LAST MONTH at the Forum on the Future of the Caribbean, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves gave a very passionate speech about Caribbean development and the region’s affairs.
Perhaps his most controversial statement was when he declared in a room full of delegates at the Hyatt Trinidad that if CARICOM allows the induction of the Dominican Republic into the organisation without fully addressing the Dominican Republic’s current immigration policy, that St Vincent and the Grenadines would leave through the back door as Dominican Republic is ushered through the front door.
This was a bold statement by Gonsalves and an exciting moment for all in the room. Gonsalves’ comment was met with a thunderous applause, shocked and amused faces and a very embarrassed ambassador from the Dominican Republic who was also in the room.
Dominicans of Haitian descent are now being deported as a result of the continued implementation of their immigration laws.
At the moment, over 200 000 Dominicans of Haitian descent are slated to be deported. This is as a result of the country’s Constitutional Tribunal establishing laws which state that anyone born to undocumented immigrants after 1929 is not entitled to Dominican citizenship.
Imagine being born in a country and not having the right to citizenship, simply because your parents are from another country!
This is discrimination at its highest. More than 200 000 Dominicans will be displaced as result of this policy and their lifestyles uprooted. What is even more disheartening is the fact that many of these Haitian- Dominicans are too poor or were actively prevented from registering their births.
Now that the deadline to apply for residency permits has passed and deportations have resumed, many Haitian-Dominicans have gone into hiding.
As this happens, many activists around the world are protesting this action by the Dominican Republic government. However, the Caribbean region has been quite inactive, unsupportive and our leaders have issued very few statements denouncing these actions by the Dominican Republic and its government.
Jamaica also spoke out against the ill-treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. However, the Barbados Government and many others have yet to give a formal statement on the matter.
When people began posting the hashtag #Haitianlivesmatter, someone on my Instagram pointed out that Haiti is the “stepchild of the Caribbean” and its descendants are still experiencing the punishment of being the first black independent state.
Perhaps the inactivity by the region’s leaders to rally behind Gonsalves’ sentiments is as a result of the fact that Haiti is not an economic leader and there are no financial gains to be made from picking up Haitian-Dominican’s fire rage.
Haiti is such a poor country and cannot afford the massive influx of so many people (both from Dominican Republic and The Bahamas) – many of whom are impoverished, speak Spanish and have very little connection with the country itself.
Trolling the Internet, I encountered someone challenging the fact that the law is racist. The immigration law as it stands is indeed racist.
After all, it was in 1983 that the then President of the Dominican Republic Joaquin Balaquer published the book, La Isla Reves.
In this book, he claimed that Haitians were still trying to invade the Dominican Republic but now their secret was “biological”.
Also, we should never forget an important aspect of the Holocaust. The first stage towards genocide was to threaten and reject individuals’ citizenship. As we know, without citizenship, people are legally helpless.
My question to CARICOM is: “How long will CARICOM continue to court the Dominican Republic whilst these blatant acts against descendants of a member of CARICOM exist?”
My question to our region’s leaders is: “How many leaders like Gonsalves still exist that will threaten to leave CARICOM as a result of such discrimination and we actually believe them?”
If we do not stand for something, we shall continue to fall for anything.
I guess Haiti and its descendants are stepchildren of the region after all.
Toni Thorne is a fashion entrepreneur and World Economic Forum Global shaper who loves global youth culture, a great debate and living in paradise.