Three weeks ago, the Dominican Republic’s Consul General of New York stripped Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz of his Order of Merit, awarded to him in 2009, over claims that he is “anti-Dominican”. Diaz immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child in 1974, and has spent most of his life in the U.S. Despite this, much of his work incorporates his Dominican identity, especially his non-literary pursuits. Diaz has been an advocate for Dominicans and Dominican-Americans as an active member of community organizations and supporter of immigration reform in the U.S. So why has the Dominican Republic rejected its most respected representative?
The Dominican Republic’s recent turnabout with Diaz is partially the result of an op-ed piece he co-wrote with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat. The piece specifically criticizes the Dominican government’s deportation of Haitian-Dominicans. Though the article was published in the New York Times in 1999, it came back into the spotlight this summer when Diaz and Danticat met with U.S. Members of Congress to craft a resolution condemning the Dominican government’s deportation policy. The Dominican Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2013 stating that people born between 1929 and 2010 to non-citizen parents are ineligible for Dominican citizenship, a decision that has retroactively stripped Dominican-born Haitians of their citizenship and created a barrier to naturalization for long-time residents with Haitian ancestry. Although many Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic at the moment immigrated in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, even more are generational Dominicans, with parents or grandparents having emigrated from the other side of Hispaniola in search of better opportunities. From the 1920s until the 1980s, the Dominican Republic was grateful for the cheap labor provided by Haitians on American-owned farm. Even in 2011 the country continued to help Haitians fleeing an impoverished and unstable country. Recently, however, according to locals, the influx of Haitian immigrants has led to an increase in crime and a stark depletion of resources in a country with an already struggling economy.
The 230-mile long border separating Haiti and the Dominican Republic has had a long history of malleability, with thousands of Haitians and Dominicans living at or near the borderlands for decades. But the history of this population exchange, and the century-long tensions between Haitians and Dominicans, paints a picture that could explain how a country could make over 200,000 of its citizens stateless and condemn a renowned author-activist fighting against the decision. Haiti and the Dominican Republic unequally share the island of Hispaniola, a colonial division by France and Spain that allocated three-eighth of the island to Haiti and the remainder to the Dominican Republic. This division of land, along with post-independence global trade embargos on Haiti, has been a main contributing factor to the drastic difference in the two countries’ economies. Haiti is primarily dry, prone to droughts, and suffers from catastrophic deforestation while the Dominican Republic has fertile valleys, forests, and an abundance of natural resources which make it a prime exporter of coffee, sugar, and cocoa. The Dominican Republic’s economy is also relatively diversified as manufacturing, mining, textiles, and agriculture contribute to $10.1 billion in exports per year with a GDP per capita hovering around $13,000. Meanwhile, though Haiti grows some sugarcane and rice, the textile industry employs the majority of Haiti’s workforce and exports per year only contribute $900 million to the economy, about 11% of the Dominican Republic’s gains from exports. The GDP per capita reflects this smaller struggling economy, averaging a mere $1,800.
Economic opportunity has always been a major reason for Haitian immigration to the Dominican Republic, but it likely isn’t the only reason for Haitian expulsion. The Dominican economy has enjoyed a steady 7% GDP growth rate in the last couple of years, placing it in the top 50 countries for economic growth, as well as relatively low unemployment and inflation rates. However, the Haitian workers, citizens or otherwise, contributing to this growth, have a completely different culture, language, and, for the most part, skin-tone than their Dominican counterparts. Skin color plays a large role in Dominican society, as elsewhere in the world, and typically reflects class and level of education due to the marginalization of darker-skinned residents. Antihaitianismo, or anti-Haitian sentiments, became an important part of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo’s 30-year presidency. Under Trujillo, Dominican forces allegedly murdered between 500 and 30,000 Haitian-Dominicans living at the borderlands in a massacre called El Corte. Reasons for the massacre range from a need for border security to protecting the Dominican economy from imported, untaxed Haitian goods.
Recently, Dominicans without Haitian ancestry have been swept up in the raids as well. Locals attribute this to the police specifically targeting dark-skinned individuals for deportation. Those who are arrested and can prove Dominican citizenship are often denied access to their papers by guards threatening to kill them if they return to their houses. For those who do have access to their documents, the wait times for official registration with the government are too long to bear. For many, the only option now is to return to a country they have no memory of or connection to and start over again.
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Alcindor, Yamiche. “Deportees from Dominican Republic Land on Haiti Border.” USA Today, 23 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
“CIA Factbook: Haiti.” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
“CIA Factbook: Dominican Republic” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
Chow, Andrew. “Junot Díaz Criticized by Dominican Republic Consul.” New York Times. 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
Granitz, Peter. “Tensions Rise At Border As Dominican Republic Begins Deporting Haitians.” NPR. NPR, 31 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
Nolan, Rachel. “Displaced in the D.R.” Harpers Magazine. 1 May 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
”Thousands of Haitians Fleeing Dominican Republic Stuck in Camps.” The Guardian, 5 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
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