It’s not an exaggeration to say that relations between the two nation-states that occupy the island of Hispaniola have been strained for centuries.
The Dominican Republic celebrates its national day on February 27, marking not its independence from Spain but the anniversary of the end of the Haitian occupation of 1822 to 1844. The country’s autocratic leader, Rafael Trujillo launched a 1937 military attack on Haitians living near the nebulous border that, even today, remains particularly porous. The attack left an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians dead. Following the assault, known today as the Masacre del Perejil, Trujillo tried to install a puppet government in Haiti.
Joaquín Balaguer, Trujillo’s successor, won a narrow victory in the highly disputed 1994 election in part through attacks on the Haitian ancestry of his opponent José Francisco Peña Gómez. Leonel Fernández, the candidate of the country’s now-dominant Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD, Dominican Liberation Party), which has held power in 15 out of the past 20 years, deployed similar tactics against Peña in 1996.
So racism, both subtle and blatant, against darker-skinned Dominicans of Haitian descent has always been a feature of life in the Dominican Republic.
As Greg Grandin and others are reporting in recent days, the country is gearing up for what might become yet another difficult moment, with up to 500,000 Haitian Dominicans in danger of being deported after June 17 — even though many of them have lived most of their lives in the Dominican Republic, speak Spanish and not Haiti’s French creole and, indeed, have never even set foot on Haitian soil. The debacle has led to a rush of Haitian Dominicans attempting to register for citizenship before today’s deadline, fearing that failure to acquire the right paperwork could result in a massive disruption in their lives.
A decade of setbacks for Haitian Dominicans
The current crisis stems from a December 2011 decision by the Dominican supreme court that affirmed the government’s decision to reject a request from a Dominican-born man for his birth certificate. The ruling’s effect threw into doubt the citizenship of Dominicans born to Haitian immigrants after 1929. Under significant international pressure, Dominican president Danilo Medina (pictured above), a popular leader who now hopes to run for reelection in May 2016, tried to resolve the situation by allowing undocumented Dominicans to register. Continue reading Race politics looms behind potential deportation of Haitian Dominicans