Racist court ruling hits Haitian workers

By TONY SAVINO

 — SANTO DOMINGO — A Dominican high court ruling on Sept. 27 denies citizenship to anyone born to parents “in transit” after 1929, thus affecting not only the children of migrants, but their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This is the latest attack by the racist, xenophobic sector of the ruling elite that includes the Catholic archbishop of Santo Domingo.

The modern state of the Dominican Republic was born of an elite seeking to differentiate themselves from Haiti and things Haitian, especially skin color. Although the majority of Dominicans are repulsed by the latest court ruling, racism is deeply woven into Dominican society.

The vast majority of Dominicans display varying degrees of African ancestry, but one would be hard pressed to find somebody self-identifying as “Black”—a term used to refer to Haitians. Instead, there is a litany of adjectives used to describe various skin tones. Sociologist and human-rights advocate Hugo Cerena described Dominican society as being “Afrophobic.”

The ruling leaves thousands who identify themselves as Dominicans and have Haitian ancestry with an uncertain future. Already some 40,000 people have been told they will not receive identity documents. Without such documents, one cannot access services like health care and schools, and live in constant fear of being deported to a place they don’t know.

People of Haitian descent—including some 200,000 children— constitute about 10 percent of the population in a country of 10 million. Yet it is estimated that workers of Haitian background generate some 30 percent of Dominican production. Haitians have long been migrant workers, toiling in sugar fields and other low-wage jobs. Like migrants elsewhere, they are often accused of taking jobs from “native” workers. Ultra-nationalist politicians and media outlets speak of “Haitianization.”

Meanwhile, crimes against Haitian descendants often go unreported, and those working in sugar and other forms of agriculture face super-exploitation and dire poverty. Sugar workers recently interviewed by Socialist Action newspaper spoke of earning 400 pesos (U.S. $10) every 15 days. And sugar production only lasts six months of the year; the rest of the year many workers are idle.

The new ruling by the Dominican high court will further enforce—and drastically worsen—the apartheid-like system that shackles workers and families of Haitian descent. And in the long run, this ruling-class strategy of “divide and conquer” will serve to drag down the wages and social conditions of all working people in the Dominican Republic.

It is important that Dominican and Haitian workers—here and in the diaspora in the United States—and their supporters unite to demand that this racist decision be overturned, and that all working people of Haitian descent be given full legal rights. The solution to this crisis requires a massive fight for full employment and a living wage on both sides of the island—Haiti as well as the Dominican Republic.

Photo: Dominican Republic protest of the court ruling against Haitian working people. By Tony Savino / Socialist Action.