How Big Business Fuels Haitian-Dominican Tensions
With hundreds of descendants of Haitian migrants facing deportation, Haitian Lawyer Network’s President Ezili Danto explains how Haitian and Dominican oligarchs exploit Haitian laborers and fuel xenophobia
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
In the Dominican Republic hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent may be deported any day now. That’s because a 2013 ruling by the DR’s constitutional court stripped the citizenship rights of people born to Haitian parents after 1929. It’s caused thousands to race to Dominican government buildings in an attempt to register for legal status. Government officials expect to grant either work visas or permanent residency to about 200,000 people despite estimate showing more than half a million people of Haitian descent live in the DR.
This is just another twist in the tale of two countries that share one island, Haiti to the east, the DR to the west. This story goes back hundreds of years, but today we wanted to focus on the modern-day policies that have created tensions between Dominicans and Haitians. Tensions that have gotten so high at times that Haitians have been forced out of their homes and terrorized by mobs in border communities like this one. So we want to dig deeper and ask who benefits from these immigration policies that will leave hundreds of thousands of people stateless.
Now joining us to get into these deeper issues is our guest Ezili Danto. She is the president of the Haitian Lawyers’ Leadership Network and the founder of Free Haiti Movement.
Thank you so much for joining us.
EZILI DANTO, PRESIDENT, HAITIAN LAWYERS LEADERSHIP NETWORK: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So Ezili, many in the mainstream media attribute this deportation, mass deportation fiasco, simply on cultural or racial tensions between the two sides. But where does policy fit into this narrative? Can you speak to what specific policies have created conditions that we’re seeing today?
DANTO: The oligarchy in Haiti works with the oligarchy in the Dominican Republic. In Haiti that oligarchy is made up of a lot of billionaires, folks like Bigio and Acra and Mev. In Haiti we call them the mercenary families. They are the subcontractors for empire. In the Dominican Republic they also have an oligarchy. That oligarchy also works for, for instance I’ll give you an example of who benefits from this denationalization.
At the moment in the Dominican Republic there’s a lot of tension going on with regards to Barrick Gold that’s mining big mountains in the Dominican Republic. That is, destroying the environment. Many, many people in the Dominican Republic that live in those areas of mining have shown that in their blood they’ve got cyanide, sulfur, and lead. Who benefits while all of us are looking at this amazing, stunning, racist ruling of 2013? If Barrick Gold wants people off of particular land, and they do, if those people happen to be immigrants who were Haitian children, they can just deport them to Haiti.
So there’s a lot of people that are benefiting. And so both Haiti and the Dominican Republic are today ruled by puppets that service the corporate interest more so than they service the domestic interests of each of those countries.
DESVARIEUX: Ezili, this story that you’ve sort of laid out, this narrative, it sounds a bit similar to the immigration battle that we have here in the United States. And I say that because there is a growing movement here in the United States and in the Dominican Republic of people saying that what we’re seeing of these immigrants of Haitian descent coming in and keeping wages down for Dominicans. What do you make of that argument, that having laborers of Haitian descent in the country does nothing to help the living standards for Dominicans, since their [present] ensures that agribusiness can profit from their low-wage labor?
DANTO: I think there’s some truth to that. I don’t think–if for instance the Dominicans actually wanted to do menial jobs then yeah, the Haitians are taking over the menial jobs. Jobs that no one wants to do. I think it’s 90 percent of the agricultural workers in the Dominican Republic are migrants, Haitian migrants. I think that a great percentage of the construction workers in the Dominican Republic are Haitians, migrants, folks that have come in.
And they’re coming in because corporations are bringing them in. They’re not–initially the Haitians that went to the Dominican Republic went during the time of, in, en masse. They went during the time of the U.S. occupation of both of those countries. And during the U.S. occupation of both of those countries, which was 1915-1934 for Haiti and 1916-1926 for the Dominican Republic, the United States was running both of those countries. And because Haitians would not be sharecroppers in Haiti they transported them to the Dominican Republic in what’s called the bateyes.
It is the descendants of those Haitians who went by contract between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, government contract, who are now being told that they came in illegally. At that time they came in legally. We’re talking about the same thing now. We have a lot of Haitians who are legally working in the Dominican Republic as domestics, as construction workers, and as agricultural workers. I think it was $2 billion in trade that goes to Haiti, that go from the Dominican Republic, and the workers are Haitians. But they’re not being paid.
Dominicans don’t want those jobs. Dominicans want to–well, what’s been happening is that Dominicans, because there’s no real work for them, just like there’s no real–in the other colonized countries of the Caribbean, just like there’s no real work for folks in Jamaica, Bahamas. They have to emigrate, because the only real work that’s left for the population is to work at the tourist industries. And that has led a whole different sort of trade in terms of prostitution in the Dominican Republic that I’m sure that the Dominicans are not proud of, or don’t want. They’re not going to say, we want to give those to Haitians.
So essentially for the Dominican Republic, masses. They are a mass of people who are poor. The assets of their resources–and there is tremendous resource in the Dominican Republic in terms of natural resources, just like there’s tremendous resources in Haiti. We have massive oil, we have massive gold. We have copper, iridium. All of those things in Haiti, for instance, are being carted out behind this UN occupation. But in the Dominican Republic when the United States left their occupation in 1926 they were still, for instance in the Dominican Republic, collecting revenues. Custom receipts. Until like, 1967.
So Dominican Republic has been occupied and has had to pay fiefdom to the ruling American power. And they use, of course, their oligarchs. I’ll give you one example. There was a big scandal, not recently, but during the last five years, during Michel Martelly, who’s the president of Haiti. About how his campaign, I think it was like, $2.5 million kickback from a senator in the Dominican Republic, Felix Bautista who, the corruption there. Who got lots of contracts to rebuild Haiti. No-bid contracts.
So there is a convergence of the oligarchy on the Haitian side with the oligarchy of the Dominican side. And you have these issues of workers. Because what happens if, for instance, people working for–Barrick Gold, for instance, claims that it has 9,000 workers. If those workers happen to be without paperwork, and let’s say no one wants to pay them, they don’t have to.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. Yeah. So this sounds like to me that these policies aren’t working for everyday Haitians, and it clearly isn’t working for everyday Dominicans. So what do you suggest? Can you give us some specific examples of policies that you think would be in the interest of both everyday people, either if they’re Haitian or Dominican?
DANTO: First of all, policy, repeal the 2013 law. Reinstate the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent who had their paperwork. Reinstate that. And find a particular way–we believe of course every nation has the right to control their borders. And to control illegal immigration. And if–and control that, that’s fine. But you cannot take out the rights of Haitians going back till 1929 and say that that’s somehow an immigration policy.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Ezili, thank you so much for joining us.
DANTO: Thank you very much.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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