Whose Dominicanidad?: Citizenship, Border Cultures and Human rights


Picture Courtesy of Aurora Arias


I am at the Aereopuerto Internacional Las Américas, José Francisco Peña Gómez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic while I wait for a flight from Santo Domingo to San Juan.  A Dominican woman sits next to me and asks me to help her fill out the all English customs form that she will need to turn in as soon as she lands in San Juan. She is a high-school teacher who is visiting the island to see her niece who is having a baby and this is only the second time she travels to Puerto Rico, where she has family in Bayamón, Río Grande and Mayagüez. Soon we start talking about of what the court decision ruling or sentencia  #168 means to her. She says that this is most of all a political decision made by “those in the government” and that she does not agree with it. She sees it as against the law and unconstitutional. I tell her that the feeling that I got from watching the local news is that there is a consensus and that mostly all Dominicans agree with it.  “Mentiras,” she argues,  “lies” all that appear on the news here are lies, “they are all lying and they are corrupt” and “many people simply don’t want to address they discontent openly because they fear they will be deported.” Where they will go? They are Dominicans.” When we finish our conversation I think about the irony of the situation. Peña Gómez was a Dominican-Haitian born in 1937, the year of the “Corte” the local name for the “Perejil Massacre” which occurred at the border between these two nations that killed more than 300,000 Haitians and some Dominicans citizens as well. Peña Gómez a politician, and three-times candidate for the presidency will not be considered a Dominican citizen if that ruling will be effective today. Now he “lives” in an airport name the best way of silencing his body, legacy and politics.

Court decision 168-# approved in September 23, 2013 and made by the government and judicial system in the Dominican Republic proposes that, all persons born after 1929 of non- Dominican parents on Dominican soil will need to legalize their citizenship status providing documents of citizenship (cédula de identidad). If not they will be left in a “citizen limbo” as they will be unable to access basic services, receive medical attention or acquire jobs. More than 200,000 people will be affected; and 24,000 of the 60,000 birth records reviewed during November will have their citizenship revoked. This sentencia is rooted in an anti-Haitian ideology that is still active in the trujillista sectors of government and society. It is an anti-Haitian decision as it relates to the anti-Haitian sentiment still thriving on the more conservative elites and media in the island. Also, it is an anti-Dominican sentiment as it stripes these Dominican men, women and children of their basic human rights. Dominican progressive sectors in the island and the diaspora have been vocal in their protests and critiques. While in San Juan Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican government has remained silent, other sectors of the Dominican, and the Dominican-Haitian and Puerto Rican community have made their voices heard particularly on social media outlets. Dominican writer Junot Díaz has criticized the court ruling calling it “racist” and unconstitutional. This ruling goes against a border culture whose coexistence has provided economic gains and profit to the island even before 1929. A recent meeting in the Aula Magna at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo as well as the Solidarity for the Dominican Republic events celebrated at the City College of New York last week show the voices of many who oppose it. In a recent op-ed piece one in The New York Times, Prof. Lorgia García Peña (Harvard University) see the influential role of the United States as a force that shapes negatively the dialogues of citizenship and migration in the Dominican Republic (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/opinion/suddenly-illegal-at-home.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&rref=opinion&hpw&).

This is not only a decision that will influence the lives of more than 200,000 Dominicans, Dominican-Haitian citizens and their children, but it is an attempt against their most basic human rights.

JossiannaJossianna Arroyo-Martínez 
Associate Professor
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Department of African and African American Studies

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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3 comments on “Whose Dominicanidad?: Citizenship, Border Cultures and Human rights
  1. ArielFornari says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsley_Massacre – The 1937 massacre number of casualties, were more like 20,000 though I’ve seen also figures as high as 30,000, but definitely NOT the 300,000 listed here, as the massacre took just a few days.

  2. Caly Fernandez says:

    Here is an article written by my cousin Pelegrin Castillo and I will be present at tomorrow’s lecture.
    Hell Is In What We Keep Quiet
    Publicado el 18/01/2014 por Fuerza Nacional Progresista en Pelegrin Castillo
    It is with great surprise and outrage that most Dominicans and our friends throughout the world have found out that through a well-articulated and blatantly fabricated media campaign our country is being described as a “neo-fascist nazi bastion in the world”.
    The simple, superficial and deceiving version is this: the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling 168-13 has unraveled a crisis in Dominican-Hatian relations by the “denationalizing of hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian Descent”, as a jurisdictional expression of impending xenophobia and racism.
    The reality is quite different and complex at the same time. A reality that has been kept under wraps, because “hell is in what we keep silent”. Haiti, both emblematic and problematic, has collapsed as a state long before the earthquake of 2010. It consistently figures in the World Failed States Index of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    In light of this unquestionable geopolitical fact, the international community and specially the most powerful nations, should respond and aid Haiti. They have however, adopted irresponsible and erratic positions of minimum or cynical commitments that if not reversed run the risk of creating a crisis of major dimensions that will surely be of a regional character.
    Efforts at reconstructing Haiti’s national bases have been discarded – which would the most rational and fair approach- among other reasons because of how costly and uncertain it would be. Also, for not wanting to resolve the issue of ungovernability in a country that has become a real headache.
    Most central countries have nonetheless aimed their efforts at avoiding -at all possible costs- that Haitian immigration flows reach the coasts of Florida, the overseas territories of the United Kingdom and France and other insular Caribbean nations. However, due to the breath and scope of the Haitian crisis, most countries have opted for a formula -both cheap and easy at first sight- to condition the Dominican Republic into assuming the role of axis state, as it becomes a buffer zone or escape valve to the Haitian crisis. This is the reason why – without reservations- its weaknesses and dependence are being exploited via soft and hard resources of power.
    It has been most certainly proven that this equivocated formula will not alleviate Haiti in its situation of devastation and prostration. Such actions will only continue in making the Haitian ruling class believe and act on the basis of self-entitlement, indifferent to the drama of eight million impoverished souls. An attitude that reflects their belief that everything is owed to them and that they have nothing left to lose.
    Said power struggles slowly debilitate the Dominican state, who already faces dire conditions at attempting to apply its policies and strengthening its institutions. A medially developed, relatively functional state that runs the risk of losing all its notable conquests, should the international centers of power, namely the United States, continue to push a “Dominican solution” to Haiti’s problems.
    Those that believe this can happen without there being any consequences, are profoundly mistaken and could be greatly surprised. The Dominican Republic is the nation with the largest interest in that its neighbor become stable, secure and prosperous. In cooperating with Haiti and the international community it has been supportive well beyond its means. Regardless of this, dominican national interests have begun to impose limitations on the scope of its capacity to help Haiti, not withstanding the efforts of the more complacent faction for it not to do so. The Dominican Republic cannot and should not impose itself over its neighboring country nor can it accept a “dominican solution” to Haiti’s problems. Any aid or cooperation with the international community and Haitian authorities must be strictly conditioned to the serious commitment of the reconstruction of Haiti in and within Haiti and its national bases.
    Until now, the Haitian tragedy has been the sum of all failures. This tragedy has the potential to become cause for failure of the Dominican Republic and the entire Caribbean region as it is loaded with political tension and the violence of organized crime.
    Due to the principle of order and self-determination that it implies, ruling 168-13 of the Constitutional Tribunal should be the starting point of a profound change in dominican foreign policy. Its main goal should be to revert the current disastrous trends and aim at guaranteeing that peace, stability and development are at the future horizon in the coexistence of our two nations.
    *This is the english translation of the previous published article “El Infierno Esta en lo que Callamos” which can be found here http://www.fuerzanacionalprogresista.org/el-infierno-esta-en-lo-que-callamos/

  3. Caly Fernandez says:

    Open Letter From Congressman Pelegrin Castillo to the United States Congress
    Publicado el 27/11/2013 por Fuerza Nacional Progresista en Pelegrin Castillo

    I am a congressman from the Dominican Republic who for nearly two decades has given priority to the dramatic situation that affects Haiti and its projection towards the entire Caribbean region. I am addressing you in hopes of expressing some concerns and reflections in regards to a letter that a group of distinguished U.S. Congress Representatives sent President Danilo Medina on October 29th.

    In this missive, US legislators that represented districts with voters of Caribbean descent, expressed harsh, unjust and unfounded critiques towards the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling 168-13. Said ruling, orders the putting into effect of an alien regularization plan as stipulated by the 2004 Immigration law. This letter warned that the aforementioned ruling “could result in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, threatening the Caribbean region’s stability”, and was bold enough to ask the Dominican executive power to revoke it. Later, many influential media outlets requested the Dominican Republic be punished with economic sanctions along with the reversal of this ruling.

    I must confess that I too am concerned with the possible surge of dangerous situations of inconceivable repercussions, albeit not precisely as a consequence of ruling 168-13. There are other factors that could serve as catalysts for a serious crisis, that perhaps due to ignorance were unfortunately omitted in that missive. These unmentioned variables are vital for a correct understanding of the current situation between the two neighboring nations of the island of Santo Domingo whose demographic density is already at about 230 inhabitants per square kilometer.

    It is important to remember that Haiti has been on the United Nation’s Security Council agenda for over twenty years and has been subject to three international interventions based on “humanitarian motives” or “in the defense of democracy and human rights”.

    The great majority of Dominicans- to which I belong- has considerable apprehensions over the real motives of these international interventions, which have resulted in an accusatory balance. Legitimately we ask ourselves: Has Haiti gotten better? Has the reconstruction of its national bases been seriously considered , bases that were destroyed long before that earthquake of 2010? Are there serious reasons to believe that it will have a different future than what has been a history of instability and destructive violence?

    Believe me when I say that no other people have more interest or more to gain from Haiti arriving at its desired goals of stability, prosperity and safety than the Dominican people.

    Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that supports that these international interventions, largely led by the United States have had other priorities. It has had its focus on a) keeping public order at a minimum, precariously appointing authorities with vestiges of democratic legitimacy with little or scarce effectiveness in transforming the extreme realities of Haiti; b) Avoiding at all costs that seafaring immigration outlets be generated – such as the 1991 and 1993 voyages towards the United States and English, French and other Caribbean territories, and c) The progressive conditioning of getting the Dominican Republic to become Haiti’s axis state, so that it becomes, as a matter of fact, a buffer zone to Haitian immigration flows, as Haitians establish themselves permanently in the Dominican Republic.

    There is no denying that the weaknesses and corrupt practices in our institutions, the lags in some areas of our economy and specially our dependence on our international relations with the United States and the European Union, have facilitated the implanting of this pernicious relationship scheme, and therefore, the existence of a “Dominican solution to Haiti’s problems” may have been erroneously perceived by powerful international interests groups.

    It is also true that there exists a complacent faction that responds solely to its own interests and not to those of the nation, a faction that powerful political groups within the United States government knows to well, and is always willing to tune into the interests of influential lobbyists who for years now have been working on implementing such an absurd relationship scheme between the two countries.

    It is also true that the adverse effects of these immigration flows are affecting the Dominican Republic in many ways, especially in the functioning of its policies and institutions. Over a decade ago, the World Bank warned that “this uncontrolled immigration forbids the Dominican poor population from benefiting from the economic growth of their own country, as their job posts and salaries are under pressure because of poor immigrants” and at the same time pointed out that anomalous immigration flows “reduced the incentives to modernize and invest in technology”.

    It should suffice to read the 2005 Foundation for Environmental Security and Sustainability (FESS) report on Haiti’s degrading natural resources and the expulsion of its population towards the eastern part of the island and its fragile ecosystems, to realize the destabilizing potential and harsh conflicts that the entire region is faced with. In this context of crisis, I must warn you as a Representative of a nation that is both a friend and an ally, what a grave mistake the United States would incur if based on a media campaign of lies and misinformation joins forces with the Haitian diaspora and pressuring sectors, who alongside some American legislators continue to advocate towards the rejection of the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal’s legitimate decision.

    Those of us who have followed this harsh controversy for the past twenty years have clearly understood the following: there is a deliberate effort to confuse statelessness with lack of documentation or irregular or fraudulent documentation. It is also false that the 2010 Constitution established different norms or criteria than those valid since 1929 on the obtaining of citizenship via jus soli.

    The issue that is trying to be kept from the public eye is that Haitian authorities aren’t able to or won’t document their citizens as is their responsibility and won’t abide by the Washington Agreement of 1938 and its Modus Operandi, which is, to this date, the only binding agreement between both countries in regards to the before mentioned subject. With such actions, Haiti assumes the irresponsible position of he who believes is owed everything and has nothing to lose.

    Efforts have been made to keep the Dominican Congress’ 2004 decision to regularize foreigners under wraps. Said plan would not only benefit the majority of those who are illegally settled in Dominican territory, and yet it has been met with significant resistance on behalf of both internal and external actors considerably supported by influential political groups within the United States government as well as by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.

    The Dominican state and its institutions are conscious of their responsibilities. There is a group of people, descendants of foreigners in situations of transit or illegality, raised or educated in the country and without major ties to their parent’s homeland, who, because of failures in our civil registries, have been wrongfully documented as Dominicans. There exists an explicit agreement that they, within the regularization plan, shall be benefited with a special naturalization law that establishes expedited low cost processes. Why would anyone want to block this public policy option? Why continue to stall an immigration regulatory plan that will also help improve both national and international security?

    Distinguished congressmen, is it just and moral to defend the rights of individuals while crushing the rights of nations especially when the latter are vulnerable and dependent? What good are international agreements that state that the determination of the definition of citizenship is solely the competence of sovereign states?

    Is it wise or even rational to pretend to solve the crisis of a failed state as argued by Haiti to the international community at the expense of its neighboring country? Wouldn’t it be a great iniquity to try and facilitate by such means that the nations with the greater means and who should be aiding Haiti at arriving at a better destiny to minimize and avoid their responsibilities? Has the failure of aiding Haiti been so large that one is to consider there is nothing left to do for it? Can we be adamant to the influence of drug cartels that endanger insular and regional security, regardless of the presence of international forces?

    How should we qualify the tendency to stigmatize the nation that has been the most cooperative with the international community in the handling of the Haitian nation, with systemic disqualifications while accusing it of crimes against humanity?

    If in the United States and other nations around the world some powerful elites feel they have a historic debt to Haiti, situation with which most Dominicans agree, it should be settled in a different manner and never at the expense of an open and welcoming nation, that has been known to grow which integrating and incorporating every migrant group, from the Jewish -that the world closed its doors on- to the Haitian. From the Caribbean islands that surround us to the far and middle east; from the European -in times of world conflict- to the southamerican that flee violence and political conflicts.

    Those that promote these senseless actions against the Dominican Republic, actions contrary to historical facts and unrecognizing of cultural identities, are not aware that in this manner they not only provoke conflicting situations that will surely and largely affect the security of a region that is already convulsed and loaded with grave contradictions. A region in which drug-trafficking and organized crime already have an ominous incidence in national matters.

    To conclude this letter, I would like to reminisce on an enlightening episode in the history of our two nations that has always marked a contrast with the painful interventions that we have suffered, and that in turn have been partly the motivation of my writing this letter. I am writing in the hopes that faced with this massive trespass against the Dominican Republic, voices of justice, reason and prudence are heard in its defense, from within the United States Congress.

    I’m referring to the extraordinary struggle lead by senator Charles Summer as he tried to detain the efforts of unification of the Dominican Republic to the United States at the hands of president Buenaventura Baez and his subjects and enthusiastically supported by President Ulysses S. Grant. Although there exist notable differences between this historic episode and the aforementioned, most peace-loving Dominicans hope that as has happened in the past, situations of discord be avoided and that the precious and ample community of interests forged throughout history because of geopolitical interests and the cordial and fluid friendship of our peoples be kept untouched.

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