been outside of the country?”

The United Nations Refugee Agency was quite clear about absurdity of the situation when it stated quite plainly that “should this process indeed be carried out without the necessary safeguards, three generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent could become stateless.” Medina and his administration can’t pretend they don’t understand the message being sent.

In the meantime, Haitians remain fearful that despite the nice sounding words and promises of Medina the change wouldn’t be made. For one thing, the nightmare spawned by the court decision fits into a pattern of inequalities and abuses Haitians have suffered in the DR for decades. For another at the heart of the court decision is the social exclusion the court decision is intended to accomplish.

What all of this comes down to is that by its own actions in the past and up to now, the Dominican Republic’s credibility is virtually non-existent, the emperor has no clothes. Realistically, it is the fear of being hit with sanctions from the EU, a possible reduction in assistance, and the blot on its international reputation that are both driving Medina to give an appearance of a willingness to compromise. It’s certainly not being propelled by a genuine desire to allow Haitians to remain in a country they call home.

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