The Dominican Republic is set to purge its country of hundreds of thousands of black Haitian migrants or black Dominicans of Haitian descent. The government has stripped anyone born in Haiti after 1929 of their citizenship and rendered this entire population stateless. Numerous Haitians have fled or are hiding as they wait to see what the immigration agency will do next.
Army General Ruben Paulino, who leads the immigration agency, said his agency would conduct patrols of neighborhoods with “large numbers of migrants” after June 18. Any “non-citizens,” who were unregistered, would be “repatriated.” The individuals would be loaded on buses, trucks, or ambulances—and then expelled from the country.
On the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week, Dr. Jemima Pierre, a professor at UCLA of African Diaspora Studies & an editor for Black Agenda Report, joins the show to talk about the Dominican Republic. She describes the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as the United States’ role since the US once occupied the island where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located. She details the anti-black racism that has deep roots in the Dominican Republic.
During the discussion part of the show, the show’s hosts talk about Dylann Roof’s manifesto and share thoughts on the political and media reaction to the church massacre in Charleston. They also talk about a Louisville FOP president and his vitriolic open letter directed toward Black Lives Matter activists. And the show wraps with some quick thoughts about a court ordering US officials to intercept a Guatemalan mother and her child, who were deported, and return them to the United States.
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Below is a partial transcript of the interview.
KHALEK: What is happening in the Dominican Republic with these pending deportations of both Haitian migrants and Dominican citizens of Haitian descent? Please start off with providing background on what’s happening at the moment.
PIERRE: There’s a long history of Haitian and Dominicans crossing this border that is very porous. Of course, it’s two countries on one island, and the separation of those two happened way back during colonial and slavery days. But, most recently, the September 2013 Dominican constitutional tribunal ruling that retroactively stripped Dominicans, who were born in the Dominican Republic, of citizenship dating back to 1929, which is unprecedented and hasn’t happened except for when Hitler did this.
And people have pointed to that direct connection. So, this idea that you de-nationalize generations of people and all of a sudden they’re stateless and then they gave them until June 17 to “regularize” their status. If you can prove you’re Dominican, you can come and “regularize” your status and then we can give you papers and you won’t be deported. The truth of the matter is for a long time the Dominican Republic has actually not been giving black Dominicans and people they assume to be Haitian their IDs.
It’s been a struggle, and even those who have gone and tried to “regularize” their status have not been able to do so because the regulations for “regularizing” status are so hard. You need letters from at least 7 Dominican members of your community. You need proof that at least one parent was not born in Haiti. So, there are all these things that are keeping people from getting their IDs.
Now what people are afraid of are these mass deportations of at least 250,000 people, who have become denationalized or stateless at this point.
KHALEK: What about the underlying reason for this? There’s deep-seated anti-Haitian racism and xenophobia in the Dominican Republic, if I understand. Can you explain why that is, where that comes from? This is something that has been going on for a long time, right?
PIERRE: Yes, and people write about this a lot, and one of the key events that happened in the DR [Dominican Republic] is the massacre of about 30,000—We don’t know what those numbers actually are. They could be more—30,000 Haitians in 1937 under the dictator, [Rafael] Trujillo.
The massacre was the culmination of the Dominican elite basically trying to deny the fact that there are black Dominicans. Trujillo was the dictator, who basically allowed the state-sponsored massacre where military and civilian conscripts would go and take machetes and basically kill anyone who looked dark.
And because Haitians and Dominicans look alike—Dominican Republic is the blackest of the Latin American countries—Because they look so similar, the only way they could actually distinguish them is through language. They would go around. There are a lot of pronunciations Haitians because of their Creole language can’t pronounce, which is the “r”—the Spanish-speaking “r.” So they would use a word to distinguish who was Haitian and who was Dominican, and the truth is that a lot of black Dominicans were killed in the ensuing massacre.
Now, this goes back to an even longer period where the island both had slavery but the Spanish elite took over the eastern part of the island and did not want to have anything to do with the blackness. So, even though they had slavery, when the Haitians became independent in 1804, they did not want to have anything to do with the state, even though they were under Spanish colonial rule.
In 1822, when the Haitian government came through and in order to stave off constant threat of invasion from Europe and the US, the Haitian government took over the entire island and abolished slavery. And this history is interesting because it’s been distorted by the Dominican elite to say it was a Pacific invasion, a black invasion of the Dominican Republic. So, basically, Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic.
A recent article by Anne Eller, who is an assistant professor of history at Yale University, really shows that this history has been distorted to basically say that this was a black invasion. And so, between that and the Trujillo massacre—And Trujillo who was in charge for thirty-something years, and the complete rewriting of Dominican history to create this idea of blackness as evil and savage and Haitian really worked to create this view within Dominicans, who are themselves black, that the biggest enemy that they have are black people. And for them, black people are Haitians.
It really goes back to colonialism and slavery, and the Spanish elite trying to stave of its black population and then blaming blackness on Haiti. So, what you have now, they’re calling it a cleansing. That’s what the Dominican administrators. To me, it’s a race cleansing. They are trying to get rid of as many black people as possible.
GOSZTOLA: While we’re on history, can you address the history of the United States, which occupied this island for a period of time? What role did the US play in reinforcing Trujillo’s racist dictatorship?
PIERRE: Right, remember it’s the US that put Trujillo in power. So, the US invaded the island. The US occupied Haiti from 1915 — In fact, we’re commemorating the 100th anniversary of the US occupation of Haiti, which is a 19-year occupation to really protect Citibank and their bankers and the money on the island.
The US invaded in 1915 and invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916 and held on to that island for a long time. When they left, they put Trujillo in power, who had been trained by the US military. In similar ways, the US also invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic in 1960. So, what you see is this long connection between US occupation of the island and then leaving behind these particular kinds of dictators.
In the case of Trujillo, what’s fascinating about him is that he was trained by the US military and put in place and upheld by the US military. He is similar to Hitler in so many ways because he’s ashamed of his Haitian background, and everyone knows that Trujillo had a Haitian background. He was trying to be as white as possible, and he used to wear white makeup over his face. He would wear light, light, white makeup to lighten his features.
He was completely against this idea of Haiti, of blacks and blackness in the Dominican Republic. So, he was able to actually drum up, with the support of the United States, all this anti-Haitian animosity through intellectual projects, political projects. When the massacre happened, everyone sat silent. They’re killing, hacking Haitians at the border with machetes, and the international community stayed silent, including the Haitian elite. And I have to say something about them in a bit too.
The way that Trujillo was able to absolve himself was to basically at the end of the massacre, when news came out and everyone was upset with him, he decided to open space in the DR for Jewish immigrants. So, think about this. You massacre people who are too black when no one wanted to accept Jewish immigrants because this is right at the height of Hitler’s killing of Jews. He was one of the only countries to accept Jews.
For Europe, the Jews were not white enough. For him, the Jews were white enough in order to actually to try and whiten his country the same way other Latin American countries tried to whiten. That to me is a fascinating history, where you see the elite try to use their own personal background, but then also how the US is both implicated in helping to establish this dictatorship, training this guy, upholding them, and then absolving him of his crimes against humanity because he did what they needed him to do politically at that moment.
That to me is fascinating, and the same way you see the US supporting [François] Duvalier later on, who was also trained by the US. The Tonton Macoute were trained by the US military. So you have that, but what you also have in the DR is the corporate interest that you have to think about.
We have all these corporations, the sugar corporations and so on who are there who needed, for example, Haitian workers to come and cut cane. So, they would import them into the deal. This is the ’30s, ’40s. Import them into the deal and then once the corporations leave, leave them there and people are stuck there and unable to go. They’re there from the 1930s. They stay there. They’re children are born there, and they don’t know anything about Haiti.
Most recently, what you have is—I don’t know if you saw this article in The Nation that happened right around 2013 after the ruling. There’s this thing called specialized border security, where the US is exporting its global war on terror. There’s this group called CESFRONT, which stands for Specialized Border Security Corps, which is part of the US “strong borders initiative” as part of the global war on terror. So, you have US border agents at the Dominican-Haitian border working with the Dominican government to establish both military patrols but to also build a border similar to the one that we have across the US-Mexico area.
For the rest of the interview, listen to the full podcast episode here.