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26631: Craig (news) Immigrant Laborers From Haiti Are Paid With Abuse in the Dominican Republic (fwd)
From: Dan Craig <email@example.com>
Immigrant Laborers From Haiti Are Paid With Abuse in the Dominican
By GINGER THOMPSON Published: November 20, 2005
GUATAPANAL, Dominican Republic The tobacco fields are being planted a little
late this year because the Haitian immigrants who work them were driven away by
threats of a lynching.
Haitian farmworkers in Guatapanal, Dominican Republic, were threatened with
lynching in September after two Dominican laborers were killed under uncertain
The troubles in this farm town in the country's northwest started in late
September, with allegations that a Dominican worker had been killed by two
black men. Too angry to wait for a trial, local Dominicans armed themselves
with machetes and went out for vengeance.
"Where there are two Haitians, kill one; where there are three Haitians, kill
two," said leaders of the mobs that descended on the immigrants' camps, the
Haitians here recalled. "But always let one go so that he can run back to his
country and tell them what happened."
Several Haitian workers were beaten by the Dominican mobs, said Jacobo Martínez
Jiménez, an immigrant organizer. One Haitian, Mr. Martínez said, drowned when
he fell into a river as he tried to get away. At least half of the town's 2,000
Haitian workers fled, as they said they had been warned to do, back across the
border to Haiti which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican
Republic. Hundreds of others hid in the hills to the east, hoping that
Dominican tempers would cool so that they could return to their jobs.
The attacks on Haitians here provide the most recent example of what
international human rights groups describe as the Dominican Republic's
systematic abuse of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. In recent
years, those organizations report, tens of thousands of Haitians have been
summarily expelled from the country by individuals and the government, forcing
them to abandon loved ones, work and whatever money or possessions they might
"We do all the work, but we have no rights," said Victor Beltran, one of about
150 Haitian immigrants, most of them barefoot and dressed in rags, who had
taken refuge in a rickety old barn. "We do all the work, but our children
cannot go to school. We do all the work, but our women cannot go to the
"We do all the work," he said, "but we have to stay hidden in the shadows."
Among those who have been deported, said Roxanna Altholz, a lecturer at the
University of California, Berkeley, are Spanish-speaking Dominicans who were
born to Haitian parents but have never visited Haiti, much less lived there.
At the root of the problem, Ms. Altholz said, is that Haitian immigrants and
their Dominican-born children live in a state of "permanent illegality," unable
to acquire documents that prove they have jobs or attend schools or even that
they were born in this country.
In October, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an opinion that the
Dominican Republic was illegally denying birth certificates to babies born here
to Haitian parents, and ordered the government to end the practice.
Human Rights Watch has also published extensive investigations of the mass
expulsions, and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has
expressed concerns about Haitian children being denied access to education and
"Snatched off the street, dragged from their homes, or picked up from their
workplaces, 'Haitian-looking' people are rarely given a fair opportunity to
challenge their expulsion during these wholesale sweeps," Human Rights Watch
reported in 2002. "The arbitrary nature of such actions, which myriad
international human rights bodies have condemned, is glaringly obvious."
Several Roman Catholic priests here have been threatened with legal action,
including expulsion from the country, after the authorities found that they had
illegally obtained birth certificates for dozens of Dominican-Haitian babies by
falsely declaring them to be their own. One of the priests has also been
receiving death threats, prompting the church to move him out of the country
temporarily for his safety
"By keeping Haitians in a limbo of illegality, the government can do whatever
they want with them," said the Rev. Regino Martínez Bretón of the Jesuit-run
agency Solidaridad Fronteriza, in Dajabón, a city on the Dominican border. "The
government can bring as many Haitians here as they want and then throw them
away when they don't want them anymore."
Racism helps fuel the anti-immigrant sentiment, human rights groups say, since
Haitians tend to have darker skin than Dominicans and are therefore often
assumed to hold a lower social status.
The two countries have been volatile neighbors for most of the last two
centuries, beginning with Haiti's domination of the Dominican Republic after
its independence from Spain in the early 1800's. A century later, Rafael
Trujillo, then the Dominican dictator, ordered the executions of some 37,000
Haitians in what many historians have called a ruthless campaign of ethnic
cleansing. Indeed, the river that separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic
is called Massacre River because of the slaughter.
Although anti-Haiti talk has since become a standard part of Dominican
politics, the police and the military have made fortunes trafficking Haitians
into the country to supply labor for agriculture and construction. Haitians
here, desperate to escape the poverty and upheaval in their country, often say
they have little choice but to accept Dominican exploitation.
Meanwhile, Dominican workers have been slowly pushed out of work by Haitian
immigrants who will work for less, and so they are leaving their homeland in
droves on rickety boats headed toward Puerto Rico, even though the Dominican
Republic is one of the fastest growing economies in the Caribbean.
Nationalist talk by the elite and frustration among unemployed Dominicans drive
most attacks on Haitians, human rights groups say. And while one Dominican
government after another has promised change, human rights investigators charge
that they have all failed to guarantee Haitian immigrants and their
Dominican-born descendants basic protections.
Guatapanal is not the only place where immigrants have experienced the
Dominican Republic's version of mob justice. In August, on the outskirts of
Santo Domingo, the capital, four Haitian men were gagged, doused with flammable
liquids and set on fire. Three of the men, from 19 to 22 years old, died of
their injuries. Soon after, Haiti temporarily recalled the leader of its
diplomatic mission in the Dominican Republic to protest what it described as a
"growing wave of racist violence" against its people.
After a Dominican woman was stabbed to death in May not far from here,
Dominican mobs went on a rampage, beating Haitian migrants and setting fire to
their houses. Before the next dawn, police officers and soldiers went door to
door pulling some 2,000 Haitian migrants from their beds and loading them onto
buses bound for the border.
At least 500 of those deported, Father Martínez said, were legal guest workers
and Dominican citizens.
"It was a disaster," said Andrés Carlitos Benson, a Dominican-born university
student who lives in Libertad. "We showed them our university identification
cards, and they tore them up in front of us and told us to shut up, or they
were going to beat us.
"They took parents away and left their children," he added. "They took old
people out of their beds without any clothes."
Stung by mounting international criticism, President Leonel Fernández of the
Dominican Republic has publicly expressed concern that some of his government's
deportations of Haitians have violated international standards on human rights.
Still, his government rejected the ruling by the Inter-American Court. Other
Dominican officials have said that their government was struggling with scant
resources to secure its porous border and stop the surging flow of Haitians,
which they blame for rising crime rates and overburdened schools, hospitals and
A statement in late October by the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference of the
Dominican Republic also said, "Our nation has a limited capacity to absorb
excessive immigration," and pleaded for help.
"This is a very sensitive subject," said Ambassador Inocencio García, who is in
charge of Dominican-Haitian relations at the Foreign Ministry. "I can tell you
with all sincerity. We have institutional problems. We are making efforts to
correct them. But in no way can the government of the Dominican Republic be
characterized as one that does not respect basic rights."
Ambassador García said in an interview that a majority of poor Dominican
children did not have birth certificates. But he did not respond to charges
that Haitian children were routinely denied such documents.
The mayor here in Guatapanal, José Francisco Pérez, described the Haitians
coming into this town as "an invasion." He said Guatapanal had 2,000 Haitians
and only 500 Dominicans.
Area landowners stopped hiring Dominican workers for $10 a day because Haitians
accepted less than half that, he said.
"Now instead of hiring 40 Dominican workers for a field, they hire 400
Haitians, and the Dominicans are left with nothing," Mr. Pérez said. "There's
too many Haitians. If the government is not going to help us get rid of them,
then we will do it ourselves."
Some landowners criticized the attacks by the Dominicans, and they have brought
back many of the workers who fled.
"The problem is that there is no real justice," said Francisco Cabrera, who
rents a few dozen acres of tobacco land here and uses Haitian laborers. He said
the police rarely tried to stop attacks on them. "So people take justice into
their own hands."
Polivio Pérez Colon, 36, one of the Dominican overseers who led the mobs
against the Haitians, said they did not mean the immigrants any real harm. But
he agreed that the Dominicans here felt outnumbered.
"They are people who do not use bathrooms," he said, referring to Haitians,
many of whom live in shacks without running water and electricity. "They walk
around drinking and making a lot of noise at night. Sometimes the men dance
with each other.
"It's not that they are all bad. But they have to submit to our way of life. If
not, these problems will keep happening."