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On whose side is the Haitian Government?

BY FRANDLEY JULIEN

Monday, January 20, 2014    

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In September 2013, the Dominican constitutional court, in a ruling which violates the very constitution to which the court owes its name, stripped away the citizenship of more than 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Since then, those who are familiar with this issue have more questions than answers on the way the Haitian Government has been handling it.

Granted, the people affected are Dominicans, and the Haitian Government has to walk a fine line to keep from immersing into Dominican affairs. However, the victims also happen to be part of Haiti's Diaspora, and, therefore, Haiti has every right to defend them. Moreover, should the compounded wave of forced and self-deportations intensify, Haiti's already quasi-inexistent social services will take a steep toll because of its neighbour's decision to rid itself of a great part of its black population. Finally, even if the people affected had nothing to do with Haiti, it would be immoral for Haiti's authorities to turn a blind eye on such a human tragedy happening next door.

These considerations, however, do not seem to inform the Haitian Government's behaviour in its dealings with its negrophobic neighbour. At a time when even people who have no ties to Haiti are trying to isolate the Dominican Republic, the Haitian Government, on January 7, 2014, initiated talks with its Dominican counterpart on a score of trade and border-related issues. This is wrong for a number of reasons.

First, by engaging in these misguided talks, the Haitian Government is drowning the important denationalisation issue in a slew of comparatively trifling matters — like the lifting of the restriction on the importation of poultry from the Dominican Republic — whose resolution will benefit Santo Domingo more than they will Port-au-Prince. It is as if, shortly after Iran took the Americans hostage in 1979, the United States had held talks with Iran on trade.

While the rest of the world is treating the Dominican Republic more and more as the pariah state that it is, giving them an unexpected photo op with those who were supposed to lead the charge on behalf of the victims is disingenuous at best. The Haitian Government should recognise that, until the Dominicans recant their villainous decision, they will be the ones with their back against the wall. Therefore, there should be no high-level talks with them until they reverse course.

Second, the Haitian Government needs to understand that everything it does with the Dominican Republic will undergo strict scrutiny from Haiti's civil society and the rest of the world. Dominican investigative journalist Nuria Piera has successfully established that both President Martelly and his former opponent Myrlande Manigat have received campaign contributions from a Dominican political figure. Oddly, Haiti's Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, after Tuesday's talks, accepted to sign a joint statement which "recognises the sovereign right of the Dominican Republic to define its immigration policy and the rules regulating the obtainment of Dominican citizenship," with no mention of the violations of the basic human rights of the Dominicans of Haitian descent. The latter were referred to as "persons of Haitian origin". After signing such a statement, one of two things is true: either this Government will need adult supervision to continue to represent the country in any negotiations, or its members are putting their personal interests above those of the country. On second thought, these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

Third, the Haitian Government should understand that, at this point, its relationship with the Dominicans may escalate anytime, in unpredictable ways. Therefore, it should always be accompanied by at least one legal adviser when engaging in talks with the Dominicans. In fact, the Dominican delegation had in its midst César Pina Toribio, the president's legal counsel.

In such a nebulous atmosphere, with the unchallenged accusations of corruption that tarnish Martelly and Lamothe's reputation, and their dismal performance in defending the country's interests, Haiti's civil society and diaspora need to be watchful of the Government's every move. What the Haitian Government is doing with these talks is to take the international pressure off the Dominicans' back by creating the false hope of a bilateral resolution of the denationalisation crisis.

Therefore, it is important that our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, along with their leaders, continue to be on Haiti's side. As we all know, the only way to have the Dominican Republic reverse course is to adopt and enforce sanctions. Let's show what we can do together to promote a better world for all.

Frandley Julien studies law at Florida International University. He blogs at frandleyjulien.com. frandleyjulien@gmail.com

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