Saturday, March 31, 2007

A disgraceful campaign by the government of the Dominican Republic

News has filtered out from the Dominican Republic about how the government of Dominican President Leonel Fernández intends to respond to the growing international outcry regarding the labor conditions and treatment of immigrant Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian-descent within the country. Apparently, the Fernández government will responded the only way it seems to know how, through a sustained demagogic campaign of whipping up of even further bigotry, character assassination and, I fear, potential physical violence against those who speak out for the rights of the disadvantaged in the country.

In the wake of a 21 March statement by Amnesty International saying that “deep-rooted racial discrimination against Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic is causing arbitrary mass deportations and the denial of birth certificates to thousands of children” and in advance of Esclaves au Paradis (Slaves in Paradise) exhibition in Paris later this spring, Dominican officials have announced that they are seeking to revoke the citizenship of Movimiento De Mujeres Dominico Haitiana (MUDHA) leader Sonia Pierre, a Dominican of Haitian-descent who was born in the Dominican Republic in 1963. A recipient of the 2006 Human Rights Award from the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, Pierre has been one of the most active and eloquent voices for the disenfranchised in the Dominican Republic. The campaign against Pierre appears to be of a piece with similar campaigns against two activist priests, Father Pedro Ruquoy and Father Christopher Hartley, who were driven from the country in late 2006 and late 2005, respectively, after advocating for better treatment of behalf of Haitian workers laboring in the bateys, as the Dominican Republic’s sprawling sugar plantations are known.

Concurrently with the moves against Pierre, the internet publication Dominican Today, which slavishly parrots the Dominican government line at nearly every opportunity (reminding this observer of nothing so much as the propaganda machine that was Agence Haitian de Presse during the regime of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide), has printed libelous claims by an unnamed “government official” that the human rights situation in the Dominican Republic is being exaggerated by “foreigners” who use it “to obtain financing and to justify themselves” and that Father Christopher Hartley, who labored bravely for ten years in the bateys before big sugar interests drove him out, was accused of committing "serious crimes," two statements for which no evidence whatsoever exists.

Since its return to power in 2004, the Fernández government has appeared to be completely beholden to the whims of big sugar. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, one of Sonia Pierre’s bitterest critics, has a long-standing relationship as an executive and major shareholder of the Central Romana sugar concern, along with Cuban-American sugar barons Alfonso and Pepe Fanjul, and the wealthy Vicini family, who run the Batey dos Hermanos sugar-growing territory, maintain close ties with the government. Nevertheless, even by this rather compromised standard, the behavior of the Fernández government and its representatives over the last week has been nothing but demagoguery of the lowest kind.

One of the reasons for the recent attacks against Pierre is likely the fact the she was part of the legal team that, in September 2005, successfully argued before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the Dominican Republic was in violation of Articles 3, 5, 19, 20 and 24 of the American Convention on Human Right Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica in denying citizenship to two young girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico, born in the Dominican Republic. That decision also reinforced the fact that, in its denial of citizenship to persons born within its borders, the Dominican Republic was in violation of its own constitution, Article 11 of which reads in the original Spanish as follows:

“Todas las personas que nacieren en el territorio dela República, con excepción de los hijos legítimos delos extranjeros residentes en el país enrepresentació n diplomática o los que están de tránsitoen él.”

In a gesture of disrespect for international law, Fernández has said that, though his government has begun paying damages to the two girl, it will not follow the Inter-American Commission’s broader ruling demanding that the country follow its international obligations by granting citizenship to those born to families living there.

Many of us had hoped for far greater things from Fernández when he returned to office in 2004, looking forward to a socially progressive, pro-business, vigorous and law-abiding government to correct the drift and corruption that characterized the administration of his predecessor, Hipólito Mejía.

Unfortunately, it appears that was not to be, and that the influence of money and the instinctual reflex to cheap nationalist sentiment and scapegoating was too appealing in the narrow political advantage it offered to resist. It looks increasingly like Fernández’s second term will go down in history as one of the great lost opportunities that the Dominican Republic ever had and that, much like their brothers and sisters in Haiti, the majority of decent, poor, gentle Dominicans will have been betrayed once again by their cynical and opportunistic politicians who had a real chance to uplift their country and blew it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Michael-I hope that we can find a more moderate tone in this discussion as public opinion is shifting. Understand that this small nation has as many undocumented Haitians as the US has undocumented workers proportionately. Over 70,000 cedulas were given to Haitians last year. Deportations are growing. Many children born here - to Haitians who have no papers also born here, are not eligible for Haitian citizenship either. So they are part of the 10million stateless people. The government has agreed that from now on all births will be at least registered. Now we need to work together to get some sort of justice for these kids. Unfortunately the more international pressure there is, the more the reactions set in.

So let's find a way out.
Elizabeth Eames Roebling