January 2006   

Haitians Burned and Hacked to Death by Lynch Mobs,
More than 20,000 Expelled by Dominican Army 

Stop Persecution of Haitian Workers
in the Dominican Republic!

Night watchman in the batey (shantytown) of Fao in Guerra, Dominican Republic after being
hacked wih a machete by men in lynch mob that burned down 27 homes of Haitians and
black Dominicans, January 22.
(Photo: Justo/El Nacional)

JANUARY 31 – Since last May, a wave of racist and xenophobic (anti-foreigner) violence has swept over the Dominican Republic, instigated by the Dominican government, targeting Haitian immigrant workers as well as dark-skinned Dominicans of Haitian descent. (Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, and anti-Haitian racism has long been a staple of Dominican bourgeois politics.) In five major sweeps, at least 20,000 men, women and children were rounded up by soldiers and summarily deported to Haiti without the least pretence of legality. In addition, at least a score of blacks have been murdered by lynch mobs, many of them hacked to death with machetes or burned to death by dousing them with gasoline and setting them afire.

Beginning January 1, the government of Dominican president Leonel Fernández escalated the anti-Haitian persecution, launching Operación Vaquero (Cowboy), which placed a cordon of troops along the border to hunt down immigrants. The first victims were 25 Haitians who died of asphyxiation January 10, trapped in a truck being pursued by the Dominican police. Twelve days later in the town of Guerra, after an incident in which an air force sergeant was killed by a cop, a lynch mob of heavily armed men laid waste to 27 homes of Haitian immigrants and black Dominicans and tried to burn a baby alive. A week later, Haitians’ houses were burned to the ground in Moca. Now a high Dominican immigration official has declared that all Haitians without residency papers will be deported, and the government cut off the annual importation of thousands of Haitian workers for the sugar harvest, causing a crisis in this key sector.

Meanwhile, next door United Nations “peacekeeping” troops occupying Haiti have carried out a series of murderous attacks in the slums of the capital, targeting supporters of Jean-Bertand Aristide, the Haitian president removed from office and kidnapped by a U.S. invasion in March 2004. As large numbers of Haitians flee from the chaos, misery and repression of their occupied country, U.S. authorities keep sending them back. On January 19, lawyers representing scores of Haitian refugees demanded that Washington halt all deportations to Haiti. And on February 7,  Haitian presidential elections are scheduled to be held after being postponed several times. With public opinion polls showing the candidate favored by the followers of ousted president Aristide far ahead of all others, the Haitian capital is in a state of high tension, expecting some move by right-wing bourgeois sectors, their paramilitary forces or the U.N. occupation forces.

The League for the Fourth International and the Internationalist Group urge class-conscious workers, revolutionary-minded youth and all opponents of imperialism to protest the persecution of the Haitian poor, immigrants and refugees. From Santo Domingo to New York, we call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, legal or “illegal.” Against poisonous nationalist hatreds, we fight for the unity of Haitian, Dominican and U.S. workers against capital. In the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the United States, we fight to build revolutionary workers parties against all the capitalist parties. And we underline that this orgy of chauvinist repression and slaughter of Haitians is part of the U.S. “war on terror” aimed at terrorizing the world into submission to U.S. dictates. We say: Drive the imperialists and their flunkies out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti!

Anti-Haitian Pogrom

The trigger for the extended anti-Haitian pogrom was the murder of a Dominican couple in mid-May in the Dominican town of Hatillo Palma in the province of Montecristi. After police arrested ten Haitians (no evidence linking them to the crime was ever presented), lynchers began torching the shacks of poor Haitian immigrants, mainly workers on banana farms. Before dawn the next day, Dominican soldiers began indiscriminately rounding up hundreds of blacks and trucking them to the Haitian border. Over three days, almost the entire black population of the town were deported. Soon anti-Haitian mob violence spread throughout the northwestern Dominican Republic, driving thousands over the border into Haiti. When some refugees returned a month later to Hatillo Palma, vigilantes fell upon them as they slept, beheading two.

This combination of government repression and lynch mob violence awakened fears of a repeat of the 1937 massacre staged by Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, when an estimated 37,000 Haitians and black Dominicans were rounded up at gunpoint and executed, often by machetes (to give the impression that peasants had committed the murders). Many others were marched off the docks into the sea at Montecristi with their arms and feet bound. Río Masacre (Massacre River) dividing Haiti from the Dominican Republic ran red with the blood of the victims. This horror was the subject of the novel, The Farming of Bones (1998), by Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat.

With that horrific scene seared into their collective memory, last June Haitian and Dominican blacks poured into to Santiago de los Caballeros, the center of the Cibao region, for safety. Parents besieged government offices demanding birth certificates for their children and youth born in the Dominican Republic. The response of the authorities was to order more deportations, 200 from Santiago alone. In mid-August, the government deported another 3,000 to Haiti, particularly women and children. The reason for this selective round-up was clear: Dominican banana and coffee farms and sugar plantations could not function without the labor of Haitian men, who toil in backbreaking jobs for a few dollars a day. Up to a million Haitian immigrants live in the D.R. (out of a total population of 7 million), many residing there for decades.

Also in August, four young Haitian men in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo were gagged, doused with flammable liquid and set on fire; three died. The bloody pattern repeated itself throughout the fall: in late September, two black men were accused of killing a Dominican worker in Guatapanal, not far from Puerto Plata. Mobs descended on the Haitian neighborhoods bent on wreaking vengeance: several blacks were beaten, another drowned in a river fleeing attackers. An article in the New York Times (20 November 2005) reported:

“‘Where there are two Haitians, kill one; where there are three Haitians, kill two,’ said leaders of the mobs that descended on the immigrants’ camps, the Haitians here recalled. ‘But always let one go so that he can run back to his country and tell them what happened’.”

And in early December, at least ten Haitians were murdered by vigilantes while dozens of blacks were burned out of their homes in the northern Dominican town of Villa Trina, again supposedly in retaliation for the death of a Dominican man.

Amid this orgy of xenophobic and racist burning and killing, one thing must be remembered: the frenzied mobs of killers may be made up of impoverished Dominican peasants and slum dwellers, but they were set in motion by the bourgeois rulers.

History of “Anti-Haitianism” in the Dominican Republic

Throughout Dominican history, reactionary nationalist politicians have appealed to the racist ideology of “antihaitianismo” to shore up their hold on power in “their” two-thirds of the island. Following the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 – the first successful slave revolt in history, defeating the combined efforts of French, British and Spanish expeditionary forces – the Haitian revolutionary armies marched into Santo Domingo three times, finally driving out the Spanish colonialists and abolishing slavery in 1822. Even after Dominican independence from Haiti was declared in 1844, conservative landowners were so worried about a “Haitian threat” that they reannexed the country to Spain. It took the 1861-65 War of Restoration (coinciding with the U.S. Civil War), under the leadership of black general Gregorio Luperón, to regain Dominican independence.

The anti-Haitian racism of Trujillo, the U.S.-installed dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron hand from 1930 until he became no longer useful and the CIA had him assassinated 1961, is legendary. The same goes for his henchman Joaquín Balaguer, who following the 1965 U.S. invasion of Santo Domingo ran the country on behalf of American  imperialism from 1966 to 1978, and again from 1986 to 1996. In justifying Trujillo’s 1937 slaughter of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, Balaguer declared: “The problem of race is, by consequence, the principal problem of the Dominican Republic.... On it depends, in a certain way, the very existence of the nationality that for more than a century has been struggling against a more prolific race” (quoted by Ernesto Sagás, “A Case of Mistaken Identity: Antihaitianismo in Dominican Culture,” Latinamericanist [1993]).

But the supposedly “democratic” rulers of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) have also played the card of anti-Haitian racism. There have been previous mass deportations of Haitians and black Dominicans in 1991 under Balaguer, in 1997 and 1999 under PLD president Leonel Fernández, and in 2000-2001 under PRD president Hipólito Mejía (National Coalition for Haitian Rights, “Haitians in the Dominican Republic: Mass Expulsions and Deportations,” November 2001). Mejía expelled 12,000 to Haiti in the single month of March 2001 (“Report of the Haiti Support Network’s Delegation to the Dominican Republic,” April 2001). Even in the absence of mass expulsions, deportations of Haitians from the D.R. have run about 20,000 a year over the last decade and a half.

These arbitrary round-ups are justified by top officials with undisguised racism. When Human Rights Watch questioned the head of Haitian affairs for the Dominican Department of Migration as to how they identified Haitians, he responded that they can be spotted “by their way of living,” that “they’re poorer than we are,” that “they have terrible homes,” that they have “rougher skin,” and “they’re much blacker than we are.” He denounced the “invasion” of young Haitian delinquents, who are “easy to recognize” because they’re “the ones who act like they're in the Haitian capital, drinking and dancing” (HRW, “Dominican Republic, ‘Illegal People’: Haitians And Dominico-Haitians in The Dominican Republic,” April 2002). Such blatant xenophobic and racist appeals from top-level officials whip up the lynchers in the streets.

Superexploitation and Virtual Slavery of Haitian Workers

Official sponsorship of anti-Haitian hysteria is not limited to the ideological sphere, it is deeply embedded in the legal structure and economic framework of Dominican capitalism. Legally, the descendents of Haitian immigrants are deprived of all rights by an impenetrable web of obstacles. Although Article 11 of the Dominican constitution recognizes “all persons born in the territory of the Dominican Republic” as citizens, there is a loophole. Undocumented Haitian immigrants are considered to be “in transit,” and so their children born in the D.R. are denied citizenship. First, hospital personnel refuse to give mothers maternity papers saying when and where  their babies were born. Then, when they seek to register the children in the civil registry, they are refused because the parents don’t have a Dominican ID or residency. And when they try to go to school, children are often refused admission if they don’t have proof of citizenship

Thus there has grown up a whole layer of the population with no legal rights whatsoever, kept in enforced ignorance and poverty, and periodically subjected to state-sponsored terror. Demands by Dominicans of Haitian origin to have their children’s citizenship confirmed have caused an international outcry and produced a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights last October ordering the government to grant citizenship (as well as reparations and a public apology) to two girls, Dilcia Yean (now 8 years old) and Violeta Bosico (now 20), and to reform its laws to make explicit the right of all children born there to Dominican citizenship. This led to howls of indignation from the government, and in December the Dominican Supreme Court declared that children of undocumented immigrants are not citizens.

The presence of a huge mass of people (well over 10 percent of the total population) living a semi-clandestine existence can only be the result of powerful economic forces. And in fact, the sugar industry, long the mainstay of the Dominican economy, was built on the forced labor of Haitian workers. This goes back to World War I, when the United States lost its supplies of beet sugar from Europe and undertook a vast expansion of sugar cane production in the Dominican Republic, which the U.S. occupied from 1916 to 1924 (ostensibly to collect defaulted debts to Wall Street banks), using laborers imported from Haiti (which the U.S. also occupied, from 1915 to 1934). The sugar companies had annual quotas for tens of thousands of Haitian workers, who received (at most) starvation wages and were confined to the miserable batayes (shantytowns) on the edge of the plantations by patrols of militia, police and rural guards.

This plantation system of virtual slave labor was overseen by a National Police formed by the U.S. A few years after the Marines departed, General Trujillo came to power in Santo Domingo. He was one of a string of tin-pot dictators around the Caribbean and Central America who came out of the ranks of the colonial constabularies in other U.S.-occupied countries (Somoza in Nicaragua, Batista in Cuba) and the puppet armies of semi-colonial “banana republics” (Ubico in Guatemala). In the 1950s, Trujillo decided to take over the American-owned sugar mills and run them as his own personal fiefdom. After he was dumped in 1961, the plantations were nationalized and formed the CEA (State Sugar Council). Thus whether under the U.S., Trujillo or his pseudo-“democratic” successors, the system was based on the superexploitation of Haitian forced labor.

This amounted to virtual slavery. In fact, the 1937 massacre and the periodic mass round-ups/deportations in recent years concentrated on blacks found outside the bateyes, who were treated as runaway slaves. This system has been well-documented, notably in the reportage by Maurice Lemoine, Bitter Sugar: Slaves Today in the Caribbean (Zed Books, 1985). A series of reports by the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in 1989-92 showed how Haitian laborers were deceptively recruited, met at the border by the Dominican military, trucked to the different plantations and subjected to brutal mistreatment. After the CEA mills were privatized in 1999, conditions were as bad or worse. When several mills shut down after a crash of sugar prices, tens of thousands of black workers in the bateyes were left jobless. Some found work in the urban construction industry. But they run the risk of being picked up and deported, even though they were born in the D.R., and in some cases their families have lived there for several generations.

Haitian and Dominican Workers Unite Against Capitalist Exploitation/Repression

The brutal repression meted out by the Dominican military is not restricted to Haitian immigrants and their offspring. Under Trujillo and his henchman Balaguer, thousands of Dominican leftists were assassinated over the decades. In the post-Trujillo/Balaguer period, general strikes over the constant blackouts and fuel price hikes have been routinely crushed with a toll of several dead. In the most recent case, in October 2005, two protesters were killed by police in a protest in Santiago. Under the previous government of Hipólito Mejía, a general strike in November 2003 was crushed with seven strikers dead. But the best example of the role of these semi-colonial armies, whose job is to put down a restive population in order to ensure the continuation of imperialist domination, came in early 2004.

The elite Dominican “Plus Ultra” contingent of several hundred troops had just returned from Iraq, where they acted as mercenary troops for the U.S. occupation. On January 28 and 29, the police, presidential militias and the military suppressed a general strike, clashing with strikers in five cities and leaving a death toll of eight protesters killed. Meanwhile, the Dominican military had provided training camps for a force of several hundred former Haitian soldiers who were preparing to invade Haiti and stage a coup d’état to overthrow the Aristide government. In mid-February, the coup plotters launched their attack. As they were approaching the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, on February 29, the United States sent in an expeditionary force of 2,000 Marines, Special Forces and “private” security agencies that bundled Aristide onto an unmarked plane and dropped him on a runway in the middle of Central Africa.

The very next day, a force of Dominican soldiers pulled up at the CODEVI sweatshop factory in a “free trade zone” at Ouanaminthe just inside Haiti to put down a walkout by the Haitian workers. The plant is owned by a Dominican garment manufacturer, Grupo M, and is financed by Wall Street via the World Bank. Two days later, a detachment of the former Haitian army “rebels” showed up to handcuff the union leaders and force the workers back to work at gunpoint. So here we have the armed forces of both capitalist states on the island working together as guard dogs for imperialist capital. As we wrote at the time, “This cries out for joint revolutionary struggle by Dominican and Haitian workers against their common bosses, the neo-colonial regimes which repress them, and against their imperialist patrons!” (“The Struggle for Workers Revolution in the Caribbean” in The Internationalist No. 18, May-June 2004).

For the last century and a half, racist persecution and xenophobic hysteria against Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans of Haitian ancestry has been used by the white landowners, capitalist sweatshop and mill owners, and the murderous military and police to divide working people in the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola. This bountiful island which was once the richest colony in the world remains mired in poverty, while the bourgeois rulers luxuriate in their villas and their imperialist overlords build Manhattan skyscrapers (like the former Gulf+Western tower) and Caribbean island estates with the superprofits extracted from the sweat of the Haitian and Dominican toilers.

The left, however, has been shackled by nationalism on both sides of the border, subordinating the working people to bourgeois politicians from Dominican nationalist caudillo Juan Bosch to Haitian populist Aristide. In the Dominican Republic, nationalist-reformist leftists have at most offered a tepid, legalistic defense of the right to citizenship of children born in the D.R., in the case of the PTD (Partido de los Trabajadores Dominicanos), while disgusting clowns like PACOREDO (Partido Comunista de la República Dominicana) actually whip up chauvinist frenzy against “the massive invasion by Haitians” and mythical plans by capitalist/ecclesiastical “Haitian lovers” to fuse Haiti and the D.R. In contrast, a genuine communist party in theDominican Republic would demand full citizenship rights for all, and take the lead in mobilizing united Dominican-Haitian workers defense  of the bateyes against lynch mob violence.

Today, would-be socialist organizations on the island are weaker than ever, yet the class struggle continues. What’s urgently needed is an internationalist revolutionary leadership. From the first moment of the U.S./U.N. intervention in Haiti, the League for the Fourth International has fought to drive the occupiers out. We stand on the side of those resisting the Yankee imperialists, their “U.N.” mercenaries and their murderous colonial cops. At the same time, we give no political support to Aristide, the protégé of the liberal Democrats who was put in the Haitian presidential palace and then removed from it by Marine bayonets. Over the past eight months, the Internationalist Group has participated in numerous protests in New York denouncing U.N. repression in Haiti and the persecution of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic.

For decades, the revolutionary energies of workers and oppressed peoples in Latin America and around the globe have been squandered in the service of class-collaborationist alliances with bourgeois forces. From Spain in the 1930s to Salvador Allende’s Chile in the ’70s, the “popular front” has always been a ticket for defeat, limiting the struggle to (bourgeois) democratic goals, which leaves the blood-drenched armies intact and their capitalist masters in power. This reflects the anti-Marxist dogma of building “socialism in one country” put forward by Stalin and his heirs to cover their abandonment of the program of world socialist revolution of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. The Stalinist-nationalist shibboleth is all the more criminal in the case of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it means confining the struggle to one-third or two-thirds of an impoverished island.

The Leninist-Trotskyists fight instead for the program of permanent revolution, insisting that the only way to root out entrenched reactionary forces is for the working class to overthrow capitalism, along with agrarian revolution in the countryside, and proceed to socialist tasks and international extension of the revolution. There is no basis for a democratic capitalist Haiti or Dominican Republic – the bourgeois rulers are too weak to remain in power without the aid of military juntas, death squads and imperialist troops (with a plane stashed at the hacienda for a quick getaway). The toilers are set at each others’ throats by nationalist hatreds whipped up by the bosses – Dominican against Haitian, Spanish-speaking islands against English- and French-speakers – in a region carved up by seven colonial powers. But by fighting to overcome these divisions on the basis of proletarian internationalism, the basis can be laid for a voluntary socialist federation of the Caribbean.

From the time of the great Haitian revolutionary general Toussaint L’Ouverture, the struggle against the slave masters and capitalists in both parts of the island of Hispaniola has been inextricably intertwined. It is also intimately bound up with the fight for workers revolution in the U.S. imperialist heartland. Close to one million Haitian and Dominican immigrants are strategically situated in the financial capital of the capitalist world. In New York City the seeds of common Dominican-Haitian workers revolution can be sown, while fighting as well for independence for Puerto Rican and to defend Cuba against Yankee imperialism. On the eve of the last century, Caribbean bourgeois revolutionaries – the Cubans José Martí and Antonio Maceo, the Dominican Máximo Gómez and the Puerto Rican Eugenio María de Hostos – joined together in the Cuban Revolutionary Party, working together in Santo Domingo and New York to fight against colonial rule. Today the League for the Fourth International seeks to forge the nuclei of future Trotskyist vanguard parties to lead the internationalist struggle which can finally turn the lush Pearl of the Antilles into a tropical paradise for all. n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com