When a deadline passed last week, more than 250,000 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic suddenly faced the specter of deportation to Port-au-Prince. On Thursday, hundreds from both nations gathered outside the Dominican Republic’s consulate in Brickell to protest the move, which many critics called racist and unfair.
"This is a long history of abuse that Haitians have endured, so now we are saying, 'No, this has to stop,'" Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, tells New Times. "We have been following what has been happening for several years now. As a matter of fact, when I first came here in 1981, I used to protest in front of the Dominican consulate.”
Hundreds of protesters arrived Thursday afternoon in front of the consulate. Many carried handwritten signs that read "Haitian Lives Matter” and “Black Dominicans are Dominicans.” Others clutched large Haitian flags. They began chanting in English and Kreyol. Some demonstrators spilled onto the median to make sure Miami’s commuters could read their signs (many motorists honked in support).
“Not a lot of people are dealing with this issue,” Sabrina Cauvin says. She drove four hours from Tampa with her husband, son, sister, and two nephews to protest. "They have no voice. We’ll be that voice.”
Security guards from a complex that borders the consulate tried to prevent demonstrators from spilling onto the adjacent property. By 2:30 p.m., police arrived to ensure all protesters remained on the sidewalk.
But standing alone across the street was one demonstrator protesting against the Haitians. His sign read "Stop the lies.” A white Dominican attending FIU, Edward Sarrain, arrived from the Domincan Republic a year ago. "They are trying to do harm to the country by saying to boycott Dominican tourism, but really a lot of Haitians work in that sector,” he explains.
When an older Haitian woman heard what he said, she wailed out in tears. "I am so mad, and my emotions are already up to here! It’s so hurtful! So mean!” When a young man heard her, he quickly put his sign down and wrapped his arm around her to console her.
After noticing that no cars were parked in the Dominican consulate’s parking lot and the front doors were locked and the lights were out, demonstrators circled in front to listen to speakers. Bastien and other organizers from the Haitian League for Human Rights, Dream Defenders, Progressive Jewish Group, Broward Democratic Club, and Miami Workers Center reiterated their beliefs that the laws are racist and their frustration at the U.S. government's inaction.
A little after 3 p.m., they marched toward the Haitian consulate. It wasn't easy, because police cars lurked on the road, forcing the large crowd to remain on the sidewalk.
As the group turned off SE 13th Street at South Miami Avenue, they blocked the intersection. Drivers stopped in traffic rolled down their windows to high-five marchers as they passed. The demonstration was peaceful, and other than one incident — when a young man waving a massive Haitain flag accidentally swung a little too close to a police officer — it unrolled smoothly.
When protesters arrived, the gates were already locked in front of the Haitian consulate, which closed at 3 p.m. But demonstrators kept chanting and waving their signs, unfazed by the heat. Traffic was at a standstill. And all eyes were on them.