How History Has Been Distorted to Justify the Dominican Deportations

by Anne Eller (Haiti Liberte)
Over the past
two years, a legal nightmare has grown in the Dominican Republic. Taking aim at
Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, the Dominican Constitutional
Tribunal issued a ruling in September 2013, made retroactive more than eighty
years, stripping citizenship from anyone who cannot prove “regular” residency
for at least one parent. Legislation passed in May 2014 allows for a limited
and incomplete path to naturalization for some; it amounts to “citizenship by fiat.” The rulings mark a drastic
setback for as many as several hundred thousand residents of the Dominican
Republic, threatening them with expulsion, statelessness, detention, and abuse.
Individuals have already suffered the impact of the new laws. With the
rulings, larger-scale detentions might begin, overseen by the Dominican armed forces and the UN,
among other groups.

            In analyses of the crisis over the
past two years, English-language press and Dominican right-wing nationalists
have often been in simplistic consensus: they argue that the two countries have
been in constant conflict. Scholars, activists, and other voices have made
repeated admonitions to amplify and complicate this “fatal-conflict
as well as to eschew sensationalism in favor of concrete language.
Nevertheless, one so-called truism emerges again and again in the U.S. press:
that Dominican “animosity and racial hatred of Haitians dates back to at
least 1822,”
when Haitian rule extended over the whole island.
Dominican supporters of the 2013 ruling, also, invoke the 19th
century freely in a very similar manner. Commentators often talk of a supposed “pacific invasion” of Dominican soil at present,
repeating the one that allegedly took place in January 1822. Images of Juan
Pablo Duarte, one of the authors of separation of the two countries two decades
later, populate demonstrations in support of the current
            The 19th century
narrative is an abject falsehood, repeated often. Unification between the two
countries came at the invitation of numerous Dominican towns. It brought the
end of slavery. All of the citizens of the island enjoyed and defended their
independence for decades and decades, long after the countries formally split,
as their nearby neighbors remained colonized (and hundreds of thousands, still
enslaved). They did so, precisely, together. These facts were as immediately
obvious to elite commentators seeking separation as they were to the great
majority of the island’s residents, who manifested profound and dynamic
interconnection. Decades after unification ended, Dominican-Haitian
collaborators helped to win Dominican independence, for a second time, in 1865.
The Dominican constitution changed that same year to jus soli citizenship; a
handful of reformers called for dual citizenship across the island. Without
much documentation, however, the popular foundation of these struggles was
muted even as it unfolded. The island’s residents continued to defend their
independence, but xenophobic, racist, and hostile voices on and off the island continued
to marginalize them. With the U.S. occupations, outside hostility became even
more concrete.
            Even more casual outside observers
tend to know about the massive anti-Haitian intellectual production of the
Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961). Perhaps the ten concurring Tribunal members
were purposely trying to sidestep its shadow when they chose, against all
precedent, to extend their ruling to the year before he took power. Fewer
outsiders know of Dominican resistance to these narratives during Trujillo’s
regime, or of later efforts to reimagine the history of the 19th
century completely. Haiti and the Dominican Republic were siblings in a
struggle for freedom in these new accounts. Colonial powers, old and new, were the
common enemy. Juan Bosch was one such politician-historian. He managed seven
months in office before a coup overthrew him. Trujillo’s one-time aide, also a
prolific history writer, replaced him. The contest for 19th century
narratives began all over again.
            Thousands and thousands of the
so-called “repatriations” or “deportations” that loom are really expulsions.
The state language of law and order, more generally, is a violent and
capricious fiction. Organizations like MUDHA,
and others recognize this essential and obvious fact. The current crisis is
not, however, the product of timeless, essential, or isolated conflicts. Haiti
and the Dominican Republic face a common international economic and political
context (and policies). Nor is the Dominican state’s
aspiration for marginalization and control of a whole population by creating a
legal breach is particularly unique. As statelessness, deportation, and
violence threatens, those organizing in opposition to the Sentencia have an
expansive view of the task at hand. As MUDHA describes their mission, they are organizing
against sexism, racism, and anti-Haitianism and in support of civil, political,
economic, social, cultural, and human rights simultaneously. Relentlessly
facile and misleading narratives about the past are not useful as they and
their allies hope, with great urgency, to reinvent the immediate future.
Anne Eller is Assistant Professor of History at Yale
University, where she teaches courses on Latin America, the Caribbean and the
African Diaspora. This article was first published on