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#1135: Haiti's poorest cross border, face backlash (fwd)


Haiti's poorest cross border, face backlash 
By David Abel, Globe Correspondent, 11/28/99 __BOSTON GLOBE
 This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 11/28/99. 

LA VEGA, Dominican Republic - An orphan without any education and with
little to eat, 12-year-old Lucksene Mezililen followed some friends
across the Haitian border some months ago and now scrapes by in this
central Dominican city illegally selling candy. Josephine Losette, 26,
recently gave birth to a dimple-faced boy at a  maternity hospital in
Santo Domingo. Without papers, she worries whether her son will be
allowed to go to school in her adopted country.Taking a break from
moving earth and pulverizing cement, Aldonis Celesten, 40, supports
eight children home in Haiti on the $8 he earns each day under  the
table helping to build a highway overpass in Santo Domingo. At least
half a million Haitians live illegally in the Dominican Republic. And  
like Mezililen, Losette, and Celesten, few of them speak Spanish, most
live in dire poverty, few have Dominican friends, and many are harassed
and arbitrarily deported by Dominican police, who regard them as an
unwanted  underclass. ''They treat us like we are strangers, like we are
animals, that we shouldn't be trusted,'' Mezililen said after putting
down a bin of the sugary Mani candy he had balanced on his head. ''It's
not easy to live here. But there is nothing in Haiti.''The poor
treatment of Haitians living across the frontier in the eastern         
two-thirds of Hispaniola - the lush Caribbean island that some 8
million  Creole-speaking Haitians share with about 8 million
Spanish-speaking  Dominicans - has long been a subject of controversy.  
But the issue began dominating the airwaves and newspapers in both
 countries after a report in October by the Organization of American
States accused the Dominican government of carrying out mass
deportations, and recommended that it grant Haitians legal rights.     
The report rebuked Dominican officials for not adopting measures such as
 issuing undocumented Haitian workers residency cards or legalizing the
status of their children born in the Dominican Republic. Despite a
provision  in the Dominican constitution granting citizenship to anyone
born on  Dominican territory, as many as 280,000 undocumented Haitian
children live   without even identity cards, according to Haiti's
embassy in Santo Domingo.   ''This is a huge injustice. Some of these
children only speak Spanish, but they   have no documents and they can't
even go to school,'' said Joseph Daseme, who oversees immigration
matters at the Haitian Embassy. ''This is a problem of discrimination;
if we were white this wouldn't be happening.'' Officials from the three
major parties, however, unite in their dismissal of the   OAS report.
 Different governments here have long relied on another provision in the
Dominican constitution that denies citizenship to those children born of
parents ''in transit'' through the Dominican Republic. The undocumented
Haitians - even those who have lived here for decades - have long been
considered in transit. As for the deportations, which often occur so
quickly the Haitians have little or no warning to collect their
possessions, immigration officials say they're  part of the routine
repatriation of 30,000 undocumented Haitians each year.       ''They are
here illegally and it is our right to deport them,'' said Ivan Pena, 
director of Haitian migration at the Dominican Immigration Department.
''We   are not violating their human rights. The constitution says they
are in transit.  They aren't Dominicans.''       Prejudice, mistrust,
and tension between Haitians and Dominicans go back
  to 1822, not long after Haiti became the world's first black republic.
In a bid  to topple slavery in the Spanish colony to the east, Haiti
invaded the  Dominican Republic, ruling harshly until Dominicans gained
independence in  1844. Ever since, many Dominican officials have fanned
the flames of racism by   warning that Haiti has designs to take over
the whole island. The worst conflict between the two countries, however,
came in 1937 when the  Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered about
30,000 migrant Haitians  slaughtered along the Massacre River near the
border. Dominican officials have often attributed problems such as high
unemployment and depressed wages to the glut of undocumented Haitians,
 many of whom have been welcomed across the border to work in low-paying
jobs harvesting sugar cane or building roads.  Those complaints have
increased in recent years, as the Dominican Republic  boasts one of the
highest growth rates in the Western Hemisphere, about 7   percent, while
Haiti remains the region's poorest country.  Despite the tensions, the
past few years have seen unprecedented  improvements in relations. For
the first time in six decades, the Dominican  and Haitian presidents
last year reciprocated visits. That followed steps the  two governments
took in 1996 to strengthen diplomatic, legal, and  commercial ties,
paving the way last year for the countries to begin direct mail service
and to stop routing their letters through Miami.

                  This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on