The Dominican Republic’s mass Haitian deportation reflects its racist history


No introduction needed here—the title says it all. Jason Nichols comments in The Guardian on the sad state of affairs in the Dominican Republic:

My children were born in the United States. But since they have a Dominican-born grandfather, they are eligible for citizenship in the Dominican Republic once they turn 18. But as the country gears up to deport some 200,000 undocumented residents of Haitian descent, children who actually live and have roots there may be loaded onto buses and taken from the only home they’ve ever known.

People who support the ruling say that it has been unfair that the Dominican Republic, a poor country in its own right, has had to constantly come to the aid of Haiti and its people. Others view it as an ethnic cleansing similar to the Parsley Massacre, when Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo oversaw the killing of some 20,000 Haitians in the late 1930s. (It’s called that because Trujillo reportedly had troops kill people who didn’t pronounce “perejil” with a Spanish inflection.)

Trujillo painted Dominicans as proud but modest campesinos – the hybrid of Spanish conquistadores and native Tainos – and Haitians as superstitious, backward, physically grotesque Africans. Public education in the Dominican Republic for decades under Trujillo was nationalistic and hateful toward Haiti and its people.

But Trujillo himself had a grandmother of Haitian descent, as had generations of both Dominican elites and working people. Ulises Heureaux, president of the Dominican Republic in the 1880s, was partly of Haitian descent. Popular 20th-century presidential candidate Jose Pena Gomez was adopted into a Dominican family and thought to have had Haitian birth parents who fled Trujillo’s death squads. Haitians and Dominicans come in a myriad of shades, and few of either nationality would get a second look if they were manning the grill at an African American family reunion.

Yet anti-haitianismo has always been a political tool for scapegoating social problems. Virtually no Dominican wants to return to the Trujillo era, but his legacy endures, and the current situation cannot be taken out of context of a history of racial animosity that some scholars contend dates back to the colonial period before Juan Pablo Duarte and the Trinitaria founded the republic in 1844.

Current president Danilo Medina, who is overseeing the purge along with Immigration Director Rueben Paulino Sem, passionately denied that his country is racist, citing the fact that 80% of Dominicans are black or mulattos and that they are only deporting people without papers. He states that the Dominican Republic provides public education and healthcare to Haitian nationals.

With all due respect to the president, this argument is one of convenience. Medina is correct that it is an oversimplification to say that the decision of the Dominican high court is simply based on race. But race, which is constructed very differently in the Dominican Republic, certainly plays a role based on testimonies of people of Haitian descent who feel racism is a major reason they are being targeted. In addition, the fact that other nations like Turks and Caicos, Brazil and the Bahamas also have enacted similar laws is no excuse.

Not only, then, is the Dominican Republic taking racist action – even if that isn’t the government’s intention – it is doing so in a way liable to open the flood gates to corruption, bribery and extortion. Dominican officials and newspapers have shown long lines filled with Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent to show that the government is working to get people set up with legal residency. However, what these photos present is a nation that is ill-equipped to handle registering hundreds of thousands of people. [. . .]

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