In Santo Domingo, 20 young people gather in the courtyard of Centro Bonó, a Catholic NGO defending the rights of immigrants in the Dominican Republic. Most are Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian origin. The meeting is led by 27 year old Ana Maria Belique .
Most of these young people live in makeshift camps for sugar cane cutters. Today, the debate focuses on the decision by the Constitutional Court to take away Dominican nationality from Dominicans of Haitian descent if their parents are deemed illegal.
These participants are members of a movement called Reconocidó. Their slogan is: "We are Dominicans and we have rights."
They are now considered foreigners in their own country. They were born in the Dominican Republic and have Dominican birth certificates.
"We are Dominicans and we strongly reject the government's approach," says Belique in Spanish, inviting young people to "relentlessly claim their rights to
Dominican nationality." Belique was born in the Dominican Republic. She has visited Haiti only three times. She knows nothing about Haitian culture and history. She is a sociology student at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.
She began to vote when she was 18 years old. Her documents were proof of her Dominican nationality prior to the decision by the Dominican Constitutional Court on September 23.."I cannot imagine my life in Haiti," she says. "I do not even know any family members living on the other side of the border,"
Her brother, Delma Cesar faces the same dilemma. Like his sister, he is also concerned about his future. Cesar is a rapper and through his music, he denounces inequality, intolerance, racism and exclusion. "Let us renounce discrimination and practice tolerance," are some of his lyrics.
At 24, he has never visited Haiti. Not even once. He also faces deportation should he refuse to apply for an identification card as a foreigner. "I'm scared," he says, "I will keep on fighting for my rights to Dominican nationality."
Indira Luis was born in the Dominican Republic. So were her father, mother and her grandparents.. Her only connection to Haiti was her great-grandparents. According to the Dominican Government, Indira's great-grandparents did not have proper documents when they entered the country 80 years ago and now their great-granddaughter inherits their illegal status.
Indira lives in a batey. It is impossible for her to go to school. She was informed by the Central Electoral Junta that her Dominican identification papers are subject to review: "Suddenly, I feel everything is falling apart around me," she laments.. "I don't even know who I am any more. Now I am no longer a Dominican although I've never stepped foot in Haiti from the time I was born."
Her greatest concern is the risk of deportation to Haiti. "How will I live in a country that I have never visited my entire life?" she asks. "I would lose my mind."
Jackson Previl graduated from high school 3 years ago. Because of discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian origin, he cannot realize his dream of going to university to become a civil engineer."I have provided all the documents required by the Central Electoral Junta. I turned in a certificate of baptism, a certificate from the hospital where I was born and they still refuse to validate my birth certificate" he says.
To earn a living, he works in a small shoe repair shop. He is a shoemaker. He cannot go to school. He has no access to the labor market. "I have no future here," he says in a voice full of despair.
At 71 years old, Amelia Rincón Toni lives in the Platanito batey, 66 km from Santo
Domingo, in the San Pedro de Macoris region. Sitting at the entrance to a cottage, she is a very sociable person who greeted us warmly. She has serious vision trouble and recently underwent several eye surgeries.
She has nine children. They were all born in the Dominican Republic. She does not know how many grandchildren or great grandchildren she has as they are too many to count. And they were also born in the Dominican Republic.
Amelia receives a monthly pension of 5,000 pesos from the Dominican government (about 125 U.S. dollars). She receives social assistance to cover medical expenses and medication. All of which may disappear under the ruling of the Constitutional Court. "What will they do with me?" she asks. "I worry every day since the announcement of this decision. How am I going to pay my medical expenses?"
The decision, published on September 26 and which cannot be appealed, has been described as "absurd" by human rights organizations and some high profile Dominican lawyers.This judgment is also condemned by a vast majority of the Dominican political spectrum. Fafa Taveras, Vice-President of the PRD (the Dominican Revolutionary Party) calls this measure a "fascist law."
Former presidential candidate for the Alliance for Democracy, Max Puig, compares the decision of the Constitutional Court to the campaign undertaken by Nazi Germany against the Jews in 1938. "This decision of the Constitutional Court violates the Dominican Constitution," says Puig who also served as a Minister in former President Leonel Fernandez's administrtaion.
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"An inhumane sentence" wrote a columnist for the newspaper El Día calling on the Constitutional Court to reconsider this decision. The paper warns that this verdict will tarnish the image of the Dominican Republic and will undermine its credibility on the international stage.
-- Phares Duverne