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#1034: Danticat/Diaz article on deportations in NYTimes



November 20, 1999

The Dominican Republic's War on Haitian Workers
Imagine you are at work, or simply walking down the street. Suddenly a group 
of soldiers arrives. You are ordered at gunpoint to board a truck, already 
crowded with dozens of others. You are driven for hours to an isolated spot 
on a border between a country where you have lived most of your life and an 
ancestral land, to which you have not returned for years. You are ordered off 
the truck. If you hesitate or resist, the soldiers shoot into the air, and 
you must run into the savannas, into a land that you no longer know. 

That, according to news reports and several Haitian nongovernmental agencies, 
is what has been happening in recent weeks on the border that separates the 
Dominican Republic and Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. It is not unusual 
at this time of year for the Dominican government to deport a few hundred 
Haitian seasonal workers who have overstayed their welcome. But the current 
expulsions involve thousands of people, including many Haitians who have been 
living in the Dominican Republic for years and even some Dominican citizens 
of Haitian descent. 

The Dominican sugar industry has recruited Haitians for half a century. They 
live in isolated work camps, or bateys, near the fields, usually in makeshift 
shacks with no electricity, no running water and no medical care. 

Now that the state-run Dominican sugar industry is undergoing privatization, 
many expect the harvesting to become more mechanized, reducing the need for 
Haitian laborers. Many Haitians feel that the deportations are part of a plan 
to clear the bateys out of fear that those who have lived and worked in the 
fields for decades will spill into the general Dominican population. 

The deportations started earlier this month, shortly after the human rights 
commission of the Organization of American States denounced the low pay and 
living conditions of Haitian agricultural workers in the Dominican Republic. 
The report also noted that in spite of the Dominican civil code, which grants 
citizenship to all those born on Dominican soil, most children of Haitian 
parents are denied Dominican citizenship. 

Those who have been deported say they were given no opportunity to prove 
their legal status or citizenship and no time to return to their homes to 
collect their belongings, notify their families and make arrangements for 
their children. The Haitian government is given no notice that the workers 
are to be dumped at the border. 

Did the human rights report on labor conditions provoke the Dominican 
president, Leonel Fernández, to order the deportations? There would be a 
precedent. After a similar critical report by Human Rights Watch in 1991, 
more than 50,000 Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans were expelled from the 
country by Mr. Fernández's predecessor, Joaquín Balaguer. 

There may also be other factors at work. With a presidential election 
scheduled in May, the deportations may be a tactic to make Haitians a 
scapegoat for the country's inflation and unemployment problems, according to 
critics of the Fernández government. 

The "Haitian question" has often been a crucial factor in Dominican political 
rhetoric, particularly during the periods in this decade when the late José 
Francisco Peña Gómez, who was black, was a leading candidate. Mr. Peña 
Gómez's opponents depicted him as sympathetic to a Haitian cultural and 
economic invasion that would derail the Dominican Republic's relative 

Some anti-Haitian sentiment is also being stirred up in advance of a summit 
meeting of more than 50 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations that will take 
place next week in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. One 
leading party has called for a demonstration to take place there today; it 
urges Dominicans to take to the streets and protest the "Haitian invasion." 
For any Dominican, that language echoes the oratory of the dictator Rafael 
Trujillo, whose government massacred thousands of Haitians along the border 
in 1937. 

While Dominicans cannot be expected to harbor every Haitian who flees 
economic hardship, the expulsions are violations of the workers' human rights 
and of the country's own laws. Haitians do not want to invade the Dominican 
Republic, culturally or otherwise. Most have gone there seeking a better 
life, much like the nearly one million Dominicans who have emigrated to the 
United States. 

Haitians, Dominicans and Americans should protest the deportations, as well 
as the racially tinged political rhetoric that has given too many Dominicans 
the false perception that all their problems will disappear if only the 
Haitians will go away.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American novelist. Junot Diaz is a 
Dominican-American novelist.