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Dealing With Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

In September 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic (DR) reaffirmed a long-standing policy of denying citizenship rights to Dominicans born primarily of Haitian immigrant parents. The ruling, the Court said, was not subject to appeals: it had the final say  in the matter. Furthermore it ordered the Dominican Government to go through citizenship records dating back to 1929 to strip from the rolls people who had been wrongfully granted citizenship. The ruling provoked an immediate uproar both in the Dominican Republic itself and abroad. In New York, Dominicans picketed their consulate to protest the ruling and call for its annulment. Haitians saw it as an affront and treated it as such, calling for an international boycott of Dominican goods and travel tourism. Caribbean nations’ leaders were appalled and called on the DR to reverse course.

Last Sunday January 12, Here and Now, a news show hosted by WABC-TV’s Sandra Bookman, aired a discussion on this issue with Ninaj Raoul, Executive Director of the NY-based Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, and Jocelyn McCalla, speaking on behalf of Haitian-Americans United for Progress (HAUP).

Nearly twenty years ago, in 1995, the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) released a 47-page report entitled “Beyond the Bateyes,” the 5th in a series of reports released by the NCHR – several in cooperation with other human rights groups – that scrutinized the DR’s relation with Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent. We reproduce below its key findings and recommendations, many if not all of which remain valid despite the passage of time. As Haitians and Dominicans once again try to address the issue in the wake of the outrageous ruling discussed above, we hope that the recommendations can serve as a guide and starting point for fruitful policymaking. The report was written by Patrick Gavigan and edited by yours truly.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A. Conclusions

As we have indicated throughout this report, the findings of our October 1995 mission to the Dominican Republic echo those of our four previous visits:

(1) Anti-Haitian animosity infuses government attitudes toward the Haitian immigrant population, underlying the now-quotidian military, police and CEA abuses and the constant fear of arbitrary deportation endured by Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent everywhere in the Dominican Republic.

(2) Despite repeated promises over five years, the Dominican government has done little to curb CEA abuses of sugar cane cutters. Working conditions remain onerous and dangerous, freedom of movement is strictly controlled, effective pay is far below an already-miserly minimum wage, labor contracts are rarely used and effectively unenforceable, CEA cheating in weighing and paying continues, union organizing is repressed and military units and armed guarda campestres controlling the sugar plantations as if they were prisons, and the cane cutters, prisoners. Efforts by the Secretary of Labor to improve conditions — primarily through the use of 25 inspectors to supervise 16 sugar mills and 400 bateyes — have proved woefully inadequate. Some abusive CEA employees, guarda campestres and police have been disciplined, but usually only in cases which have attracted extensive press coverage. Health and social services for cane workers and families remain largely inaccessible.

(3) Conditions in the bateyes are terrible. The most fortunate have electricity and well- water, but housing and sanitation facilities (if they are available at all) are still abysmal. The CEA claims it has no funds for adequate repairs or new facilities investments, so any improvements made usually result from the work of NGOs or unions.

(4) The immigration status of most Haitians is precarious. Some cane cutters were issued temporary worker immigration cards, renewable annually, but most workers we spoke with possessed only CEA identification or no proof of immigration status at all. The same CEA and private farmers who have treated Haitian workers harshly in the past are responsible for regularizing the status of these same workers now, with little government oversight and no effective penalties for not doing so.

dominicans of Haitian descent

Haitians who give birth to children in the Dominican Republic often face enormous hurdles in registering their offspring as Dominican citizens and thus permitting them to attend public schools and claim all the political and social rights of Dominican nationals. Long-standing Dominicans of Haitian descent also face serious discrimination when seeking to vote or obtain the social, health and educational services to which they are entitled under Dominican law.

Finally, the Dominican government refuses to recognize any obligation toward the large segment of the Haitian immigrant population which has lived and worked in the Dominican Republic for many years but has never received official immigration status. NCHR recognizes that a state has the right under international law to determine the conditions under which it will grant citizenship and residency status to immigrants and their children. However, the Dominican Republic’s responsibility for this population derives from its having welcomed — and often coerced or induced through deception — the arrival of these immigrants, who carry out work in critical Dominican industries which Dominican nationals refuse to perform.126 Moreover, the Dominican government itself has been the major employer of these viejos through its ownership of the CEA sugar mills and its role in the construction industry (which depends upon government public works contracts).

Immigration reform measures currently under discussion by the Dominican government would change the basis of Dominican nationality in order to deny citizenship to the children of Haitian immigrants born in the Dominican Republic. The reform measures, as currently drafted, fail to address actual migration patterns and practices in Dominican agriculture and completely ignore the long-time undocumented Haitian residents.

(5) Forced repatriations continue as official government practice. The military continues to conduct arbitrary round-ups and assists agricultural and construction employers to deport Haitian workers for economic reasons. Haitian “appearance” is usually the only requirement for deportation. Proper visas, Dominican cédulas, passports or CEA documents usually do not prevent repatriation — the documents are normally taken and destroyed to prevent the individuals from returning. The massive repatriation decree of 1991 is still Dominican law.

Five years of recommendations to the Dominican, United States and Haitian governments have been largely ignored. The measures in fact undertaken — the United States Trade Representative’s investigation in 1990-91, the Dominican government’s adoption of various decrees — were curtailed for political reasons or, in the case of the Dominican government, never fully carried out.

We noted that the situation of Haitians in the Dominican Republic appears to be intractable for a number of historic, political and economic reasons. We discussed at some length the historic sources of anti-Haitianism and the transformation of that colonial antagonism into a virulent racism for political purposes by Trujillo and his political descendants, a racism that now permeates much of Dominican society.

Regardless of the racism, Haitian migrants form the basis of important formal and informal economic networks. Most obvious is the cheap labor Haitians provide to the crisis-ridden sugar cane industry, the agricultural sector as a whole, the construction industry and in other lines of work where inexpensive manual labor is a critical production factor. Under constant threat of deporta- tion, these workers have no leverage to bargain for better pay or working conditions and must accept the feudal control imposed by employers. Thus, uncertain legal status is a mechanism for guaranteeing the availability of an easily controlled low-wage labor force for industries that might not remain competitive in domestic and global markets if labor costs and benefits were forced to rise. And, of course, the largest beneficiary of this state of affairs is the government itself, which must bear the huge costs of the inefficient CEA and pay for road construction and other public works.

Informal economic networks are just as crucial to the maintenance of the status quo. The Army and National Police, in particular, benefit from the illegal “trade” in Haitian workers. A bus carrying Haitians from Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo, for instance, must pay an “entrance fee” at the border to Dominican army officers in order to permit visa-less Haitians to enter. Additional “fees” must be paid to security officials at every one of the dozen-to-two-dozen army or national police checkpoints on the highway to Santo Domingo. Haitians who are stopped randomly by national police or the military often must pay a fee in lieu of deportation. And Haitians who are caught in round-ups — or removed from construction sites en masse — are usually stripped by soldiers of any cash or belongings they might be carrying. Finally, soldiers are paid by CEA and private farmers and owners of other businesses which employ Haitians to collect and deport groups of workers. These revenues, we were told by a senior military official, are significant to large numbers of poorly-paid national police and soldiers.

Haitian immigrants, therefore, find themselves in a situation both paradoxical and ironic. The paradox lies in the abuse and discrimination received from individuals and groups in the economic sectors that could not survive without their labor. The irony is generated by the fact that as much as many Dominicans profess to “fear” the “Haitianization” of Dominican society and culture, a Gallup poll reveals the contrary — in the traditional immigration pattern, Haitians become “Dominicanized,” adopting the language, religion and customs of the Dominican Republic.

Proposals to solve the “Haitian problem” inside the country by repatriating Haitian workers and “Dominicanizing” the market for manual labor are unrealistic for several reasons. First, they usually assume that the number of Haitians in the country is relatively small, and thus repatriation could be done in an organized way. Second, they presuppose that Dominicans could be enticed to do the work now done by Haitians in the sugar fields and construction industry, even with improved pay and living conditions. Third, they presume that the corporations dominating the agricultural industries would give up the cheap labor that serves as the source of business profitability or, in the case of the inefficient, permits survival. Fourth, they conclude that the government would be willing and able to bear the higher costs of labor in the already-bankrupt CEA mills and the construction industry. Fifth, they posit that the military would be willing to give up a source of revenue which permits soldiers at all ranks to supplement income. And, finally, they do not deal with the particular difficulties faced by Dominican citizens of Haitian descent, many of whom have not been able to obtain proper documentation of their Dominican nationality, or consider the plight of the viejos, the ten-, twenty- or thirty-year residents who consider the Dominican Republic — and not Haiti — home.

The estimated 500,000 Haitians and Dominican-Haitians in the Dominican Republic pose more than just a set of formidable domestic problems for the Dominican government. Existing in a nebulous legal state under Dominican and international law, subject to deportation without notice, they also “constitute a veritable sword of Damocles for Haiti.” Years of dictatorship and military repression caused tens of thousands of Haitians to flee to the United States, Canada and other Caribbean states; the largest refugee population, however, remains that of the Dominican Republic. And although Haiti has established an office to assist with the return of refugees, the resources the government can offer to its expatriates have been meager. In its current fragile economic state, Haiti would have great difficulty dealing with massive deportations from its neighbor on the scale of the 1991 expulsions. But until the status of the Haitian population in the Dominican Republic is officially determined and respected by the Dominican government, the threat will remain. And, as Balaguer demonstrated in 1991, the Dominican government has been willing to use its Haitian population to influence Haitian politics.

B. Recommendations

For the fifth time in seven years, NCHR requests the Dominican government to honor its obligations to its Haitian residents and citizens of Haitian descent contained in Dominican domestic law and the international human rights instruments to which it is a party — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights and numerous ILO conventions.

Forced repatriations without due process are prohibited under international law. Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that “[a]n alien lawfully in the territory of a State Party to the present Covenant may be expelled therefrom only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with law and shall…be allowed to submit the reasons against his expulsion and to have his case reviewed by, and be represented for the purpose, before the competent authority or a person or persons especially designated by the competent authority.” Regarding the claims of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Article 22(5) of the American Convention on Human Rights notes that “[n]o one can be expelled form the territory of the state of which he is a national or be deprived of the right to enter it” and, more pointedly, Article 22(9) states that “[t]he collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited.” Finally, Article 13(3) of the Dominican Nationality Law recognizes the right of aliens to a hearing before deportation.

Similarly, the International Covenants prohibit CEA recruitment practices, forced labor, restrictions on the freedom of movement of sugar cane workers and the employment of children and calls for the provision of fair wages and a decent living for workers and their families, safe and healthy working conditions and adequate rest periods and leisure time.133 The Dominican Republic is also party to the principal ILO conventions establishing minimum standards for working conditions, pay and benefits. The ILO was, in fact, one of the organizations responsible for bringing the plight of the Haitian sugar workers to the attention of the world in the early 1980s. The ILO has been closely monitoring the Dominican government ever since.

In light of these specific obligations, we once again urge the Dominican government to take immediate steps to ameliorate the exploitation and abuse of its Haitian residents and Dominican citizens of Haitian descent. The Dominican Republic should:

  • Determine the size and composition of its Haitian populations with a census, conducted by an independent organization.
  • Provide for the expeditious nationalization of the children of Haitian immigrants born in the Dominican Republic by establishing a clear, consistent and practical procedure for demon- strating birth in the country.
  • Agree to normalize the immigration status of long-time Haitian residents by permitting those who can demonstrate — again using a clear and practical standard of evidence — continuous residence for a determinate period (perhaps ten years) to apply for and obtain permanent resident status.134
  • Adopt administrative procedures for the detention and deportation of undocumented Haitian immigrants, including a provision for open deportation hearings. Immigrants without the legal right to be in the Dominican Republic should be turned over to Haitian immigration officials at the border.
  • Launch a program to improve living conditions in the bateyes, including the immediate provision of clean water, sanitation facilities and electricity to all bateyes, the renovation of existing and construction of new housing and the provision of health clinics and schools. Food cooperatives should be established to give workers access to a wide variety of healthy food.
  • Enforce the terms of a reasonable labor contract — eight-hour work days, a five-day work week, the provision of clean water and food for the workers in the fields. Pay should be substantially raised — doubled or tripled the present amount — and a threshold wage established above the minimum wage regardless of the amount of cane cut. Workers should be paid weekly in cash.
  • Grant cane workers the right to collectively bargain through union representation for working conditions, pay and benefits. Union workers should be able to organize and hold meetings in the bateyes without threat of repression from the army or guardacampestres. A formal grievance procedure should be established through which workers and union representatives can bring complaints for non-compliance with the labor contract and abusive treatment.
  • Mandate, with serious sanctions for failure to comply, the issuance of labor contracts written in the preferred language of each worker (Creole, French or Spanish) to all Haitian workers, seasonal or long-time resident. The mandate should include the requirement that the contract’s provisions be explained in detail to each worker by a designated union representative. Each person should be provided with an official identity card which serves as a residency visa and grants the worker access to Dominican social and health services.
  • Finally end the use of the Army in the forcible recruiting of Haitians in the Dominican Republic for work in the sugar cane fields. The Director-General of Migration should regain control over day-to-day immigration matters from the military, perhaps establishing a separate border national police under the direct control of the Director-General. Army deportations should likewise cease and all persons detained for immigration violations should be turned over to Migration for a hearing and — if appropriate — an orderly deportation to the Haitian immigration authorities.
  • Demilitarize the bateyes, removing the Army and National Police from any security role in the sugar industry. The security forces should crack down on the officially-tolerated corruption — particularly the extortion — practiced in the ranks. Sugar mill guards should be required to work without firearms.

1. Bilateral Agreements

Previous efforts to pressure the Dominican government to treat its Haitian and Dominican- Haitian populations in accord with Dominican and international law have largely failed. The hope that the Dominican government may become more sensitive to these issues now rests with the generational political change implicated by the May 1996 presidential elections. However, since most of the actors involved in the presidential race have been involved in Dominican politics for some time, we have no reason to believe that reasserting the same arguments will necessarily produce greater success after President Balaguer has retired.

NCHR now insists that a broader approach is necessary. While emphasizing that the Dominican Republic remains obligated to meet its international human rights obligations independent of exogenous considerations, NCHR believes that durable solutions must involve Haiti and neighboring Caribbean states. The human rights violations we have outlined in this report are intertwined with migration and development issues that affect the Caribbean as a region. Address- ing these issues requires the active participation of the major economic and political actors in the region, the United States and the European Community, and international and regional organizations concerned with development and migration issues.

In our view, the first steps in improving the lot of Haitians in the Dominican Republic must take place at a bilateral level between the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The two states share important interests in trade, joint economic development projects (particularly in the border regions), tourism and democracy. These issues also directly affect migration flows on the island. The demand and supply of seasonal labor for Dominican agricultural industries should be regulated by a bilateral accord that incorporates enforceable worker protections. As a precondition to any labor accord, the Dominican Republic must agree to definitively resolve the legal immigration status of long-term Haitian residents and end the official discrimination faced by its citizens of Haitian descent.

As this report goes to press, the two republics have given encouraging indications of an interest in initiating bilateral discussions on at least some of these issues. Haitian President Préval’s inauguration in February 1996 initiated a series of bilateral cultural, business and political contacts culminating in Préval’s official state visit to Santo Domingo in mid-March. The foreign ministers of each state signed a joint communiqué establishing a bilateral commission to discuss trade and economic development issues. While the bilateral contacts at the outset of the Préval presidency signal the potential for a new relationship between the neighboring states, NCHR reiterates the need for a broad, well-prepared set of interconnected discussions on economic development, trade, migration and human rights. The joint communiqué, for example, referred to economic develop- ment and trade interests but was silent on migrant labor, migration, human rights and democracy. And while Presidents Préval and Balaguer are to be commended for opening Préval’s term on a warm note, substantive policy decisions will have to await the new Dominican president elected in May.

2. Regional Assistance

Given the antagonistic history between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the long- standing absence of political will on the part of the two states necessary to forge workable bilateral agreements and the regional nature of the economic and political causes of migration patterns in the Caribbean, NCHR believes that both states should seek the assistance of other nations and regional and international organizations.

The United States, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, the European Community, CARICOM, UNHCR, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Organization for Migration all play extensive roles in the Caribbean and most are directly involved in, or affected by, Caribbean migration issues.136 More importantly, the decisions of a number of these actors, particularly those of the United States, affecting any one Caribbean state tend to have ripple effects which can significantly influence the rest. This is particularly true when market-oriented macroeconomic restructuring and economic development initiatives insisted upon by the United States, the international financial institutions and the U.S. Agency for International Development inevitably promote, at least in the short run, an increase in rural poverty that exacerbates economic migration problems.

The United States and the European Community can bring economic pressure to bear on Haiti and the Dominican Republic to negotiate immigration and migrant worker agreements under the auspices of a neutral third party, such as the OAS, and have the resources to help finance (or encourage financing from international financial institutions) migration, economic development and resettlement programs. Third parties such as UNHCR, the ILO or IOM could take on monitoring and enforcement functions, perhaps reporting to a bilateral or multi-lateral commission.

Unless longer-range regional solutions are forthcoming, the migration emergencies which generate and sometimes exacerbate existing human rights problems will continue. For example, the

U.S. Coast Guard intercepted more than 1,100 Haitian “boat people” bound for the United States in November 1995, a surge that corresponded to continuing economic difficulties and a rise in political uncertainty and violence prior to the December Haitian presidential elections. It is important to note, however, that these sudden migrations do not emanate solely from Haiti. The Dominican Republic itself exhibits similar migration patterns, with Dominican economic migrants moving from the countryside to Dominican cities and then on to Puerto Rico and the United States. While the U.S. Coast Guard rescue operations in 1995 picked up a total of 1,969 Haitians sailing for Miami, 4,500 Dominicans were apprehended attempting to reach Puerto Rico across the Mona Passage in the same period.

3. The United States and the European Community

The United States remains the largest foreign market for both Haiti and the Dominican Republic and can use sugar quotas, tariffs established under the General System of Preferences and the Caribbean Basin Initiative, and economic development and military aid to pressure the Dominican Republic to improve its human rights record.

The Dominican Republic’s allotments of 226,000 short tons for 1992-93, 191,000 for 1993-94 and 241,851 for 1994-95 remained the highest allotment of any sugar-producing state, 17% of the total United States sugar quota. In 1991, the United States government failed to take full advantage of its considerable leverage as the Dominican Republic’s largest trading partner to pressure the Dominican government to improve its human rights practices. On April 25, 1991, after a two-year review of Dominican labor practices, the United States Trade Representative deter- mined that the Dominican government had “taken or [is] taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights,” even though the CEA continued to use forced labor, as documented by NCHR and others. As a result, the Administration continued extending trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, despite a U.S. law that prohibits the granting of such benefits to countries that violate labor rights, and refused to accept an America’s Watch petition for an ongoing review.

Since September 1991, United States diplomatic efforts in the Dominican Republic focused on the Dominican government’s (reluctant) role in the measures taken by the United Nations and the OAS to restore Aristide to the Haitian presidency. Neither the Clinton Administration nor the U.S. Congress has returned to consider the Dominican government’s treatment of its Haitian residents.

This lack of attention is unfortunate given that the U.S. now has additional leverage through the Caribbean Basin Initiative’s textile preferences granted to Caribbean states during the Reagan Administration. The Dominican Republic has developed a number of free trade zones from which international textile corporations can export products to the United States at favorable tariff rates. The Dominican government claims that 200,000 jobs have been generated by the textile companies, jobs now threatened by even-more-favorable access granted to Mexico pursuant to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Mexican tariff advantage has increased with the huge drop in the value of the Mexican peso since early 1995. The Dominican government has formally requested the Clinton Administration and the Congress to grant it parity with Mexico in order to preserve its textile export industry. In September, the Ways and Means Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives dropped the NAFTA parity bill from the 1996 budget for reasons having nothing to do with human rights concerns. The issue appears to be stalled until after the United States’ presidential election in 1996.

The European Community (EC) is now the destination of almost a quarter of all Domini- can exports. The EC markets promise to expand once the Dominican Republic and Haiti fully gain access to the preferential trade terms and development funds offered through the Lomé Convention. The Dominican Republic has been attempting to gain full member status since the 1980s; its admission, however, is now tied to Haiti (the states must be admitted together) and progress in the development of democracy in Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince. The EC, already active with development assistance to Haiti, can therefore play a role in encouraging the Dominican Republic and Haiti to jointly address migration and human rights issues within the context of the EC’s development grants and technical assistance. This role is mandated by the text of the Lomé Convention itself — member states pledge to uphold the provisions of the principal international human rights instruments, to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to uphold workers’ rights, especially in the equal treatment of foreign and national workers.

A combination of pressure and support from these regional and international entities is critical to the establishment of a dialogue on refugee and immigration policy between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, the United States and other Caribbean countries affected by the Haitian diaspora. At stake is the ability of tens of thousands of Haitian men, women and children to live lives free from persecution and critical poverty and the prospects for Haiti as a democratic state. Haiti’s recovery will depend upon its ability to compete in the international marketplace. Economic recovery will therefore mean challenging its Caribbean neighbors in the quest for a fair share of international capital, technology, markets and consumer and tourism dollars. Competitive challenges generate political friction and can lead to retaliatory expulsions of expatriate Haitian populations, always a threat to Haitian political, as well as economic, stability. The way beyond this stability dilemma lies in interlocking regional agreements governing immigration, refugee, trade and economic development. And within this net of mutual interests, guarantees for protection of the human rights of Haitian populations in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean states.

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