On October 29, 2013, the Organization of American States (OAS) met to discuss the Dominican Republic’s (D.R.) 168/13 ruling which strips citizenship from descendants of immigrants who arrived in the D.R. after 1929. Ambassador La Celia Prince, of St Vincent and the Grenadines, opened the discussion on behalf of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and said: “This issue is of interest to us, Mr. Chairman, in that it directly impacts on the lives of fellow human beings, citizens of our hemisphere, and more specifically members of our diaspora.”
She exposed the morally vacuous nature of the Dominican Republic’s ruling and asked: What are the civil and economic rights of those affected? Are they disenfranchised? How do they petition the courts on legal matters? Do they have rights to inheritance? What are their property rights? What if they owned businesses and employed others? Must they stop paying taxes? Could they still access their bank accounts if all their documents are invalidated?
In order to show the extent to which the D.R. risks becoming a pariah state, Ambassador Prince sited the names of numerous individuals and organizations that have condemned the ruling, among them, Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, P. J. Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, the Robert Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the Secretary General of Caricom , and the Congressional Black Caucus of the United States.
Ambassador Prince also detailed the turmoil the ruling would bring to affected individuals who may very well wonder, “How am I expected to go back to a place I do not come from, I do not know anyone there, I don’t own anything there; I can’t even speak the language?” She gave the example of a 70 year old Dominican man born and raised in the Dominican Republic who “suddenly and inexplicably faces the loss of citizenship and with it the right to property and to establish a legacy to offspring whose only crime was the accident of birth, aggravated by their faith and trust in the institutions of state and government that are supposed to protect them.”
Near the end of her presentation, Ambassador Prince concluded, “It is even more painful to us, Mr. Chairman, that this action is being taken by a court of a neighboring country, a sister Caribbean nation who has formally applied to become a member of Caricom. With all due respect, the actions of the Court of the Dominican Republic are incongruous with many of the principles of which Caricom is founded.”
Dominican representatives provided no answers to the issues raised by Ambassador Prince. Rather, the D.R.’s representatives sought sympathy by arguing that their country had been invaded by numerous foreign nations. Dr. Roberto Rosario Marquez of the Dominican Republic’s Central Electoral Board distorted the history of how the Dominican Republic emerged as an independent state from Haiti in 1844. He went on to speak of invasions of the Dominican Republic by Spain and the US as though a history of having been colonized justifies the mistreatment of immigrants and their descendants.
On several occasions, Haiti, as the nation most likely to be impacted by the ruling requested the floor. Representative Guy Alexandre challenged Dr. Marquez’s notion that Haiti had ever dominated the Dominican Republic, highlighting instead a history of cooperation between the two nations. Mr. Alexandre even made his presentation in Spanish perhaps in an effort to accentuate Haiti’s good will towards its neighbor.
In an attempt to justify the racist ruling, Dr. Marquez said that the Dominican Court’s decision was no more than an effort to regularize the status of illegal immigrants in the Dominican Republic. However, he could not explain why an effort to regularize the status of illegal immigrants would unscrupulously go back several generations to denationalize people who were already legal citizens.
Ambassador Jacinth Henry-Martin of St Kitts and Nevis acknowledged “that the ruling will have a significant deleterious impact on many Caricom nations, including St Kitts and Nevis from which the Dominican labor force was augmented in the 1940s and 1950s, and whose descendants born in the Dominican Republic find themselves among the hundreds of thousands of constitutionally discarded and denied.”
With the exception of Nicaragua which tried to be supportive of the Dominican Republic, the overwhelming majority of OAS representatives gathered in the Simon Bolivar Room of the organization’s headquarters in Washington D.C. condemned the Dominican Court’s ruling. Representatives from Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Mexico, etc. echoed sentiments similar to Ambassador Henry Martin’s:
“My country strongly condemns the ruling which forms the basis of this debate and views it as a clear case of discrimination and violation of the civil and political rights of those affected. This unfair ruling is injurious to the basic human rights of hundreds of thousands of individuals who having toiled and sacrificed indefatigably for decades to build culturally, economically, socially, and indeed politically the country of their citizenship, and now in one fell retroactive and regressive swoop, retroactive to almost 100 years heretofore, condemned to the indignity of statelessness.”
Overall, members of the OAS issued firm verbal condemnations of the Dominican Government’s racist court ruling. It now remains to be seen if the Dominican Government will abrogate the law or if it will opt instead to be isolated as an apartheid state. Choosing the latter option could be economically costly to the D.R, the third poorest country in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic’s per capita income trails that of other Caribbean nations such as the Bahamas, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, among others. The Dominican government ought to consider the potential economic impact of its decision on its relatively poor economy. The D.R. ought to repeal the ruling, otherwise it may find itself pursuing an economically disastrous and socially irresponsible policy.