Thursday, July 2, 2015

Haiti-Dominican Republic tensions still high

I've just been reading The Dominican Time Bomb, an article in the New York Times Magazine by Jonathan Katz. He's written a book about Haiti I've been meaning to read, and he's reported from the DR over the years, so when he writes about the crisis there, he's not coming from an uninformed background. 

We've been hearing lately about the threat of mass deportations. Under pressure, the Dominican government put it off. Certainly Haiti isn't ready to receive an influx. The thing is, all this isn't just about people sneaking over a border in hopes of finding work, though it includes them as well. This is about families of Haitian origin who have been in the country for a long, long time. Some of them have no recent ties whatsoever to Haiti. Basically, anyone born there who might have had an irregular situation in the family back to 1929 - yes, 1929 - has to prove their citizenship or be deported. If you look as though you might be Haitian, that's you. It might not be as complicated here because it isn't as hard to get a copy of a birth certificate. There, if you were born in a rural area, you might never have gotten one. In, say, the 1930's. Meanwhile, your grandchildren are thoroughly Dominican, but if you can't find yours or never were issued one, the whole family is just gone. 

New York Times article excerpt (Jonathan Katz)

This I had heard before. However, this article gives a lot of history, and I hadn't heard all of it. I knew tensions had been high for years, decades. I had no idea of the extent of it.  Look at this:

But the intensity of the hatred and violence long directed against Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in Medina’s country — and against anyone black enough to be confused for either — is staggering, like something out of Mississippi in the 1890s, or Europe before World War II. In February, a Haitian shoe­shiner was lynched and hanged from a tree in a public park in the nation’s second­largest city, Santiago, while a crowd across town burned Haitian flags and chanted: “Haitians out! If it’s war they want, it’s war they’ll get!” Other victims identified as haitianos have been lynched in the past year for alleged infractions such as robbing a convenience store and burning a Dominican flag. Dominican newspapers are filled with cartoons depicting people of Haitian descent as bug­eyed, big­lipped golliwogs babbling Spanish in heavy dialect. When I lived in Santo Domingo, there were bars that openly denied entry to blacks, a practice that apparently persists.

I hadn't pictured that. I knew there was no respect, no love lost there, but this? This is deeper and longer standing than I had imagined.  

As I type this, I am aware of our own current situation in the US. I don't just mean immigration, legal or illegal.  I'm talking about burning churches - over a half dozen in this past week or so since Charleston, and very little attention has been paid (versus, say, a week's coverage of a burned CVS in MD).  I did find a useful PBS article on several arsons among them. Some have definitely been arson, some not, some we don't know. But that's like a church a day, starting from the time of the Charleston massacre. We can't point fingers at the DR without also taking a hard look at our own culture and policies.

All of which doesn't change the fact that this is bad. We've stopped having demonstrations about that - Charleston interrupted those, as I recall, in great part, and certainly derailed my attention - but the problem hasn't gone away. It's gone into a short-term hiatus in terms of the mass deportation planning, but I gather it's still in the works. 

But although attention elsewhere has moved on, the threat to hundreds of thousands of people in the Dominican Republic has not gone away. Dominican officials are clear that mass deportations are still planned. Fearing violence, at least 17,000 people with ties to Haiti have chosen to flee the country on their own, provoking fears of yet another humanitarian crisis in Haiti. In a gleefully Orwellian turn, Dominican authorities responded by offering a “free bus service to take migrants to the border.” They say at least 1,000 people have been transported so far.

Presime told me he hasn’t gone to work since the deadline passed for fear of being separated from his daughter. “Immigration could come looking in the middle of the night and surprise us,” he told me by phone. “It is insanity.” For people like him, who have no family or support on the other side of the border, the Dominican Republic is the only home they can imagine. If the bomb does go off, there will be nowhere for them to go.

Please pray for the Dominicans who don't even know Haiti and will be sent there, and also for the Haitians who started a new life once and are coming back to a country in even more dire straits, in many cases. Pray for the Haitian government as they try to handle this and for the Dominican Government, that they not deport their own people. And pray for all of us, that our hearts may be changed through the mercy and grace of God into what they were intended to be.