August 2008   

Initiative for Haitian-Dominican Solidarity Against Deportations

New York Protest Against Persecution of
Haitian Workers in the Dominican Republic

Demonstrators outside Dominican consulate in Times Square, New York, August 7 call for full rights
for Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic.
(Internationalist photo)

On August 7, an emergency picket was held in New York City against the threat of mass deportations of Haitian workers from the Dominican Republic. More than 75 people participated in the demonstration, which was organized by a united-front Initiative for Haitian-Dominican Solidarity Against Deportations. This was the first time in recent years that groups representing immigrants from both sides of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (or Quisqueya, as it was called by the indigenous Taíno people) have joined together in protest against the racist treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. That point was not lost on the Dominican government. The protest was given prominent coverage in the Santo Domingo daily Diario Libre and in El Nuevo Diario of San Juan (Puerto Rico), highlighting the presence of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz at the protest.

For decades, the Dominican ruling class has extracted superprofits from the near-slave labor of Haitian workers. Laborers are rounded up in Haiti, trucked into the Dominican sugar estates to perform the backbreaking work of cutting sugar cane, paid starvation wages and kept locked up in bateys (shantytowns on the edge of the fields). Then after viciously exploiting them, the Dominican bosses call in the military to dump them back across the border. Periodically right-wing Dominican politicians whip up anti-Haitian hysteria to stage racist pogroms against the long-established Haitian community. At present this includes up to one million Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, constituting about 15 percent of the entire population of the Dominican Republic.

The 1937 massacre of Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans by the U.S.-installed dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo is internationally infamous. Not so well known is the fact that this “ethnic cleansing” was sanctioned by the United States government, and even by its puppet regime in Haiti. The current president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, who grew up in New York City, was elected to his first term in 1996 in a campaign that used vicious racist prejudice against his main opponent, José Francisco Peña Gómez, because of the latter’s Haitian ancestry. In 2005, during Fernández’ second term, politicians in the ruling coalition instigated a climate of racist hysteria in which dozens of Haitians were slaughtered, hacked to death by machetes or burned alive after being doused with gasoline. Many others were rounded up and deported.

An estimated 60,000 Haitians and scores of Dominicans of Haitian descent were expelled from the Dominican Republic in 2005. Since that time, monthly pickets have been held outside the Dominican Consulate in New York City, initiated by the group Grassroots Haiti. The Internationalist Group has regularly participated in these protests, which, although small, have been covered in the Dominican press and thus help to keep the pressure on. But when the Dominican director of immigration was quoted in the press this June 31 saying that Haitian immigration had become “unbearable,” that recent immigrants should “return to Haiti” and that Fernández should make this a priority in his third term, which began August 16, we decided to approach Dominican and Haitian organizations to hold an emergency protest in early August.

The response was positive, and weekly planning meetings were held during July. It was established that this would be a united-front action, around four demands: Stop the expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic; defend Haitians in the Dominican Republic against violence and persecution; down with the anti-Haitian Dominican immigration law; and defend the right to vote – down with attempts to disenfranchise Dominicans of Haitian origin! There was also agreement that both in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, everyone should have equal rights. Beyond that, each participating organization was free to present its own program. A leaflet for the picket was issued in English, Spanish and Kreyol; a fact sheet detailing the persecution of Haitians in the Dominican Republic was prepared; a press release was sent out, and a letter written to Dominican president Fernández to be presented to the consulate.

As a result of this work, more than a dozen Dominican and Haitian organizations and personalities joined in calling for the picket. The main groups involved in preparing the protest were Grassroots Haiti, Fuerza de la Revolución (Dominican Republic), the Internationalist Group and the League for the Revolutionary Party. Father Luis Barrios of Iglesia San Romero and Pastors for Peace endorsed while Sonia Pierre, leader of the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women, sent a message of support. Articles appeared in the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa, as well as interviews and spots on Haitian community radio and TV. On the day of the protest, NY 1 Noticias broadcast a story on the press conference prior to meeting with the Dominican vice-consult to deliver the letter to President Fernández.

The picket was well-attended and spirited, with chanting and speeches lasting for a full two hours, from 5 to 7 p.m. Demonstrators chanted, “Dominican government, hands off Haitian workers,” “Stop the racist deportations,” “Haitian and Dominican workers unite,” “Haitianos y dominicanos, unidos en la lucha,” “La lucha obrera no tiene frontera” and “Dominican repression, made in U.S.A.” In addition to the picketers, quite a number of passers-by stopped to listen to the speakers from the groups participating. Several noted that in New York City, where up to a million Dominican and Haitian residents feel the weight of anti-immigrant repression, it is possible to overcome the nationalist animosity fanned by reactionary bourgeois politicians. The IG emphasized the importance of struggle for socialist revolution on both sides of the island of Quisqueya, and extending to the U.S. as well.

Excerpts from some of the speeches at the August 7 picket of the Dominican consulate:

Jan Norden (Internationalist Group): It’s significant that today, for the first time in some time, we have a united protest by Haitian, Dominican and North American organizations. This is a united front, there are many different viewpoints here. We are united in saying that people who are here in the United States should have equal rights with everyone else, and also in the Dominican Republic.

People should understand that the repression in the Dominican Republic is made in U.S.A. The repression against the Haitian population in Haiti is a direct result of the “war on terror” against Afghanistan, against Iraq, against the working people of Colombia, throughout Latin America. The system of slave labor that is functioning in the Dominican Republic was set up by the United States when it occupied both Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the early part of the 20th century. The armies of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic were set up by the United States. In the massacre of 1937, almost 40,000 Haitians were murdered by the dictator Rafael Trujillo, a former officer in the U.S. colonial army. And today, 40 trainers of the Southern Command of the U.S. Army are in the Dominican Republic where they are training the Dominican army in repression on the border, preparing for mass expulsions.

We need to mobilize the power of the working class, not only in defense of the Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic but also against our own bourgeoisie, our own ruling class and against the war that they are waging in the Near East and everywhere. This past May 1st, the dock workers shut down every port on the West Coast against the war. This is the first time in the history of the United States that there has been a political strike against a U.S. war. We need to generalize that, and also to give it political consciousness, because the union bureaucracy that first tried to stop this strike, then tried to wrap it in the Stars and Stripes.

April 1965 uprising in Santo Domingo against U.S. imperialist invasion of Dominican Republic.

In 1965 there was a U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. This came when the U.S. was mounting its blockade against Cuba. At that time, we fought, as we fight today, to defend the Cuban Revolution against counterrevolution, from within and without, and to extend it. In 1965, when the United States invaded Santo Domingo, they did so in order to strike at Cuba. The United States government gave as the excuse to invade Santo Domingo – like under McCarthyism – that “we have a list of 58 communists in the Dominican Republic who are involved in the revolt.”  At the university that I was attending then, when someone mentioned this point, that there were supposedly 58 communists, we chanted, “58 communists is not enough!”

We need revolutionary struggle, for international socialist revolution, because it’s not going to be made in the Dominican Republic alone, it’s not going to be made in Haiti alone – if there’s going to be a revolution in the Caribbean, it’s going to be on both sides of that border. And we need to extend that revolution to the heartland, to the belly of the imperialist beast, which is right here, in the United States.

Father Barrios:  A journalist was asking me, “you’re not Dominican, you’re not Haitian, what the hell are you doing here?” People, this is about human rights. This is our responsibility. We have a responsibility to build a better society, a better world. There is a name to describe what is going on in the Dominican Republic against the Haitian community. It’s not just against Haitians, it’s also against Dominicans of Haitian descent. The name is racism, the name is xenophobia. So let’s start calling things by their right name. We’re not going anywhere until we see peace with justice for all these people.

Mario Pierre (Grassroots Haiti): In the Dominican Republic today, Haitian workers are being used as slaves. There is slave labor going on right on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For years, Haitian workers were being contracted to go to the Dominican Republic to cut sugar cane. As the Dominican economy expanded, Haitian workers were used in different sectors in the Dominican economy, such as construction, agriculture, domestic work and various other sectors. Haitian workers today are no longer being contracted, but they are being recruited in Haiti to fill the labor pools in the Dominican Republic. When the Haitian workers get there, they cannot leave. They cannot get out of the bateys in the Dominican Republic, if they do, they will get killed.

However, because the bourgeoisie in the Dominican Republic is exploiting them, they’re making all the profits, they’re not giving them any benefits. A lot of people today are blaming Haitian workers. After they exploit them to their very last drop of blood, they just pick them up and deport them to Haiti. That is an injustice, and we are here to protest against this injustice.

Abram Negrete (Internationalist Group): The deportations of Haitian workers from the Dominican Republic are intimately connected with the racist deportations from the United States of Dominican workers, of Haitian workers, of African workers, of Asian workers, of Mexican workers. When we say “la lucha obrera no tiene frontera,” when we say “the workers’ struggle has no border,” it means that we fight against these racist deportations here in the United States, in the Dominican Republic and everywhere, because we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Two semesters ago I had the privilege of teaching a class on Dominican heritage, where we talked about how the division of the island of Hispaniola between the Dominican Republic and Haiti was the product of two interrelated things, of empire, and of slavery. We learned about how slavery was overthrown through a social revolution, the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint Louverture, which was the only way to destroy slavery – a revolution of the slaves against the slave owners.  That is what we need today, a revolution of the working class, a revolution of the slaves of capital, in the Dominican Republic, in Haiti, in the United States and throughout the world.

The Dominican workers have a proud and glorious history of struggle against imperialist intervention. We will never forget the heroic fight of the Dominican workers, who drove back the filthy American Marine intervention [in 1965] under the Democrat Lyndon Johnson, the murderer of Vietnam; who drove them back, only to be sold out by the reformist and Stalinist leadership. We need to unite the tradition of revolutionary struggle of the Haitian proletariat, of the Dominican proletariat, and the international working class for an international proletarian revolution.

Translated from Diario Libre, 8 August 2008

Junot Díaz Participated in Pro-Haitian Picket in Front of New York Consulate

Well-Attended Demonstration Denounces “Cruel and Inhuman” Treatment in the D.R.


NEW YORK – A well-attended picket held yesterday in front of the building holding the Dominican consular offices at 1501 Broadway in Times Square denounced the “cruel and inhuman” treatment by the government of the Dominican Republic of Haitian immigrants who live and/or work in the other half of the Caribbean island.

The demonstration, part of a series of protests scheduled this year in the same location, was the most numerous of those held so far and included prominent figures from the community and internationally including the writer Junot Díaz, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize, the exile Víctor Toro, a founder of the Chilean MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) and Episcopal priest Luis Barrios, member of “Pastors for Peace” and a champion of international solidarity. Well-known Dominican, Haitian and Haitian-Dominican community, political and cultural activists also participated in the demonstration. Among them was Radhamés Pérez, founder and leader of the Revolutionary Movement New Fatherland.

The picket was organized by the Initiative for Haitian-Dominican Solidarity and more than a dozen other local and international organizations. “La lucha obrera no tiene frontera” (workers’ struggle has no borders) was one of the slogans heard echoing of the attractive lit-up walls of the most important tourist center of New York.

The protest began at 5:00 in the afternoon and concluded a little after 7:00 in the evening. Passers-by from around the world who went by the protesters stopped to read the large signs in which the sponsoring groups denounced the “cruelty” and “inhumanity” of the immigration policies of the government of Leonel Fernández against immigration by its closest neighbors.

“Stop the deportations and repression against Haitian workers now,” read various signs. A giant banner was displayed in the center of the protest.

Various of the best-known activists, including the Haitian Mario Pierre and Father Barrios, spoke to the crowd with brief speeches denouncing the cruel repression against the Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic and the denial of Dominican citizenship to the children of the latter who were born on this side of the island....

The prominent writer Junot Díaz said that he was participating in the action in response to an invitation from the organizers and in solidarity with Haitians who were victims of the situation of mistreatment in the Dominican Republic.

“As someone who travels to Santo Domingo about four or five times a year, and who still lives in a popular barrio of the capital, Villa Juana, what I see is how people there mistreat the Haitians. The anti-Haitian language that I hear from ordinary people, for example in my neighborhood, is a very ugly business and we have to do something to try to change the situation,” said the award-winning Dominican writer.

“Anyone who tells me that Dominicans are[nt] anti-Haitian is crazy. I was born in Santo Domingo and the hatred you have there against Haitians is really impressive. It sometime makes you laugh to hear a Dominican who is blacker than three Haitians saying that these immigrants are bad,” the writer added.

“It’s a madness and a sickness that we have to cure,” said the author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Asked if he had in mind to work on a piece on the situation of Haitians, he said that his participation had nothing to do with his career as a writer and professor.

“In all my writings I always touch on this issue because where I come front, on Calle 21 in Villa Juana, I come across this drama every day,” he explained. “You see it. You have to do something about it in order to improve as a human being, not to keep rising as an artist.”

Father Barrios, a Puerto Rican, said that he was supporting the Haitians because he had worked with them and with the Dominicans on both sides of the divided island. “My presence here is part of my position of international solidarity with the downtrodden of the world, wherever they may be,” the pastor added.

Jorge Alvarado, coordinator of Nueva Alternativa (New Alternative) in New York, said that his organization joined with the Haitians in this struggle pressuring the government to halt its cruel and inhuman policy toward them.

When this reporter reminded him that Dominicans who support the struggle of the Haitians are accused of being “traitors,” he responded that “there are always people who are not aware.”

–Would you be in favor of unifying the island?

–Of course! Haitians are being subjected to terrible injustices and this has got to stop.

When it was objected that this “unification” is impossible because of differences of religion, culture, race and language, the leftist leader responded: “As the burro goes along its path, people are always comparing its burden.”

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