Hundreds of thousands of black people are facing expulsion from the Dominican Republic, after new rules allowing the state to strip Dominican citizenship from ‘Haitians’.
The measures notionally target undocumented migrants from neighbouring Haiti. However, the definition of ‘Haitian’ also includes Dominican-born black citizens who have never set foot in Haiti, who are being stripped of citizenship and made stateless under a 2013 court ruling.
The Dominican state has been demanding all undocumented residents register to avoid deportation. Many births in rural areas are not properly registered, especially among minority and migrant communities. Up to half a million people are thought to lack the required documents.
According to the country’s Foreign Minister Andrés Navarro, registration is intended to create a database of “biometric information” on Dominican blacks to ensure no “errors” are made. But a climate of intimidation has deterred some from even attempting to register.
A video posted on Facebook in April shows crowd wielding axes, baseball bats, and machetes evicting black people from their homes, binding their hands, cutting off dreadlocks, and smashing up the inside of houses. And of 250,000 Dominicans who have attempted to register, just 300 had been accepted as the deadline loomed.
Meanwhile, the Dominican military has been establishing concentration camps – being referred to as ‘centros de acogida’ (shelters) - for those forcibly removed, pending deportation.
The Dominican Republic has long defined its national identity in opposition to Haitian blackness. In 1822, following the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) – a successful slave insurrection which coincided with and influenced the more famous French Revolution – Haitian forces occupied the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, unifying the island of Hispaniola under black rule.
In 1844, the Dominican Republic was formed, asserting a White-Spanish national identity against the Black-French Haitian one. Independence was followed by another period of Spanish colonial rule, which ended in 1865. But the Dominican Republic still celebrates 1844 as its date of national independence, asserting an affinity with those of European descent, and an hostility to those of African descent.
This hostility reached a genocidal intensity under the military regime of Rafael Trujillo in the 1930s. In October 1937, the Dominican military massacred around 20,000 blacks, reportedly using pronunciation of the Spanish trilled-r in perejil (parsley) to decide who lived or died.
The event became known as the Parsley Massacre. Openly fascist, Trujillo’s regime nonetheless accepted European Jews and Spanish exiles fleeing Hitler and Franco, as part of a policy of blanqueamiento or whitening, which accompanied the massacres of black ‘Haitians’.
Post-Trujillo school textbooks maintained this theme, portraying darker-skinned people in lower status roles, and promoting an ideal of mixed-families raising lighter-skinned children. One Dominican Republic census found anywhere between 10 and 90% of the population could be considered Afro-Latin-American.
The wide range of the statistic reflects many Dominicans self-identifying as indio (indian, indigenous) as opposed to black. This is despite all-but 60,000 of the 3 million-strong indigenous Taino population being wiped out in the initial colonisation and enslavement of Hispaniola in the early 16th century. The labour of the indigenous population was replaced with African slaves.
The same census also allowed for allowed for education, wealth and fame to be considered as 'whitening' factors. As a commentator at Africa is a Country notes, "It should be noted that there have always been Haitian elites well integrated in the socio-economy of the DR who remain unscathed by the persecution of their poorer compatriots."
Haitian migrants have long provided a layer of cheap and exploitable labour for Dominican plantation and construction bosses. In some cases, employers would call the immigration police just before payday, effectively getting free labour from the descendants of slaves.
With the decline of the Dominican sugar cane industry, much of the 'Haitian' population has become surplus to requirements. As well as fleeing poverty, recent migration has also been boosted by the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake of 2010, and the compounding effects of Hurricanes Tomas (2010) and Isaac (2012).
Since then, anti-Haitian feeling has escalated, incited by radio speakers and journalists referring to them as "monkeys" who "invade" public hospitals, schools, and universities. Some events have shown the very dark side of this situation. One Haitian man was hanged in Santiago, and a racist group in the town of Moca banned a group of Haitians after the killing of a Dominican man, allegedly by a Haitian.
Many thanks to libcom users Rogmen, Evie, and Automnia, whose research and comments contributed significantly to this article.