Citizenship has always been a fraught issue in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, one of the dominant socio-political attributes of Caribbean countries/colonies has been dependence linked to economic production and consumption. Following the conquest of Christopher Columbus in 1492, European settlers transformed the region by establishing large agricultural estates known as plantations, the sites where Black bodies were egregiously exploited. Historically, the total exploitation of Black people has been linked to agricultural production and the demand for commodities such as sugar, cocoa, and consumable fruit by Europe and the United States. Even with their independence from European countries, Caribbean nations, for the most part, have reproduced European color-based social hierarchies. Hence, Blacks remain the ample supply of reserved muscle, or cheap labor. As labor circulates, policies are put in place to prevent the mobility of these laborers deemed exploitable and expendable. Through clever statecrafts, citizenship and representative rights tend to be the mechanisms by which the reserved muscles of certain laborers are controlled. In the Dominican Republic (D.R.), Haitians are the reserved muscles. Yet, their presence, or mobility, on Dominican soil is heavily policed and their human rights are often violated.
After many years of controlling the movement of Haitian itinerant laborers, thousands of Dominicans with Haitian ancestry have been systematically and procedurally denied citizenship and expelled to Haiti without due process. Some Dominicans with Haitian ancestry live in the Dominican Republic without status of citizenship, in violation of their rights as people born within the boundaries of a sovereign state (that happens to be a signatory member to the United Nations charter on Human Rights). After the carnage of World War II that exposed the moral degeneracy of certain humans in power, several nations propelled their leaders to organize an international political and legal order aimed at protecting human rights. After 1945, with the establishment of the United Nations and its commonly embraced legal Charter, nation-state members (including Haiti and the Dominican Republic), agreed to Article 1 (3) of the UN Charter whose principal aim is that of "promoting and encouraging [the] respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without disrespect as to race, sex, language, or religion." This Article, albeit important, is vacuous for Haitians and a large portion of Dominicans with Haitian descent.
In this paper, the concept of human rights as situated within theories of colonial subjects and intimate violence will be discussed to contextualize the current conflict between Dominican Republic and Haiti. The topic of citizenship is a vigorously debated issue in law, philosophy, and the social sciences. It is a fundamental issue among the charters of the United Nations concerning human rights. For example, Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, section 3, stipulates that these "rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations." This paper examines the Haitian-Dominican conflict by looking at Sonia Pierre's record of human rights and citizenship activism. Another important figure that will be considered is Juliana Deguis Pierre, who spearheaded the challenge for citizenship against the Dominican constitutional court. Additionally, central to this discussion is the contextualization of the particularities of Dominican racism within a Europhilic and capitalist modality, as well as its aesthetic, religious, and social cultural impacts. These serve as formative elements in the demarcation of a people who occupy the same landmass on the island of Hispaniola. At the paper's conclusion, I make recommendations for mitigating this conflict, in light of its worsening conditions as conservative nationalists occupy key political posts and have a strong presence in social media.
A Brief Colonial History
The Island of Hispaniola, "La Isla Española", received its name as the first colony conquered by Christopher Columbus and settled by Spain in 1492. Since its early positioning as the seat of Western political conquest and a forward base of operation to the rest of the greater Americas, individual rights have been systematically violated as well as a point of contention. In a 1544 journal entry, Christopher Columbus wrote:
"…an effort will be made to make all these peoples Christian, for that will be easily achieved, since they have no creed or idolaters. And Your Highness will command that in these parts a city and fortress be established, and these lands will be converted."1
Columbus' violent imposition of Christianity upon the native Taino people was mostly concurrent with the enslavement of Africans who were forced to accept Christianity upon their arrival to the island in 1503. Throughout the New World, within the colonial as well as the current context, race and religion have qualified in the subjugation of human beings. For example, Juan Ginés Sepulveda, an official historian for the Spanish Royal Court, advocated war against ‘devil worshipers and barbarians'. For instance, in his collected writings In Defense of the Indians, Bartolomé de las Casas remarks: "violent measures and whatever is probably helpful should be tried, so that heretics and pagans may acknowledge their error, come to their senses, and thus ask for baptism of their own accord, as many of these Indians did when moved by violence and force of war."2 This history may seem distant, but the ideologies deployed in the early colonial era around race and religion have had lasting impacts with respect to the current conflict on the island and throughout the Americas.
As a result of the harsh and violent treatment of the indigenous peoples of Hispaniola, by 1548 the Taino population dwindled from over one million inhabitants to less than 500. Increasingly, African slave labor satisfied the Europeans' need to meet demands for sugarcane and other agricultural productions, which led to the systematic racialization of political discourse and practice by 1520. Wars between colonial powers in the New World determined the material control of land and goods, which included Black people as property. Hence, in 1697, when the Treaty of Ryswick was signed between Spain and France, as Spain ceded the Western third of Hispaniola to France, a recognition of differentiated phenotypes emerged, giving birth to a new form of color and affiliative politics. Unfortunately, this colonial arrangement persists.
By 1800, although Spain and France controlled the island of Hispaniola, each colony would follow very different paths: Saint-Domingue was French speaking, with an affluent Creole class and large enslaved African population, while Santo-Domingo, was Spanish speaking, with a large mixed-race population and powerful aristocracy. The latter was still linked to Spain, and by this point, had largely halted its practice of slavery, or at least practiced a milder version in comparison to Saint-Domingue. With the intensification of violence against the enslaved people of Saint-Domingue came a massive insurrection that eventually led to a successful revolution. After a treaty was signed to nominally give France control of the entire island in 1796, Francois-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, a general in the colonial army, assumed control of the entire island. Black leaders were now in charge of a segregated island.
From 1804, the year of Haiti's (Saint-Domingue's) independence, to about 1916, the United States militarily occupied both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Spanish loyalists in the Dominican Republic, who had no desire to live under French or Haitian rule, sought foreign assistance from the United States hoping to restore Spain's sovereignty. In 1795, after the treaty of Basel was signed between Spain and France, the island was unified for the first time, despite the resistance of Spanish loyalists. Meanwhile, Saint Domingue, under the leadership of General Toussaint L'Ouverture, abolished slavery in 1801. L'Ouverture then embarked on a quest to consolidate power with two goals in mind: the abolishment of slavery and the application of the signed Treaty of Basel (which gave Santo Domingo to France). In 1802, Toussaint L'Ouverture was arrested following an act of betrayal and this opened the way for Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1804 to lead the mostly Black Haitian army to defeat the French and occupy the entire island.
Following France's defeat in Haiti and its several failed attempts at re-establishing slavery in the eastern part of the island, France ceded Santo Domingo back to Spain by reversing the Treaty of Basel in 1809. Things remained unsettled for a number of years as the occupation by Dessalines' army caused white colonizers and the mixed ruling class of Santo Domingo to panic. Eventually, after years of administrative mismanagement and an overall lack of interest in Santo Domingo, Spain finally granted the colony its independence in 1821. One year later, Haiti formally occupied the Dominican Republic militarily and administratively for twenty-two years (1822-1844). The Haitian occupation of the Dominican Republic proved to be costly, and racial and cultural animosities ensued between the two countries. Haiti, at this time endured significant economic, political, and administrative challenges, as well as a massive earthquake in 1842. After only 17 years of independence, Santo-Domingo re-established Spanish rule (1861-1865).
In the next century, under U.S. occupation, racial and religious supremacy was accorded to the Spaniard royalists, who wanted to eliminate the African (Haitian) presence from the land. It wasn't until 1929, that an exact boundary of the territories, mediated by the United States, was marked. With border demarcations came further distinctions and disputes. American racial politics administratively reverberated throughout the island, and in the process, the Dominican Republic became the favored nation as peasant lands were converted into private holdings by American-based sugar companies. By May of 1930, after a military coup, General Trujillo became the United States' chosen dictator. Under the titular power of the presidency, President Trujillo aligned the D.R.'s interests with those of the United States by increasing sugar production. Unfortunately, the Haitian peasants, descendants of enslaved people, bore the brunt of this new racial and economic alignment. According to Ronald Fernandez, the "peasant suffered as American officials killed some, taxed the rest, and despised all with black skin." The American occupation resulted in the commodification of black Haitian labor in a way that mirrored the context of the Antebellum U.S. South. Haiti was increasingly regarded as a supplier of exploited labor in the master-servant culture, with its inhabitants characterized as culturally backward.
Dominican Republic and the Allure of Whiteness
On December 18, 1918, during the United States' guardianship of the Dominican Republic and just two years after the implementation of full military occupation of both Haiti and the D.R., Rafael L. Trujillo Molina consciously wrote "white" as his color (race) on his military enlistment record. Trujillo's choice signals his penchant for whiteness as well as a psychological disposition to distance himself from blackness (or any other racial category that existed in the Dominican Republic). Born in relative poverty in San Cristóbal on October 24, 1891, Rafael Trujillo could recognize who wielded power. According to historian Valentina Peguero, "[a]s a young man Trujillo dreamed of being a soldier, and he had the skills, talent, and will to accomplish this goal."4 In 1916, Trujillo worked as a security guard at the American-owned Boca Chica Sugar Mill, where he witnessed the dehumanization of Haitians and the validation of white power. A year later, Trujillo enlisted into the U.S. created Dominican Constabulatory Guard, known as La Guardia, and befriended a few American officers. As Peguero further remarks, after the Marines left, Trujillo "honored both both the organization and instructors by naming the east side of Avenida George Washington ‘U.S. Marine Corps."5 Very early on, Rafael Trujillo understood the primordiality of racism within the context of structural power. As the sociologist Adam Michel maintains, "racism can be globally understood as essentialism, if it manifests everywhere through a behavior of exclusion and objectification of a collective as 'other', and despite its diverse manifestations there seems to be a particular relational order" (Sylvain's translation). In other words, race can be and often is deployed as a mode of consensus building and alignment formation within a particular hegemonic regime. This was especially true in the Dominican Republic since President Trujillo established a racialized ideology aligned with whiteness that doggedly persists to this day.
Within the orbit of 'normative' whiteness, it may be surprising to some that a society comprised mainly of Black and mixed-race individuals could develop a contempt for Blackness. Anti-Haitianism, known in Spanish as antihaitainismo, which is a particular form of racism that tends to find in Haitians a loathsome presence due to their outward manifestations of their supposed Africanness (the Vodoun religion is a major factor). Hence, in the Dominican context, this anti-Haitianism manifests itself through aggressive Europhilic projects that the Dominican state embraces. Started in the 1930s and continuing to this day, The Dominican Republic pursued a pro-European migratory policy that seeks to lighten its demography. Thus, within the enclosure of Eurocentric power dynamics Haitians became the antithesis of the wanted and are therefore tactically quarantine from the enlarged realm of citizenship that seeks to accommodate Westerners to its demographic spaces. Anti-Haitianism seems to be welded in the Dominican nationalistic attitudes, as well as in their ways of thinking that the Haitian culture is African-derived and therefore is inherently "barbaric" and "primitive." As the historian and Caribbean scholar, Teresita Martínez-Vergne poignantly observes, with the eugenics movement afoot and the United States establishing its imperial imprints in the region at the time, "the North American giant provided a powerful incentive for the Dominican intelligentsia to align itself with its Hispanic roots, claiming whiteness and cultural proximity to Europe and juxtaposing its experience to that of nearby islands, which they labeled as black, African, and pagan."7
Since 1492, after the Spaniards' conquest of the branded "new world"—the Americas—violence has occurred along racialized and religious lines. This has been a by-product of the pilfering of property, repossession of land, and the rendering of the body as other for exploitative labor production. "Racist ideologies," as the literary critic and theorist Ania Loomba asserts, "identified different sections of people as intrinsically or biologically suited for particular tasks."8 Post 1492, Western mercantilist or capitalist ventures have anchored their relations in a pretext of "trade," yet in reality, European powers have always acquired other countries' material resources to serve as the repositories of their national wealth. On the island of Hispaniola, sugarcane or "white gold" developed into the ultimate repository of European wealth, and black bodies became the machines of production that slavery produced and guaranteed. Since objectification of black bodies has been a normative practice since the institutionalization of the trans-Atlantic plantation slavery, it is not at all a surprise that phenotypical differentiations would be weaponized to the point of devolving into racialized violence and inhumane practices of exclusions within the realm of polity.
In the capitalistic mode of wealth accumulation, power remains entrenched in the dynamics of economic hegemony. Therefore, colonization or neo-colonization remain paramount within humans' racialized hierarchical relations. With the revitalization of the plantation economy under the first official United States occupation (1916-1924), the Dominican Republic populated its sugarcane plantations with Haitian workers—most of them housed in shacks reminiscent of slave cabins—and held within a plantocratic hole where they do not legally exist since they did not enter the country through "legal" migratory procedures since the occupation. The United States, as a neo-colonial and imperial power, just like the European colonial regimes in Africa and Asia, has instilled, as Loomba proclaims, "not only entrenched divisions between the native population, but also used particular ‘races' to fill specific occupations such as agricultural workers, soldiers, miners, or domestic servants."9 Within a few years of the U.S. occupation, as plantations expanded in the D.R. through land seizures and other forms of coercion, migration from Haiti also increased. According to Martínez-Vergne, by 1917, companies were sending agents to the western part of the island to supply the needs of U.S. owned sugar mills. She further claims that, by 1919 ten thousand of the fourteen thousand wage workers in the sugar industry were Haitian.10
The Dominican Republic's sugar industry thrives on Haitian itinerant workers who are deemed to be of extremely low value—since they are viewed as expendable and disposable—an echo from plantation slavery. Such is the heritage of colonization, the wearing out of millions of blacks in the fields—the steering of thousands of so-called "free" Haitians toward psychological traumas that kept them contained in slave-like conditions on sugar plantations known as bateys. Bateys are confined enclosures within the boundaries of the plantations that became at once places of intimacy and sociopolitical and cultural violence. Despite the anticipation of hardship and physical violence, Haitians maintain their migratory route to the Dominican Republic to escape economic hardship and socio-political violence in Haiti. Their impoverished status heightened their precarity. They toil perilously as laborers in the sugarcane fields, an experience that has molded their socio-cultural identity in the D.R. As the ethnographer Samuel Martínez cogently remarks, "Haitian men in the tens of thousands came to consider the offer of meager wages for backbreaking work attractive enough to risk injury or death by emigrating as cane workers to Cuba and the Dominican Republic."11 Under president Trujillo's industrialization campaign, sugar became the country's primary export, and the sugar industry was befitted for Dominican Republic's development. However, as the Dominican economy expanded, and as the number of "Dominican" children of Haitian parentage grew, the state systematically refuses to properly confer citizenship. Dominican citizenship functions beyond the legal status of state-conferred rights; it functions as a set of obligations constructed to shape Dominicans into an idealized national form linked to imagined and projected "European roots, while neutralizing the African influences that [were] obtained on Dominican soil."12 Dominican citizenship is enveloped in a subliminal whiteness that is expressed in idealized versions of Dominicanidad as an imagined unclassifiable race, "but undoubtedly conceived as more white than black, as befit the heir to the country's future."13
It is understood that racism manifests itself in different modalities. Étienne Balibar affirms that "colonial racism, which implied the division of humanity into 'superior' and 'inferior', or 'civilized' and 'barbarian' races [as well as] prejudice based on skin color related to segregation or the institution of apartheid in post-colonial societies that assigned inferior status to descendants of slaves."14 However, what characterizes Dominican racism is the fact that its main supporters who embraced the theses of European racism at the end of the 19th century (the supposed biological inferiority of the Negro, his inability to govern, etc.), are themselves descendants of blacks and enslaved people. This is a remarkable paradox. Nevertheless, when one considers the fluidity of racist ideology—its great force of propagation, its subtlety and its power of reproduction—it should not be surprising that it has permeated the collective imagination of a people, or that it pushes one group of people to see in another people the absolute foreigner (despite resembling each other on so many different points) and the ultimate representatives of a barbarous and retrograde race. "Knowing full well that the legacy of Africa flowed in their blood," Martínez-Vergne asserts, "Dominicans declared themselves superior, by virtue of their role, to the West Indian and Haitian immigrants who crossed their borders."15
Confined Workers and Denied Citizenship
Since the 1920s, Haitians have migrated to work in the Dominican Republic and have been compelled to cross the border to harvest the large sugar plantations. Haitians were—and some still are—abysmally paid and worked under atrocious conditions as cane cutters. As migrant workers, they lived in barrack settlements on the bateys, and after the harvest seasons, many were returned to Haiti. Over the years, a growing number stayed (some were forcefully kept) in those bateys and had children born in the Dominican Republic, who had to remain within the confines of the large sugar plantations. As Lorgia García-Peña reminds us, from 1916 to 1924, during the US military occupation of the D.R., American corporations introduced, "the concept of border patrol and [they] implemented the bracero labor system that brought cheap Haitian labor to cut cane in the US-owned sugar corporations."16 Regrettably, through various forms of administrative procedures, many of the children of the Haitian migrant workers were never regularized or counted as citizens, therefore, remained paperless in the land of their births. Consequently, as a nationalistic fervor rose over the years, Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans were forcefully deported to Haiti or arbitrarily killed. After a constitutional court ruling (168/13) in 2013, over 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent and about 300,000 Haitians became subject to deportation and arbitrary violence through extra-legal practices.
Juliana Deguis Pierre and Citizenship Conflict
On March 24, 2014, Juliana Deguis Pierre walked into the Passport Headquarters at the airport in Santo Domingo requesting her travel documents. She was seeking to attach her U.S. Department of State humanitarian visa so that she could participate in the thematic hearing on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). According to the Diaro Libre, Juliana Deguis Pierre arrived at the passport office with journalists and lawyers. The Director of the Dominican Republic's Passport Headquarters, Mrs. Iris Guaba, claimed that Pierre did not make "a formal request that I can see." Without proper documents, Dominican born Juliana Deguis Pierre could not leave the country, and was accused by the government of being a pawn in the international plot against the nation. Deguis Pierre did not make it to the IACHR to denounce the highly controversial ruling of September 2013, which denies nationality to persons born in the D.R. by undocumented foreign parents. However, through her case, the world became aware that the constitutional right to nationality does not apply in the Dominican Republic. The 2013 law (168-13), based on a constitutional birthright predicated on blood instead of territory, differs from laws of most countries around the world. In most parts of the world, birth on a national territory is grounds for citizenship and constitutional rights. The 2013 constitutional ruling, known as La Sentencia, "is part of the troublesome history of Hispanophile anti-Haitianism institutionalized during the Trujillo regime."17 The right to citizenship is frequently denied in practice to Haitian-Dominicans who are confined in the bateys. Even though there is a large group of Dominicans of Haitian descent who identify themselves as Dominicans, with perhaps residual links to Haiti, and in many cases do not speak Haitian Kreyol, the Dominican authorities continue to regard them as foreign nationals who are subject to deportation.
Human Rights Violations and Sonia Pierre's Activism
Sonia Pierre was born in 1963. By the time she was fourteen years old, she organized her first rally against labor abuse in the bateys and staged a five-day protest to change the inhumane conditions of the rural migrant camps where Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans lived and worked. Sonia was eventually arrested, but her incarceration generated ample publicity so that some of her demands were eventually met and she subsequently became a voice for the ill-treated workers.
Sonia Pierre was a strong advocate for Haitian descendants' rights in the Dominican Republic. She was born Solange Pierre in a batey in Villa Altagracia, San Cristóbal. She, like thousands of others, was born in the Dominican Republic, but her right to citizenship was denied on the grounds that her parents were illegal workers. Pierre's nationality was questioned because she had a birth certificate that erroneously listed her name as Solain Pie (a clear clerical mistake by the government clerk in a town with an extremely low literacy rate). According to Jasmine Huggins, "Civil registrars claimed that her own migrant parents were illegal residents and that her birth documents had been forged." Thus, Sonia Pierre felt obliged to not only fight for her right to citizenship, but also for those who found themselves in similar situations, as the Dominican government kept implementing laws to keep the large population of Haitian descendants paperless or at least precluded from accessing the required national ID card.
The Dominican Republic's ID card, known as the Cédula, is one of the most important documents for any individual residing in that country. It is both a national ID as well as a voting card issued by the national office of Junta Central Electoral (JCE). It is the card that legally recognizes one's citizenship, military, and religious status. In verifying the holder's status, the Cédula is the identifiable marker. The Cédula is constantly changing so that the Dominican government can control its security. Since 2005, the Cédula has served as a biometric card that employs advanced codifying data structures to recognize human faces. Consequently, without the Cédula one does not legally exist.
In 1983, Sonia formed the organization, Movement for Dominican Women of Haitian Descent (MUDHA), which aims to combat anti-Haitian discrimination and sexism through advocacy, and to establish educational programming, family planning, and a health center. As Dominican officials became more reactionary in their refusal to grant full citizenship to children of Haitian migrants, Sonia became more determined to expose the systemic violation of rights. One example of that exposure is highlighted in Jasmine Huggins' note in The Guardian:
"In 2001, MUDHA and two US law firms presented the case Yean and Bosico v the Dominican government to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2005, the court found that the government had discriminated against two Dominican-born girls of Haitian descent by failing to provide them with birth certificates on grounds of their Haitian ethnicity. This was a landmark ruling which called for governmental reparations and an apology to the girls. The Dominican supreme court later rejected the ruling."19
Despite the numerous honors and awards that Sonia Pierre received in her fight to extend citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent, she and her family inevitably became targets. Pierre was beaten, spat on, forced into hiding, and yet, until her death, she maintained a strong relationship with her nation despite being a staunch critic of the government that obsessed over finding ways to eliminate the presence of Haitians and their descendants. For activists like Sonia Pierre, the legal fight for citizenship rights and proper recognition by the state concerning the ongoing conflict was always a way preventing various forms of violence against individuals who are deemed non-existent like the:
"…nine-year-old girl [of Haitian] descent who was raped, tortured, and killed last month. The murderer was set free in this case…[because] the prosecutors in that district said that the girl didn't exist. She didn't exist because she didn't have a birth certificate. And this is what they are doing with thousands of us, those of us who used to exist. We are being erased as human beings."20
Certainly, every country has the right to control its borders and establish a judicially normative social order that does not infringe upon individual rights. However, it is clear that through the policies aimed at denying citizenship to Haitian descendants born on Dominican soil, the DR has failed to uphold its responsibilities as a member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
After Sonia Pierre died of a heart attack on December 4, 2011, at the age of 48, the Dominican Republic no longer had an internationally recognized human rights advocate who would be filing court cases against the government. As a result, the D.R. Judicial branch rendered close to 50,000 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent as stateless or simply non-existent. The 168-13 ruling became a direct law for racial exclusion that mirrored colonial exclusions of people of color from gaining citizenship rights.
The Constitutional Court Ruling 168-13 is a law that seeks to erase the presence of human beings deemed undesirable as members of the nation. As Jack Donnelly writes in his book Universal Human Rights: in Theory & Practice, "a human rights conception of human dignity and political legitimacy rests on the fact that human beings have an essential, irreducible moral worth and dignity independent of the social groups to which they belong and the social roles that they occupy."21 The state, as a legal and political organization, is the protector and guarantor of rights, and therefore has the power to necessitate loyalty and obedience from its citizens to build a community of people whose members are bound by a common culture, a sense of national solidarity and a heightened awareness of the nation as an entity. However, despite the need for the state to protect its interests and citizens, Winston Langley reminds us of the "principle of nondiscrimination" which states that:
"every citizen has the right to participate in the government of her or his country, without restriction as to race, color, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It also states that restrictions on any other ground must be reasonable."22
Paradoxically, from the Dominican Republic's points of view, as succinctly presented by Gerald F. Murray's whitepaper titled, Dominican-Haitian Racial and Ethnic Perception and Sentiments: Mutual adaptations mutual tensions, mutual anxieties, argues:
"From the point of view of the local Dominicans the Haitian presence, particularly in its initial stages, is a valued source of field labor that will work for lower wages. But in the eyes of the national media this demographic replacement is construed in the military idiom of invasion. …Because the term invasion does have a connotation of aggression or even of violence, the phrase "peaceful insertion" might be a more appropriate label to describe the economic and social situation of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. …I have heard among Dominicans of all social strata allusions to a presumed international plot to solve the "Haitian problem" by unifying the island under one government. More frequently, however, the accusation is that the outside world is expecting the Dominicans to solve the problems of Haiti. …Perhaps the most frequently mentioned fear of Dominicans concerns the increasing "takeover" of many economic niches, including lower level urban niches, by Haitians. They now dominate rural agricultural field labor and urban construction sites all over the country."23
Whether Gerald Murray replaces the word "invasion" for "insertion", he is nevertheless negating the major factor, which is the systematic denial of citizenship to one sector of the population, namely descendants of Black Haitians (Haitiano) who were kept paperless in the Bateys. García-Peña correctly remarks that the "conflation of Haitiano has two equally pervasive results: the symbolic and civic exclusion of ethnic Haitians from the nation, and the perpetuation of the notion of the Dominican Republic as a monolithic Hispanic nation."24
What is Culture? What role is culture playing in disallowing Citizenship?
Culture as an organized system is performative; therefore, whatever is performed and judged will be ranked in one fashion or another. Rankings of the performative culture might range between "high" and "low", "primitive" and "advanced", or "civilized" and "uncivilized", implying that a form of political thinking, or development of ideology has taken place. As the cultural anthropologists Marcel Danesi and Paul Perron indicate:
"the question of what is culture is hardly a trivial one. To understand human nature is to unravel the raison d'être of culture. Although interest in culture is as old as human history, the first scientific definition of culture had to await the nineteenth century, when the British anthropologist Edward B. Taylor defined it in his 1871 book Primitive Culture as 'a complex whole including knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capability or habit acquired by human beings as members of a society.' Taylor's definition was also one of the first ever to differentiate qualitatively between culture and society."25
Marcel Danesi and Paul Perron are correct, the notion of culture is not a trivial one, and as societies erect borders, they are involved in acts of conscious planning, modifying the environment and constructing "communally-established systems of ethics."26 In the manifestations of social life, religious affiliation becomes part of the habits of association that embellish senses of belonging and the process of survival. Hence, social order and exclusionary politics enter the habits of association as well as "communally-established systems".
In order to form distinction and commonality, a nation or a social group must share familiar rituals certain practices that are embodied by repeated actions that grow to become embraced. Culture is argued to be a complex of symbols and pursued aesthetic values through "representations of the collective persona," while the nation, according to Danesi and Perron, forms a "problematic" notion where people "experience national sentiments only in relation to some specific situation that they feel unites them in an abstract way."27 The Dominican Republic as a nation is culturally distinct from Haiti. Dominicans see themselves as Roman Apostolic Christians with a strong Spanish heritage, and with institutional values based on respect for the nation; whereas, Dominicans perceived Haitians to be Africans with anti-Christian values and practices. They see Haiti as being chaotic, poor, linguistically different, and therefore culturally incompatible with their historical heritage. Certainly, the aesthetic values and interests of these two nations logically differ given the effects of their colonial histories and complicated interactions.
As the anthropologist Sydney Mintz reminds us, "the so-called peculiar institution of slavery was so critical in human history that it is also worth asking what it may signify for a general theory of human culture."28 It is the peculiar institution of slavery (supplemented by U.S. intervention) that has been responsible for the maintenance of the plantation system in Haiti and in the D.R. over time. This legacy has been upheld by Dominicans' expressions of fear of imminent invasion by Haitians to destroy their Spanish heritage, Christian worldview, and relative economic prosperity—all part of the constructed social order of formed habits of beliefs and associations.
In the Dominican Republic's constructed social order, Haitians are the obstacle to be removed, and as Michele Wucker keenly observes:
"Especially during time of conflict, Dominicans and Haitians have drawn lines clearly establishing divisions between groups, delineated by race, culture, language, and nationality (…). These divisions have been played out in the form of the island's tragic history and have been fortified by cultural myths and competing versions of history. Like the dual nature of aggression itself, these stories have the power to sustain or destroy; often they do both simultaneously."29
Despite the abolishment of slavery (with Haiti being the first modern state to have broken the yoke of slavery), the plantation economy of the D.R. reproduced similar cultural practices to the colonial plantation system. Within this system, an organic development of modern capitalists in conjunction with the Dominican state devised their own brand of bondage to maintain and control the flow of extremely low-skilled "kept" laborers who were confined to the bateys. The confinement of the Haitian workers within colonial-farm structures guaranteed a primary and constant source of subsistence labor. Once again, Lorgia García-Peña astutely posits that, "the structure of power behind anti-Haitianism materializes in the continuous exploitation erasure, and destruction of black bodies for the benefit of national and foreign corporations (such as the Vicini family, Citibank, Nike)."30 As Haitians and their descendants remain at the bottom of society, they become the dispossessed and disposable class who is bound to the dispositions of the state and its citizens who view Haitians as easily identifiable subjects due to their phenotype, language, and musical/cultural expression. Worst of all, it is the Haitian-Dominicans' non-existent legal status in the country of their birth that makes them extremely vulnerable to finding themselves in precarious situations. According to a 1992 report by Americas Watch and National Coalition of Haitian Refugees, "this regular flow of illegal immigration has taken place over the years with the tacit consent, and often active encouragement of the Dominican government and state sugar-industry authorities."31
The history and culture of the Dominican Republic are rooted in Dominicans' sense of territory and their Catholicism inherited from the Spanish. They define the Dominican identity as being rooted in "la Patria" (the nation), and in Christianity; whereas they see Haiti and Haitians as being the opposite in both their values and practice, and therefore in conflict with their nation's ideal. The dominant cultural ideology in the Dominican Republic defines the nation as having one unified culture. They do not consider themselves creoles the way Haitians do. Most importantly, they do not see themselves as an amalgamation of subcultures.
Haitian-Dominicans in the Current Dominican Context
The descriptor, Haitian, which is associated with a certain set of cultural values and history within the Americas, has in the past 30 years or so, inflicted a level of semiotic and cultural violence on the very person who is directly or indirectly (the descendants) associated with that term. Currently, in the Dominican Republic, Haitians as a group occupy the lowest-status jobs and are currently being deported back to Haiti. Through a series of recent amendments to the Dominican Republic's constitution that have been passed without national consensus, the Dominican Liberation Party, led by President Danilo Medina, has made key moves in order for his party to gain greater national power. The legislative action of 168-13, which the Dominican Constitutional Court adopted and passed on September 23, 2013, allows the repatriation of Haitians while denying citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent on grounds that their parents were or had been in "transit" in the D.R. since 1929. As a result, those who may be deemed "legal residents" in the D.R. cannot be open about their ethnic identity or assert Haitian ethnic kinship for fear of being physically assaulted, wrongly deported, or even killed. Even the adjective "Black" is officially designated as a category assigned to Haitians while dark-skinned Dominicans are categorized as "Indios" or "Morenos". David Howard reminds us of the essentialism of color politics that is embedded in the construction of Dominicanization as the Dominican nation purges itself from Africanization, which is associated with Haiti:
"Anti-Haitian sentiment is aligned with the use of the term indiola, which extends across all classes in Dominican society. Indiola is an ambiguous term, not least because the vast majority of the indigenous population of Hispaniola died or was killed within five years of Columbus' arrival. …The Haitian massacre of 1937 has been mentioned as part of Trujillo's 'lightening' project to distance somatically the Dominican nation from its Haitian neighbor and African ancestry. Parallel to physical violence, indiola was the ideological assault. Today, most official identity cards describe the color of their holder as indiola."32
Moreover, not only is the word "Haitian" systematically categorized as "other", the adjective "Black" designates existence as a permanent outsider, and a category that constitutes a threat and un-assimilability to the nation state. The legal and extra-legal threat on the Haitian body is constant. As Howard states, "Haitian and Haitian-Dominicans are regularly deported from Dominican territory by the military, regardless of the legitimacy of their presence, and the concept dominicanización remains a popular nationalist platform."33
Aside from the normal economic frictions experienced by bordering countries, the exigencies of expressed cultural supremacy by Dominicans vis-à-vis Haitians have resulted in endemic racism in the Dominican Republic. The cultural narrative exists as a portrayal of Haitians as the "out-group", as practitioners of witchcraft (Vodoun) who derive from a chaotic society ruled by magic, fear, and moral disorder. Conversely, Dominicans are characterized as rule abiding Christians, who are family oriented, and the potential victims of illegal and unruly Haitians. Antihaitianismo, according to the political scientist Ernesto Sagás, "is a dominant ideology designed to confuse and mislead. As a result, race is confused with nation: Haitians are black; Dominicans are indios." The "us" versus "them" narrative has served as an effective political instrument to maintain national unity, turning fantasies into realities, and thus assuring a nationalistic (and exclusive) citizenry. Again, Sagás asserts, "it is in these deliberate confusions that antihaitianismo ideology thrives, and that is also why it has been so difficult to eradicate it from Dominican culture."35
Since the constitutional rule of September 2013, which mandates the stripping of, as well as the refusal to grant citizenship to Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, over 50,000 Haitians have been deported, and an estimated 30,000 claimed to have self-deported. Lacking any legal fortitude, the Haitian government's only retaliation has been to disallow Dominican commercial goods into the country that did not enter via a commercial port. In 2015, in a race-based political rift initiated by rightwing and ultra nationalist politicians in order to garner support for the May 2016 general elections, Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent became legal targets. Haitian-Dominican plantation workers were especially implicated due to the fact that they were never granted citizenship, labor, or other protections under the "transitory" policy that derived from the U.S. occupation.
Many of the Jim Crow-modeled policies that gave rise to the Dominican dictator Rafaél Leonidas Trujillo (whom the United States supported) are still in effect in the Dominican Republic today. The antihaitianismo policy is the brainchild of Joáquin Balaguer, lawyer, Minister of Education, and a successor to Trujillo, who functioned as the intellectual agent of the anti-Haitian politics. It was Balaguer who began the "legal" deportation of Haitians in 1991. According to Americas Watch National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, following allegations of widespread fraud during the May 1990 national elections, when Juan Bosch of the Dominican Liberation Party lost to Balaguer (Social Christian Reformist Party) by 1.7 percent, the Central Electoral Authority was leaning towards an annulment of the votes when violence against Haitians erupted and the results of the elections were accepted in order to maintain stability.
Some twenty-five years later, racial tensions and violence toward Haitians persist. Despite this, the Dominican President's approval ratings relating to his handling of the so-called "Haitian illegals" have been favorable. Dominicans rallied around their President to control the presence of Haitians in their country. Following his February 2015 speech to the National Congress, declaring the deportation of illegals (Haitians) from Dominican soil, President Medina received a robust standing ovation. Prior to and soon after the President's speech, a series of violent acts were committed against Haitians in the D.R., including the public lynching of Claude Jean-Harry, a Haitian shoeshine. On April 19, 2015, parliament agreed to further amend the constitution by allowing a president to be re-elected once.
Since February 2017, there have been a number of Haitians killed in mob attacks in towns such as San Pedro de Macoris, Pedernales, Barahona, Moca, and in Santiago de los Caballeros, where the Mayor of the second most important city in the D.R., Abel Martínez, declared it illegal for "illegal aliens" to conduct business within the limits of the city. A move that many nationalists applauded and advocated for nationwide application. Additionally, nearly 5,000 Haitians and Dominican-Haitians were deported to Haiti by the Dominican Republic's Directorate General of Migration (DGM). The DGM is pursuing a very aggressive policy similar to that of the United States' ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) in arresting and deporting "illegal immigrants". Furthermore, conservative commentators are vociferously demanding for a wall to be erected in order to create a secure border between Haiti and the D.R. The wall would not simply be a material form of deterrence, but a deterministic marker of difference and exclusion.
Citizenship and Human Rights
The manner in which citizenship is bounded varies from country to country, and almost every nation discriminates between its citizens and non-citizens by one marker or another as rights are reserved, prescribed, and benefits administered. Remnants of colonialism, such as slavery, racism, and sexism, become instruments of apportionment within the nation-state, regardless of symmetrical or asymmetrical arrangements of citizenship. Notions of citizenship are deeply rooted in ideological understandings and interpretations of nationhood that continue to subdivide people into ethno-cultural groups and where culture, and/or ethnicity is used as an instrument of discrimination. As David Beriss reminds us, the "idea of the culture of others allows some French leaders to argue that immigrants—even scarf-wearing little girls who have probably never lived anywhere but France—belong inescapably to cultures whose values are incompatible with those of the Republic."36 Inversely, it is never the case that a metropolitan or a continental citizen from the dominant group would be made to feel culturally or ethnically inadequate when venturing into the demographic spaces of the cultural-citizen other. A white, metropolitan French individual feels at home in the Antilles and would be treated with respect without labeling his or her regional affiliation; whereas, the Antillean individual will be labeled and classified without a second thought that he is not a full-blooded citizen. The same is true in the Dominican Republic vis-à-vis a black person who is perceived to be Haitian. Yet, in Haiti, due to colorism, Dominicans are desired instead of being despised. The paradox of self-alienation, cultural racism and "mulatto/a" desirability in the Caribbean, especially on the island of Hispaniola, results in a deep-rooted and superficial sense of superiority that is inherited from the colonial masters. Unfortunately, over two hundred years after the only successful black revolution against a European nation, Haiti has financially paid a burdensome indemnity to France, and Haitians are still collectively paying for partially defanging that dehumanizing colonial system.
In 2015, the Dominican Republic presented a modicum of legal opportunity for the individuals facing deportation to prove their right as regularized residents or citizens, despite a de facto policy not to grant citizenship papers to the Dominican-born children of Haitian parents. This paperless generation without rights to Dominican or Haitian citizenship has been effectively rendered stateless. Paperless, and simply uncertain about the future, Black Haitians and Black Dominicans of Haitian parentage, are inherently vulnerable in the D.R., as uncertainty renders them to constant fear, dehumanizing them. In the context of ethnic violence, this uncertainty is a very slippery concept and its dynamic range can be placed in the domain of psychological warfare—the fear of not knowing what the future holds, or the fear of being violently separated from your loved ones.
The uncertainty of one's status or the possibility of violence does not lend itself to a universal definition or a systematic approach to analysis; it is simply an element of violence. Haiti also finds itself in a position of uncertainty and vulnerability, and some of its citizens experience multiple manifestations of violence as they exist in multiple cultural expressions, especially in spaces where they are unwanted.
The racialized and hateful construction of Haitians as the undesired other must be carefully analyzed within the context of slavery and the constant struggle for freedom and citizenship. Dominicans have chosen their racial position and preferences for a non- Africanized identity. Haitians' Blackness epitomizes a transgressive visibility that disrupts the cognitive reception of whiteness within the Dominican body politic. Black Haitians serve as the permanently undesirable other. Regrettably, the Dominican state appears bent on repeatedly resuscitating a law from 1929 in order to selectively strip a targeted group of its citizenship. Such a racialized decision seems unethical and a violation of human rights.
Although Haitians and Dominicans share certain common cultural practices, and were both colonial subjects, the notion of identity (language, skin color, and religion) and the relation of citizens to the state differ tremendously and have thus created a fundamental basis for this ongoing conflict. Since the conflict between the D.R. and Haiti has manifested at different levels of human interaction (cultural, legal, and economic), I wonder to what extent can such a conflict be resolved when each country's internal politics, albeit at different degrees, are riddled with societal ills? To what extent can "culture" and notions of "citizenship" be used as mechanisms of mediation when there are contested cultural expressions in each country? Finally, is the current conflict resolvable when in one country, namely Haiti, poverty is structurally violent, and a culture of marginalization has permeated throughout the society?
The Dominican Republic has proven its strength vis-à-vis Haiti and has rallied the United States to support its border-control policies and domestic securities in ways that Haiti is currently unable to match. However, it also has lost the moral authority in relation to its treatment of Black people. Between 2013 and 2016, once again, the D.R. proved its organizational capacities at the state level to efficiently execute plans for population control. The D.R. expelled thousands of Haitian-descended people who were camped at the border of Haiti and Dominican Republic, and who had been unable to receive full assistance from the Haitian government. The expulsion, including self-expulsion, of a multitude of dark-skinned, paperless, and denationalized bodies clearly created a humanitarian crisis for Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There were reports of cholera outbreaks at the camps because of widespread unsanitary conditions. As recently as October 2021, while Haitian migrants amassed at the Mexican and Texas border, the Dominican Republic quietly implemented two new sets of policies aimed at curbing Haitian migration to the D.R. The first aims at reducing the number of Haitian pregnant women entering the country, and the second is the suspension of the student visas granted to Haitians.
Given that Haiti is still in the grip of an acute political crisis following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021, various non-governmental organizations denounced the implementation of new deportation orders targeting pregnant Haitian women. Through various news organizations, as well as on social media (@DominicanVoices, @MARADIOFM), the Director of Migration of the Dominican Republic, Enrique García, confirmed on Friday November 12, 2021, that a group of Haitian women in labor were detained and deported to Haiti on charges of being illegally present on Dominican soil.37 While the UNICEF representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes (@BrunoMaesUnicef), wrote on his Twitter account that UNICEF condemns the actions of the Dominican immigration authorities, women in labor continue to be arrested and deported: "Dominican migration authorities conducted raids to detain and remove pregnant women and anyone who would seem Haitian from several health facilities, regardless of their health condition."38 According to Maes, at least 130 women were deported with newborn babies. Additionally, the Dominican Minister of Public Health, Daniel Rivera, during a press conference at the National Palace, expressed the trepidation of Dominican authorities as it relates to hospitals lacking the capacity to provide proper care to Dominican women due to the saturation of Haitian women in labor, acknowledging that the government has already spent "10 billion pesos on the birth of Haitian of women," which has been increasing since 2018. Minister Rivera explained that the authorities' action is intended at reducing harm to Dominican women.
The international community would surely applaud the D.R. if it were to confer full citizenship upon its nationals, as Haiti remains in a position of weakness. Additionally, from a conflict resolution perspective, the D.R. would likely find itself in a win-win situation if it were to recognize the people designated as "paperless" and who were born in the D.R.. Those citizens would have greater allegiance to the D.R.—their birthplace—given that the conflict is fully internal in scope and is centered on the issue of citizenship. However, considering the 1937 massacre of over 20,000 Haitians, multiple subsequent waves of massive deportation, and the near constant violent uprooting of Haitian descended peoples, we can see how Dominican citizenship, just like American or European citizenship, has become a well-guarded commodity that Black bodies are often excluded from attaining.