(The following is an English translation of a commentary scheduled for publication next month in the Columbus, OH-based Latino newspaper El Sol de Ohio.)
I admire the Haitian people from the moment when, gathering the pages of its history, I see it struggling desperately against exceedingly superior powers and how it defeats them and overcomes the sad condition of slavery to constitute itself as a free and independent nation. I recognize its possession of two eminent truths: love for liberty and valor.
Those words were said by the most important figure of the Dominican people, Juan Pablo Duarte. He fought courageously for Dominican independence from Haiti, but did not exclude Haitians from the sovereign homeland he always wanted. On September 23, with the decision from the Dominican Constitutional Court denying citizenship status to the children of undocumented Haitian parents, the heirs of his legacy turned away from him.
In the opinion of Silvio Torres Saillant, this decision has a partisan logic consisting of debilitating any electoral support for opponents of the current government. Nevertheless, there are other circumstances. One of them is that the elites that created Latin American nationhoods did not give the same attention to the African or indigenous element as much as the European, mestizo, or mulatto element, and the Dominican Republic was no exception. The racial history that has been told (with some connivance from Afro-Dominicans themselves) was written by the racial powers-that-be. In addition, it looks like the ghost of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo has not been exorcised completely. It was under his encouragement that the image of the racially inferior Haitian was created, even if both Haitians and Dominicans share the same African heritage. Decades after the dictator was assassinated, figures like former president Joaquín Balaguer kept alive those xenophobic ideas, as his staunch rival, José Francisco Peña Gómez, bore witness for.
Supporters of the decision, such as former president Leonel Fernández, point out that every state has the sovereign right to decide who is a citizen and who is not. Given the existing context of more-or-less discreet racism and patent xenophobia, the intentions behind the decision will never be the best, much less if we add the political element. As Torres Sailant mentioned in a recent commentary written for the National Institute of Latino Policy, that represents something more similar to the laws that affected German Jews during Nazism than a legitimate exercise of national sovereignty.
It is ironic that, on the other hand, the Dominican Republic did something that not even the toughest enemies of undocumented Latino immigration to the United States have proposed. Just for that reason, we should consider this decision not only as a bad precedent, but as a treason by Dominicans to the ideas of their national hero. To rectify is more than necessary. It is imperative.