Newly Stateless Flee Their Homes in the Dominican Republic

By: Helena Ball - Jul 1, 2015, 11:27 am
Undocumented migrants and natives of the Dominican Republic, fearing legal persecution, are "self-deporting" to Haiti. (<a href=";set=pb.1118343445.-2207520000.1435701103.&amp;type=3&amp;theater" target="_blank">Etant Dupain</a>)
Undocumented migrants and natives of the Dominican Republic, fearing legal persecution, are “self-deporting” to Haiti. (Etant Dupain)

The Dominican Republic’s Department of Migration announced on Tuesday, June 30, that more than 25,000 people had “voluntarily returned to their country of origin” since June 18, the deadline for its new nationalization plan.

On September 2013, the country’s Constitutional Court affirmed the definition of citizenship as established in the 2010 constitution: the redefined term excludes descendants of migrant workers, even if they were born in the country. The ruling, applied retroactively for almost a century, impacted hundreds of thousands Dominicans of Haitian descent.

As a result of public outcry, the government then passed a special law that allows children of migrants with official identification to remain as citizens and those without documents to apply for a path to nationalization. In addition, the National Regularization Plan for Foreigners was created for those without any documentation to apply for legal status. However, an overwhelming number of applications, combined with procedural irregularities, have left many in stateless limbo.

Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti Brian Concannon told the PanAm Post most people should not be considered “self-deported.” He explained that they are voluntarily crossing the border only out of fear of violent expulsion by the police, and of being separated from all their possessions as the plan’s registration deadline expired.

“There have been a series of attacks within the Dominican Republic against people perceived to be Haitian, and a lot of people have just come to the decision that the risks of [staying] are greater than the negatives of going to Haiti,” Concannon said.

The Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs have also confirmed that more than 300,000 people registered for the regularization plan. Florida International University (FIU) law professor Ediberto Roman told the PanAm Post about his disagreement with the court’s retroactive decision, explaining that it stripped many of their citizenship and the ensuing laws now require them to provide proof of their status.

“Think about the logic of [the law],” he said. “Yesterday you were a citizen; this morning you wake up, and you are undocumented, and after that you have to register to establish that you are not here illegally.”

Former military prison used as processing center (Etant Dupain)
Former military prison used as a processing center. (Etant Dupain)

To process potential “repatriations” for those with an irregular immigration status, the Dominican government set up seven receiving centers across the border. Officials highlighted that final decisions will only take place on an individual basis without any “mass deportations.”

US Ambassador in the Dominican Republic James Brewster visited the centers earlier this month, and said he has no doubt that “when people arrive here they will be treated well.”

Nonetheless, suspicions arose following an event last week in Miami, where professor Roman made reference to alleged Haitian concentration camps in the Dominican Republic. He received hate mail and phone calls for his remarks, and later told the PanAm Post that it is was clearly a matter that needed to be “investigated further.”

“All I can say is that I made reference to the media reports of it, I haven’t visited any of the camps,” Roman said. “I can only refer to what I have read in various accounts concerning it, and there have been very strong reactions by officials, reporters, and individuals associated with the Dominican Republic.”

Last year, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) found the country’s nationalization law to be in violation of the American Convention of Human Rights. They also concluded that the government was guilty of depriving a group of Haitians of their freedom, following their expulsion from the country in the decade to 2000.

Rather than heeding to reform appeals, the Dominican government denied the accusations, declared the jurisdiction of the IACHR unconstitutional, and forged ahead with their immigration policy.

Writing on his personal blog yesterday, former Dominican President Leonel Fernández dismissed recent international and media criticism of the plan and set out to dissipate “myths.”

He argued that cases of legal limbo were avoided with the passing of the special law, that accusations of racial discrimination were unfounded, that mass repatriations would not occur, and that claims that the plan was set up to fail were untrue and only part of an international campaign to discredit the nation.

Irregularities in the regularization plans’ implementation, however, have led to a continued state of uncertainty.

The Jesuit Service to Migrants in Jimani (a border town and one of the main points of access to Haiti) denounced over the weekend that the government’s newly opened offices in the province lacked the necessary resources to help migrants. The organization’s dispatch stated that almost 200 people waited on Friday for assistance in Jimani, but none received it.

People waiting to be helped at regularization plan offices in Jimani (SJMJ)
People waiting to be assisted at regularization offices in Jimani. (SJMJ)

“In a maneuver to confuse and mislead national and international public opinion, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has asked the workers of this office … to open the offices, comply with a work schedule, but not assist anyone who comes by,” the dispatch stated, also mentioning irregularities in processing migrant’s documents in other centers around the country.

Speaking at a regional summit in Guatemala on Saturday, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina supported the country’s immigration reforms, emphasizing they were made within the boundaries of the constitution.

Medina also highlighted the United States’ own problems with illegal immigration, and said that in order to rectify the Dominican migration system, they too had to make reforms.

“We decided to take the initiative and give documentation to every person living in the country in accordance to [his or her] situation,” he said, adding that the guiding principles for reform were “strict respect for Dominican laws, and the protection of human rights.”

Yet FIU professor Roman posits that even though some individuals affected by the laws are migrants, the majority of those dealing with the repercussions of the retroactivity are not: “By making it an immigration issue they make it more palatable because other countries are also struggling with them.”

“This is not an immigration issue; it is a citizenship, constitutional law issue.”

Helena Ball Helena Ball

Helena is managing editor of the PanAm Post. She previously worked at Inc. Magazine, the Financial Times' fDi Magazine, and London-based business newspaper City A.M. Helena holds a master’s degree in business and economic reporting from New York University and a bachelor's degree in economic history from the London School of Economics. Follow her @helemball

Murder, Shootouts Overshadow Chavista Primaries

By: Thabata Molina - Jul 1, 2015, 9:52 am

EspañolAccording to the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the primary elections for the ruling party held on Sunday, June 28, were "an expression of the people's voice in defense of peace." However, election day was marked by several episodes of violence, among them the murder of 29-year-old Jean Carlos Añanguren, a councilman from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). A group of unidentified gunmen assaulted Añanguren in Caucagua, Miranda state, a region recognized as a "peace zone" by the government. The assailants set up an improvised checkpoint and attempted to block the truck carrying Añanguren and other officials on their way to deliver election materials in the municipality of Acevedo. The attackers opened fire on the vehicle, and Añanguren, who was in the passenger seat, sustained three gunshots. The councilman was initially taken to a public hospital and subsequently moved to a private health center, but died before he arrived, according to Venezuelan journalist Daniel Guillermo Colina. "Armed men allegedly intercepted the councilman as he drove to deliver election materials (Police version)." More than 14 hours after the polls opened, the National Electoral Council returned the preliminary results and confirmed 3.1 million people had participated in the election, according to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. Cabello said it was the first time people voted in all of Venezuela's 87 electoral circuits. On Tuesday, June 30, the elected candidates will take an oath ahead of their participation in the legislative elections scheduled for December 6. PSUV officials, however, remained silent about Añanguren's killing and the other violent incidents that took place in the days leading up to the primaries. Maduro and his allies made no mention of the incidient on Friday, June 16, when an armed group opened fire on a crowd of electoral officials, who were protecting voting materials at a school in southern Caracas. An army battalion stationed nearby engaged the criminals in gunfire and was able to take control of the situation without loss of life. The same day, Carlos Manuel Pulgar, the bodyguard of PSUV Congresswoman Blanca Eekhout, was killed in an attempted robbery. Eekhout lashed out on social media, blaming Pulgar's death on "bourgeoisie fascists." Same Old PSUV Figures The election itself turned up the usual names: Diosdado Cabello will look to renew his seat, as will William Ojeada, who has made the jump from the opposition party to the PSUV more than once in his career. Other candidates who will move on to the general election include Ernesto Villegas, Antonio "El Potro" Álvares, Jacqueline Frías, Elías Jaua, and congressman Freddy Bernal, whose bodyguard was also killed last Thursday. Among the new faces for the PSUV gunning for a National Assembly seat is Hugo "El Pollo" Carvajal in the state of Monagas. Carvajal served as Venezuela's National Military Intelligence director and in July 2014 was briefly arrested by the government of Aruba over alleged links to international drug traffickers. He now looks forward to becoming a member of the Venezuelan legislature. In total, three violent incidents were recorded over the weekend, in which armed groups attacked members of the Venezuelan National Guard and Army. On Saturday evening, a group of roughly 40 individuals armed with long-barreled guns and grenades tried to steal weapons from four National Guard officers posted at the Ángel Rivas Darwin school, a voting station in Caracas. An officer identified as José Briceño was wounded during the stand-off, according to local media reports. A third attack on the military took place in southern Caracas on Sunday morning, when another criminal group opened fire on National Guard troops at the Prudencio Díaz school, shutting down the voting center. In other incidents of violence, ruling party sympathizers reportedly harassed journalists of the independent Venezuelan outlets El Estímulo and Efecto Cocuyo while they reported from the polls. Translated by Adam Dubove.

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