If the Dominican Republic had decided in 2013 to nationalize its industries, announcing a deadline of June 17, 2015 for the expropriation of all foreign-owned enterprises on its side of the island, it is unlikely that the US would throw its hands up and say nothing could be done because the DR was a sovereign country. We know it is unlikely, because the US overthrew the president on the other side of the island in 1991 and in 2004 for trying to raise the minimum wage. More likely, there would be a regime change in the DR and a more friendly government would be put in place, to much celebration from US elites and media.
But when, a court in the DR pronounced “La Sentencia” in 2013, stripping Dominicans – people born in the DR – to undocumented Haitian parents of citizenship, and the Dominican Congress established a June 17, 2015 deadline for these hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent to establish residency by navigating a bureaucratic labyrinth of unbelievable complexity, US officials mumbled their concern. Since June, tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent have left the DR. Greg Grandin, writing in the Nation, has called it a “slow-motion, undercover pogrom”. They have left under threat of violence. They have accepted “voluntary” deportation because their only alternative was involuntary deportation. They are living in camps on the border between Haiti and the DR, not unlike the camps where hundreds of thousands of people were forced to live after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Displaced people living in camps have reached the culmination of a process that renders them without power or protection. The natural disaster of the earthquake was prolonged and made vastly more deadly by Haiti’s lack of sovereignty. This completely engineered disaster of deportation shows how Haiti’s lack of sovereignty is intertwined with the DR’s.
Now that North American media have begun to publish on the deportations, many of them discuss Haiti’s invasion of the DR in 1822. Historian Anna Ellner helps make sense of this 19th century history, and reveals it to be completely distorted in most accounts. Ellner (whose excellent blog post was linked by Grandin, who has also helped maintain a focus on this issue) presents a different history, one in which Haiti and the DR were “siblings in a struggle for freedom”.
If the two countries were siblings in a struggle for freedom, it was a struggle against domination by the US. The US invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915-1934, and the DR from 1916-1924. The US supported the Duvalier dictatorships that ruled Haiti from 1957-1986, and the Trujillo dictatorship that ruled the DR from 1930-1961. One of Trujillo’s most notorious acts was the “Parsley massacre” of 1937, a genocidal campaign against Haitians in the DR. The word “parsley” in Spanish is perejil, and prospective victims of the massacre would be made to pronounce the word. If they pronounced it with a Haitian accent, they were killed.
Trujillo’s Parsley massacre was written about in Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and in Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones. Diaz and Danticat have been writing and speaking out about the deportations, both in 2013 and in recent months. In June, Danticat called it “a humanitarian crisis ready to happen.” Diaz asked: “What happens when a government basically green-lights your most primitive, fucked up xenophobia?”
Mark Philips, writing from the border last month, describes what “voluntary deportation” is looking like:
“On the DR side of the border, we observed a cargo truck — previously used to transport plantains — pull up alongside one of the full school buses parked nearby. We learned that the bus driver refused to continue to Haiti and negotiated to have the cargo truck carry the passengers the rest of the way to Port-de-Paix, in the north of Haiti. The steel, open-air truck box was dirty, smaller than the school bus and not designed for carrying people, especially for hours in the hot sun. Passengers yelled at the driver, saying they were being treated like animals. A few women with babies on their laps were then allowed to sit in the front of the truck with the driver. All others, including several small children, had to stand or sit on their luggage in the back of the truck’s dusty steel box. Several individuals had to hang off the sides of the truck.
“This ride, as it turns out, was not provided by the DR government. Nor was it free. Passengers told us they paid the equivalent of up to $60, a large sum for impoverished workers in the DR. To put it in perspective, the next day the Haitian government pledged relief funds to help those passing through the town of Belladère that work out to 110 Haitian gourdes, or $2.15 per person.”
As for the humanitarian crisis “ready to happen” in June: it has begun to unfold in the camps on the border.
US influence over all of this is extremely concrete – Todd Miller reported in the Nation in 2013 that US border agents work at the border and train Dominican border agents.
North American journalists that have managed to present simplistic and inaccurate versions of the 19th century Haiti-DR relations were not, apparently, able to dig up the much more recent and relevant history of the destabilization of Haiti’s elected government over a period of years, starting in 2001, by paramilitary forces operating from safety in the Dominican Republic, culminating in an invasion that killed thousands and overthrew the government in 2004. That cross-border operation, too, could not have taken place without US sanction and assistance.
Haiti is not ruled by Haitians and does not have the power to help the deportees any more than it had the power to help those displaced by the earthquake. Its government is effectively under the control of the donor community, the US, and the UN, and its president is currently too focused on stealing the next election to worry about an unfolding humanitarian crisis on the border.
On the other hand, the many tendrils of influence that the US has on the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the DR give a special responsibility to North American friends of those countries. An unusual statement came from former Peace Corps volunteers calling for the suspension of military aid to the DR. Many have pointed out that the DR’s economy depends on tourism. Possibilities for campaigns abound. Greg Grandin pointed out that the international attention focused on the issue in recent months slowed the process down. With more work, it could be stopped.
First published on TeleSUR english: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Dominican-Republic-Deportations-Cannot-Occur-Without-US-Consent-20150816-0006.html