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#966: A Dominican View of Haitiano-Dominican Relations (fwd)
From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>
| | The challenges - political, social and cultural - related to the
| | presence in the Dominican Republic
| | By Carlos Segura
| | Professor/researcher of the Latin-American Faculty of Social
| | Sciences - Dominican Republic Program
| | Translated by Max Blanchet
| | Presented at the colloquium "The challenges facing the promotion of
| | the Haitian cause in the Dominican Republic"
| | Montreal, November 5-7, 1999
| | Haitian migration into the Dominican Republic, initially linked to the
| | development of the sugar industry, to day is characterized by three
| | phenomena:
| | 1) Laborers who, having entered the country legally at one time, have
| | decided to stay once the harvest is over, thereby becoming illegal
| | immigrants,
| | 2) Those who cross the border illegally from the get go, and
| | 3) The descendants of these migrants who are denied Dominican
| | nationality and thus become stateless, in spite of the fact they were
| | born in the Dominican Republic.
| | In the DR, everyone has profited from this immigration: the sugar
| | industry both private and state-owned, the construction industry, farm
| | owners and the population at large to the extent that it generally has
| | access to goods and services whose prices are probably lower
| | because they are produced by poorly-paid immigrant labor.
| | Society has not, however, been capable of offering these migrants
| | decent working and living conditions and integrating them into
| | Dominican society as full fledge citizens. Dominican society needs
| | these immigrants but does not take them into account. Indeed,
| | Dominican society has not even have carried out a decent census.
| | Nobody really knows how many Haitians there are in the DR. During
| | the last years of the Balaguer government, the specter of the "pacific
| | invasion" was promoted once again. At that time, the claim was made
| | that one third of the Haitian population had crossed the border (El
| | Nacional de Ahora, April 26, 1989.) On that basis, there were
| | allegedly 2 million Haitians in the DR. The local press and the
| | international media have for their part proposed a figure of one
| | million. All these estimates are exaggerated. More reasonable
| | estimates put the Haitian presence in the DR at between 500,000 and
| | 600,000.
| | The presence of these migrants, illegal for the most part, exploited,
| | discriminated against, and denied all rights, presents many political,
| | social and cultural challenges to Dominican society.
| | The political challenges
| | The Haitian question, a recurring theme in the Dominican political
| | debate, becomes on the eve of every election one of the obligatory
| | issues. This phenomenon possibly hides the intuition that such a
| | theme reflects one of the greatest shortcomings of the Dominican
| | political system, namely the exclusion of more than half a million
| | human beings.
| | Recently, a request of the Youth Ministry of the Catholic Church that
| | challenged the Dominican authorities to provide papers to the
| | stateless provoked an intense debate on the legal status of Haitian
| | migrants, especially on the right of these migrants' children to
| | Dominican nationality.
| | Immigration authorities are opposed to issuing birth certificates to
| | children of Haitian immigrants. Nonetheless, the challenge of the
| | Youth Ministry was supported by other sectors of the church, including
| | certain members of the Church's hierarchy, as well as other sectors of
| | Dominican society.
| | During this debate, it was noted that there was no unanimity within the
| | ranks of the government on this issue. While the legal adviser of the
| | president is opposed to the idea of providing, for instance, medical
| | assistance to Haitian women who cross the border to deliver their
| | babies in Dominican hospitals, the minister of health stated his
| | opposition to such a restrictive measure.
| | In the current debate on Haitian immigration, there are two clearly
| | differentiated positions: on the one hand, there is the radical
| | spearheaded by the Nationalist Union and other right wing
| | organizations such as the Reformist Party of Joaquim Balaguer and
| | the National Progressive Force which oppose the Haitian presence.
| | The discourse of these organizations has a strong racist, xenophobic
| | and ultra-nationalist content.
| | For political and ideological reasons, this sector always
| | overestimates the number of Haitians living in the DR. Within the
| | context of other arguments, the exaggeration of the number of
| | Haitians can be explained by the desire to present this immigration as
| | the principal threat to national and cultural identity. Paradoxically,
| | sector has the greatest responsibility when it comes to the hiring of
| | and trafficking in Haitian laborers.
| | On the other hand, a sector involving intellectuals, parts of the
| | Church, organizations of civil society, certain political figures of
| | government as well as farm owners favors the establishment of a
| | migratory policy that would regulates the legal status of these
| | migrants.
| | This sector puts the emphasis on the legal aspects, on human rights
| | and humanitarian issues. It could, however, put more emphasis on the
| | contribution of these migrants to the economy of the country, on the
| | political fallout of the resolution of this conflict in terms of
| | consolidation, as well as on its contribution to the issue of cultural
| | pluralism.
| | Social challenges
| | The presence of these migrants presents many challenges to the
| | society hosting them as well as to the migrants themselves. What
| | place will be reserved for these migrants in the society? How are they
| | to be integrated while their culture is respected? How does one
| | manage diversity while respecting the norms required by coexistence
| | in a democratic society? The immigrants themselves must make an
| | effort to rearrange their lives in a new context.
| | From what we know of the traditional Haitian Diaspora, Haitians
| | established in NYC, Miami and Montreal have experienced upward
| | mobility, that is to say, their social and political status has
| | They have achieved a certain development of the organizations that
| | represent them and of their communities.
| | The importance of these migrants vis-ā-vis Haitian society has been
| | modified. It is mostly from the US and Canada that the aid to families
| | left behind comes from and it constitutes one of the major sources of
| | economic activity in Haiti.
| | The situation of Haitian immigration in the DR is a different matter.
| | First it takes place in the context of a developing country and the
| | Haitian migrants heading for the DR have a different profile.
| | Furthermore, for historical reasons, there is in the DR a strong anti-
| | Haitian prejudice which became reinforced as the Haitian presence
| | grew. Our prejudices have prevented us from dealing with this
| | migration in a rational manner.
| | Nonetheless, the Haitian immigration in the DR has experienced
| | important changes. More and more, the Haitian immigration to the DR
| | follows the pattern of Haitian immigration towards other countries.
| | More and more, these migrants become integrated into urban
| | economic activities, in construction, the informal economy, public
| | works, transportation, tourism, etc. Furthermore, one observes a
| | larger presence of Haitian students in universities.
| | On notes also a strong mobility of the labor force. From the sugar
| | cane plantations, many Haitians have moved to plantations of rice,
| | coffee, cocoa and other agricultural produce and from there to urban
| | activities.
| | The spatial distribution of these migrants is no longer the same. Their
| | confinement to the "batey" belongs to the past. the Cristo Rey
| | neighborhood in Santo Domingo, the market on Mella Avenue in
| | Santo Domingo as well as activities in markets in other cities of the
| | country such as Santiago, San Pedro, La Romana, Puerto Plata and
| | Barahona are proof of the emergence of a new universe in which the
| | formal and informal elements of the Dominican economy reproduce
| | themselves.
| | Neither their illegal status nor the recurrent deportations have
| | prevented these migrants from occupying spaces and developing
| | strategies for integrating themselves in the Dominican economy.
| | Structural conditions have made the Dominican economy dependent
| | on Haitian labor. The permanence of these structural conditions
| | reinforces this dependence and accelerates immigration. To date, the
| | only measures envisaged in the DR to deal with this migration
| | involves deportation. Sooner or later, these measures will become
| | counterproductive in terms of defining a migration policy linked to a
| | larger policy of social development and state strategy in the context
| | international relations. All of this would be conducive to the
| | modernization of the state and of Dominican society. This is the
| | challenge.
| | The cultural challenges
| | Dominican anti-Haitian ideology is an excellent illustration of the
| | social construction of otherness. There are differences between
| | peoples which are the result of proximity and which result from the
| | interest in and the desire to oppose one another. Thus, many
| | Dominican cultural traits are the result of Dominicans' interest in
| | differentiating themselves from their Haitian neighbors.
| | The existence in the DR of a racist historiography that puts the
| | emphasis on the purported superiority of Dominicans vis-ā-vis
| | Haitians plays a central role in the construction of this difference.
| | This historiography has thus contributed to the amplification of racial
| | prejudices in the population, to the point that Dominican blacks do not
| | consider themselves black. They are Spanish-speaking, catholic
| | Dominicans and the real blacks are the Haitians who speak Creole
| | and practice the Vodou religion.
| | These prejudices have deep roots: since the first years of colonization
| | of the island, the exploitation of the Indians at first and of the
| | blacks later have produced in the ruling class a prejudice whereby it
| | considers these two groups to be inferior to itself and incapable of
| | civilized life. Thus emerged a racist ideology, at first spontaneous,
| | without a theoretical argumentation, but that gradually became a very
| | important social factor which permeated the non-white sectors of the
| | society.
| | This influence of the racist ideology was reinforced during the
| | dictatorship and prevails today in the great majority of the people,
| | composed of blacks and mulattos who deny their African origins.
| | To this socio-cultural factor must be added another of a political
| | nature: the definitive separation of the Dominican Republic from Haiti
| | (the independence of 1844.) In fact, Dominican identity is built in
| | relation and in opposition to Haiti. In this equation, the Hispanic
| | element is exalted as being the essential element of national identity.
| | The Dominican model, which is based on the jus soli, has not
| | prevented other groups of diverse ethnic origins from being integrated
| | and even assimilated into Dominican society. For instance, the
| | refugees from the Spanish Civil War who came in the 40s as well as
| | the Arabs who arrived at the same time are today full-fledge
| | Dominicans while the children and grand children of Haitian
| | immigrants who arrived well before remain Haitian.
| | Some will always argue that the refusal to grant Dominican nationality
| | to the children of Haitian immigrants is linked to the fact that we are
| | dealing with an illegal immigration. The reality is, nonetheless, that
| | the Dominican conception of the nation there is room for everybody
| | except for Haitians while everybody claims that there is no racial
| | prejudice in the DR.
| | At the ideological and cultural level, the formation of the Dominican
| | nation thus involves on the one hand a combination of values, ideas
| | and norms related to Hispanism and on the other a strong anti-Haitian
| | ideology. In the Dominican mindset, the Haitian is perceived as the
| | other, the Negro, the inferior to be subordinated. It is a huge
| | deeply rooted and by therefore very difficult to dismantle.
| | To conclude ...
| | On the political nature, we must insist on the fact that the
| | to legal existence of hundreds of thousands of Haitians will be a step
| | towards ending the social exclusion of this minority.
| | The resolution of the question of the legal status of these migrants
| | would strengthen the will to democratize Dominican society. This
| | would be additional proof that the country is truly engaged in a
| | process to consolidate a state of law.
| | It is clear that democratization of social life today requires that the
| | rights of ethnic minorities be recognized. In fact, the resolution of
| | legal status of these migrants and their descendants would render
| | Dominican efforts more credible in the eyes of the international
| | community.
| | In the socio-cultural arena, we must continue to help reinforce the
| | organizations that represent the Haitian community. We might think of
| | creating a Haiti House.
| | Thus, just as the Spaniards and their descendants have a "Casa de
| | Espaņa" and the Arabs and their descendants have the "Club Sirio-
| | Libio-Palestino," Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent could
| | establish a prestigious organization whose role would be to raise
| | Haitian self-esteem, to promote Haitian culture and to negotiate better
| | living conditions for Haitians who live in the Dominican Republic.