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What’s going on in the Dominican Republic?

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A summary of and thoughts on the Dominican Republic racial crisis

In the last few days, news has slowly started to emerge about a nearing humanitarian crisis in the Dominican Republic. Local newspapers, blogging platforms and other social media platforms such as Twitter have started talking about and discussing accounts of social and ethnic cleansing in the country. But the mainstream media has stayed practically silent on the subject. So what is going on and why is no one saying anything?

While plenty of you have probably heard of the Dominican Republic, it’s not really a country that you associate a lot with. (Although unlike me, you probably had an idea of its geographic location before you started looking into it.) Even less of you have probably heard of the plan to strip more than a quarter of a million people of their citizenship.

So let’s get to it, this is what’s going on: In 2013 a ruling by the constitutional court in the Dominican Republic decided that Dominicans born after 1929 to parents not of Dominican ancestry are to have their citizenship revoked. This ruling applies especially to people of Haitian descent. People, whose lineage cannot be traced back to 1929, also face deportation. The very specific and not at all racist criteria being used by the government to decide who faces deportation is “dark skinned Dominicans with Haitian facial features”, according to ryot.org. The deadline to prove that you have the necessary documentation not to be deported was reached two days ago. This means that more than 25 000 people, who identify as citizens of the Dominican Republic are to be made stateless.

Not only is this a gross human rights violation (you can’t just force people out of their own country!), but another big problem is the fact that while many Dominicans do have Haitian ancestry, due to being descended from previous Haitian slaves, they have no actual connection to Haiti itself. Many of them have never been to Haiti, don’t speak the language or are familiar with the country’s traditions. The Dominican Republic is effectively stranding a quarter of a million people in a foreign country.

To understand why people of Haitian ancestry are being targeted so brutally, we need to look at the relations between the two countries. Although the two countries are neighbours, the last 300 hundred years have been fraught with tension. These came to a head in 1882, when Haitian troops invaded the Dominican Republic in order to end slavery in the country. This led to 22 years of military occupation and a brutal regime, which treated many Dominicans as second class citizens. While it did end slavery, it also created deep cultural distinctions in language, race, religion, traditions as well as making relations between the two countries even worse. Other historic events, such as the Dominican War of Independence and the Parsley Massacre have only made things worse.
Another important factor is that racism is not just a phenomenon that is practiced (predominantly) by white people. Social class in the Dominican Republic tends to be heavily influenced by race, with darker skin generally being associated with lower class. And, while it will never be officially confirmed, racism also seems to be the leading factor for the sudden deportation of Dominicans.

The government of course, strenuously denies this. While they cannot deny the law passed by the constitutional court, they maintain that they have established a legislation process for Dominican Haitians wising to remain in the country. However, this system has been described by the affected Dominican public to be practically impossible, since offices are overcrowded and extremely understaffed. Paperwork is required to complete the regularization of citizenship, with the government conveniently forgetting about the many Dominicans born in rural areas or delivered by midwives instead of in hospital, thus lacking the necessary birth certificates. But even some of those who have the required paperwork have been waiting for over eight months and have still not received confirmation that their paperwork has been processed.

The steps the Dominican Republic has taken have been described as civil genocide, and the terrifying thing about it is that the move is completely backed by the law. This misuse of legality for the purpose of exercising power over a minority is unfortunately not a rare occurrence, but it still seems practically unthinkable in 2015. Even more astounding is the fact that international organisations such as the UN or Human Rights Watch (i.e. organisations created especially for the purpose to stop things like this from happening), have stayed almost silent on the subject. The Secretary General of the UN has issued a brief statement, but the HRW has said nothing. While the USA has condemned the process since it goes against the UN charter, no further action has been taken. This begs the question, why do we have organizations such as the UN or HRW if they aren’t prepared to step in and stop things like this from happening?
This trend of simply sitting back and watching ethnic cleansing as it happens seems to be mirrored in mainstream media. The BBC has not run a single article about it, and the New York Times (along with other US media) has only started talking about the issue two days after the deportation deadline.

This is why I encourage all of you to inform yourself on what’s going on. Sadly, history has shown us that ignoring events like this is common (let’s do a quick count: The Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, Ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War, the list goes on and on) and it never leads to anything good. So spread the word, spread awareness and speak out.

Laura Hermannova

Sources:

http://www.democracynow.org/2015/6/17/the_dominican_republics_ethnic_purging_edwidge, downloaded 19th June, 2015

http://www.ryot.org/5-things-know-cleaning-haitians-dominican-republic/935183, downloaded 19th June, 2015

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/14/1393198/-Dominican-Republic-to-be-Socially-Cleaned-in-two-days#, downloaded 19th June, 2015

http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/seven-easy-steps-ethnic-cleansing-dominican-republic, downloaded 19th June, 2015

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