Filed under: Caribbean
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25 June 2009
Source: Haiti Libre
Recent incidents involving Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic should alert even the most jaded observers that an already very serious human rights problem is getting worse.
A confluence of factors – a rapid succession of executions in the last few months, arrogance and defiance from Dominican government officials, institutions and citizenry vis-a-vis the plight of Haitian workers, the shameful indifference of the Haitian government, and the relatively superior economic and military position of the Dominican Republic – has created a pre-genocidal atmosphere that raises the specter of the 1937 mass murder of tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants.
Sonia Pierre, the director of the Movement of Haitian-Dominican Women (MUDHA), an association to defend the rights of Haitian-ancestry Dominicans, was quick to advise us during an interview on WBAI’s “Haiti: the Struggle Continues” not to view the sensational May 2 beheading of Carlos Nérilus as a unique event since executions of Haitians are far from rare occurrences. Shortly after that Jim-Crow-like lynching, we heard about beatings, chases and the torching of buildings that house Haitians after one of them was accused of attempting to rape a 15-year-old Dominican girl.
What is alarming about these events is the rapidity, spontaneity, anger and brutality with which Dominican mobs react to rumored misdeeds of Haitians. This points to a deep well of prejudice and hatred, fed by a negative, stereotyped view of Haitians. It also denotes the distorted self-image and misconceptions some Dominicans have about their cultural and racial differences with their island brothers. Some of these opinions are typical anti-immigrant resentments: Haitians are stealing jobs, depressing the price of labor, etc.. Other sentiments, evoking fears of the proverbial “barbarians at the gates” and of Haitians changing the DR’s supposedly European and Christian culture, stem from century-old events and a misunderstood history. They are emotional and even visceral – and therefore more explosive and dangerous. Haitians are considered as the “enemy” who deserve their lot and who should be punished whenever Dominicans deem it appropriate.
Dominican government pronouncements feed this xenophobia. They not only deny any mistreatment of Haitians but accuse Haitians of fomenting violence. Haitians, they say, should then be thankful that Dominicans, more than any other nation, give them aid and succor, a Dominican version of Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden.”
In 2005, the Dominican government reacted rabidly to the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that children born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic should be given full citizenship rights as Dominican law prescribes. It claimed that there was an international conspiracy against the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Haitian Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis’ mild protest over Nérilus’ decapitation received vigorous rebukes from both President Leonel Fernandez and the archbishop — the DR’s putative moral leaders. The Dominican police and judicial authorities are not only conspicuously silent but also take part in massive abuse and repression.
One of the reactions to Pierre-Louis’ whiny protest was that she should have toed the line set by President René Préval, who refused to denounce the beheading and stated that the case should be left to the Dominican authorities. There could be no better signal to Dominicans that they can do as they please with Haitians.
The Haitian embassy and consulate have not defended the rights of aggrieved Haitian workers nor given them even minimal assistance. Haitian Ambassador Fritz Cineas, a fixture of the Duvalier dictatorships, gained greater notoriety last year by stating that Haitians are “well-treated” in the Dominican Republic. This comment came just as international human rights organizations were protesting against the slavery-like conditions that prevail in the bateys (sugarcane plantations). The Haitian government has yet to represent its people with the dignity and respect our history dictates.
The Nérilus incident struck a chord in Haiti, where there were protest marches and rallies, a welcome change from the usual resignation or apathy. Many petit-bourgeois Haitians ignore the plight of Haitian sugarcane cutters, who come from either the poor peasantry or the slums. In the feudal caste system in Haiti, such working-class people are considered disposable sub-humans. Some well-to-do Haitians are proud to trumpet how often they go on vacation in the Dominican Republic and spend their money, oblivious to the abject situation of our compatriots and enthralled by the great “development” of our neighbor. Haiti’s moneyed class feels no remorse in taking profits reaped in Haiti and investing them in the DR, claiming that the situation is too unstable at home – an instability and precariousness many of them helped create.
The lopsided exchanges between the two countries cannot be blamed solely on frivolous and unpatriotic Haitians. It stems from an economic imbalance between the two nations. To a great extent, our elites have failed to coordinate their strengths to ensure that Haiti made the advances it needed to compete. Also foreign powers, especially the US, have invested much more to our east, for many reasons that we might explore in another exposé. When a middle-class citizen sends his children to the other side of the border, it is not necessarily for lack of nationalism. To a point, his decision is dictated by the poverty of our school system and by his economic incapacity to send his children to a more advanced society.
Reports coming from a recent meeting between the businessmen from both sides of the “isle” have shown that the yearly volume of transactions reaches about US$600 million, with Haiti getting about $50 million. It increasingly seems that the imbalance is encouraged, if not designed. The Haitian economy is being made dependent on the Dominican by our elite’s lack of patriotism and because of transnational traders’ heavy investments and property rights in our neighbors’ economy. Most free trade zones – i.e. tax-free sweatshop havens – are set up in the Dominican Republic.
In a particularly brazen statement, Haiti’s Tourism Minister Patrick Delatour recently proclaimed that the Citadel (Laferri re) is the heritage of the whole Caribbean and that Haitians should not be bothered that Dominicans are using it as a tourist attraction, as if it belonged to them.
Delatour’s comment comes not only from a lack of patriotism and historical understanding. Haiti’s political and economic elites kowtow to the Dominicans because, through them, they can better prostrate themselves before the ultimate master, the US. How then can we expect the Haitian elite to defend their compatriots in the bateys? They do not feel threatened. The racists are only going after one type of Haitian so far…
To paraphrase the pastor who spoke of German complacency as the Nazi holocaust unfolded: First, they came for the sugar cane cutters, I did not see any danger; then they came for the construction and domestic workers; I did nothing because they did not look like me, too black , too poor. Then, they came for the students…
The preconditions for a mass murder of Haitians are being set in place in the Dominican Republic. Century-old prejudices and hatred are being stoked by the press and some officials. The Haitian government is in denial and practices the politics of appeasement. The bourgeoisies are in cahoots. The international powers are making profits they do not want to lose by upsetting the source of cheap labor and the subservient political regimes. We, Haitian patriots, and progressives of both nations, are the only ones willing and able to stop a process that could culminate in a repeat of the island’s most horrific chapters, a human disaster with unpredictable consequences. Beware!
AN OPEN LETTER TO BAN KI-MOON
June 16, 2009
Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
New York, NY
We, a group of concerned Haitians, are very disturbed by the appointment of William Jefferson Clinton as the Special U.N. Envoy to Haiti. We, like most Haitians, want UN occupation troops to leave Haiti immediately. Haiti has been a sovereign nation for 205 years and needs no supervision. We would like to obtain from you a clear statement of the mission former President Clinton is expected to accomplish in Haiti as United Nations Emissary. Is Mr. Clinton going to use his leadership and charm to end Haiti’s occupation or to reinforce it?
Mr. Clinton’s record as president of the United States of America is not auspicious. The condition of people of African ancestry in his country did not see a net improvement. The jobs he said he created required a person to hold at least two to make ends meet. He considers one of his accomplishments the return of President Aristide, who was elected with a majority never attained by a U.S. president yet overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup. However, Aristide was returned with an army of occupation and an imposed agenda which would never have allowed him to take his people out of poverty.
Mr. Clinton has made it known that his foundation is already in Haiti serving in the areas of health care (AIDS), environment and economic development. He prides himself on having brought garment factories to Haiti. But where is the actual benefit to the country? Should we expect Mr. Clinton to provide Haiti with more of these jobs with miserly salaries that have never, up to now, lifted any citizens of any country out of poverty?
Haiti might be the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere but it is not the most violence-ridden. Nevertheless, Haiti is occupied by a U.N. force which is not able to stop drug trafficking, murders, rapes, kidnappings, or even political persecution.
Mr. William J. Clinton also seems to think that he is the one “suited” to tell the Haitian people who shall be their leaders. We would like to remind him that he is designated to be the emissary to a nation, not its Prime Minister!
If the United Nations and its controllers were serious about improving the condition of Haiti, the country would be provided with electricity in less than a year. Tools would be provided to the peasants who definitely can and want to cultivate their land and produce enough food to feed the entire country. Haiti has mineral resources which can and should benefit the country, not enrich foreign multinationals. These areas can create meaningful and enduring jobs for the citizens of Haiti. Will Mr. Clinton tackle these issues?
Mr. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we would like to have your answer to these very important questions in a public declaration.
for Konbit Ayisyen pou Kore Lit la ann Ayiti (KAKOLA)
(Haitian Coalition to Support the Struggle in Haiti).
for International Support Haiti Network (ISHN)
ALINA SIXTO, PIERRE FLORESTAL, JEAN BERTRAND LAURENT & MARLENE JEAN-NOEL
for the Lavalas Family – New York Chapter.