The Economist’s Americas section (7 December 2013) recently published this article on the recent tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The article concludes that if President Danilo Medina “wants to lessen the outrage, he could push for the naturalisation law to grant immediate citizenship to those affected by the [Dominican Constitutional Court] ruling.”
The last time the Dominican Republic committed an atrocity against residents of Haitian descent, the rest of the world paid little heed. In 1937 Rafael Trujillo, a brutal dictator, ordered troops to clear the country’s borderlands of Haitians whom he said were thieves. In five days thousands of people were killed. Haiti’s government issued only a mild protest.
Such violence is fortunately a thing of the past. But tensions between the two countries have increased after what the Dominican Republic’s critics claim is a legal atrocity. In September its Constitutional Court ruled that the current policy, under which those born in the country are only granted citizenship if at least one of their parents was a legal resident, should apply retroactively to people born before it was implemented from 2004 onwards. According to human-rights groups, that leaves over 200,000 people of Haitian descent stateless. This time, Haiti and its allies are making more of a fuss.
The government argues that the ruling clarifies an ambiguous situation. On November 29th the president, Danilo Medina, decreed that all undocumented foreigners have 18 months, during which they cannot be deported, to register with the authorities. Applicants who show “unquestionable” ties to the country, such as studying or working there, speaking Spanish, having native relatives and owning property, will be eligible for residency. The government also plans to introduce a naturalisation law, which it says will offer a quick path to citizenship for these people.
The government insists that the decision’s reach has been exaggerated. Its audit of the birth register found 24,392 people whose citizenship is now invalid. Campaigners question the reliability of this count, conducted in just eight days. They claim that ten times as many people could be affected, and that thousands of those affected do not have birth certificates and are thus excluded from the figure.
The court decision has poisoned Haitian-Dominican relations. In a speech Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, quoting a Dominican journalist, complained of “civil genocide”. That prompted Dominican officials to cancel a meeting with their Haitian counterparts to discuss the issue. Last month residents of Neiba, a Dominican town near the border, blamed Haitians for a burglary that left two people dead; they killed a Haitian man in retaliation. In the resulting unrest police hustled hundreds of Haitians across the border.
The Dominican Republic can no longer count on countries farther afield to look the other way. The United States has trodden carefully so far, encouraging the government to protect human rights while accepting the court’s decision. But other Caribbean countries—whose mostly black populations see Haitian-descended Dominicans as victims of racism—have pulled no punches.
Caricom, a club of countries that the Dominican Republic has tried to join since 2005, last month suspended its membership application. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, demanded that it be ejected from Cariforum, which represents the region in talks with the European Union, and from Petrocaribe, Venezuela’s subsidised-oil programme. If Mr Medina wants to lessen the outrage, he could push for the naturalisation law to grant immediate citizenship to those affected by the ruling.
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