On the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal ruling

By Arturo Victoriano

Arturo Victoriano, Ph.D., is from the Dominican Republic and is a Lecturer at the Department of Language Studies, University of Toronto, Mississauga. A lawyer, he has taught Criminal Law and Philosophy of Law in the Dominican Republic. He played several roles in the Presidential Council for Culture from 1997 to 2000, where he published, jointly with Dr. Luis O. Brea Franco, Report on the Diagnosis of the Cultural Sector: Compendium of Cultural Legislation Dominican (1998). His forthcoming book with the University of Pittsburgh Press draws on a critical reading of works by Dominican and Haitian diasporic writers to analyze Dominican identity.

On September 23, 2013 the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic, rendered its decision on the matter of Juliana Dequis Pierre, a Dominican citizen of Haitian descent, who had been denied her birth certificate by the Central Electoral Office (Junta Central Electoral). The Tribunal ruled that Ms. Dequis Pierres was, in fact, not entitled to Dominican citizenship despite having been born in Dominican territory on April 1, 1984.

The ruling also ordered an audit of all registries from 1929 to identify “irregularly registered aliens” in them and once identified to proceed with the “regularization” of such “aliens”. This decision deprived at least 200,000 Dominican of Haitians descent of their nationality. It also affects the descendants of West Indians, our beloved and respected “cocolos”, whose parents came to the Dominican Republic to work primarily in the sugar industry in the 20s and 30s of the previous century. Those West Indians who the great Dominican poet Norberto James Rawlings has described as

20131028diasporaThe ones who remained.


The ones with blurred smiles

lazy tongues

weaving the sound of our language

are the firm root of my forebears

old rock

where the ancient hatred of the crown

of the sea

of this horrible darkness

plagued by monsters

grows and burns furiously

(as translated by Beth Wellington).


The ruling has sparked a national and international uproar. Civil society organizations, NGOs, grassroots movements and scholars both in the Dominican Republic and in the sizable Dominican diaspora have manifested their outrage in social media, printed and audiovisual press and in marches and mobilizations throughout the world. Sometimes the protests and protesters have missed the point of the matter, as when a delegation of feminist representatives during a regional meeting heckled President Danilo Medina with shouts of “We Are All Haiti,” giving force to the perception among many that there is an international conspiracy “to fuse the island.”  It is important to emphasise that the issue is not about Haitians; it is about Dominicans being stripped of their nationality. In these matters, understandably, emotions run very high.

Judicial rulings of this nature do not occur in a vacuum. They are the product of deep seated cultural, psychological, historical and political situations and positions. In this particular case it should be highlighted that for the last 10 years the issue of migration, which in the Dominican Republic is really the issue of Haitian migration, has been in the discourse and political hands of Fuerza Nacional Progresista (FNP), a minuscule political party that got less than 2% of the votes in the last three general elections. The FNP, with strong ties to the right wing Catholic ideology espoused by the Opus Dei, has been able to successfully put forward its xenophobic agenda. The secretary general of FNP, José Ricardo Taveras, has been the Director General of Migration since 2011 and has recently expressed his support and “saluted” an anti-Haitian March held in Verón in the east part of the country. Unfortunately, this last act was not met with a swift dismissal from his post by the President as one would have expected.

The stranglehold of the FNP of migration issues has produced catastrophic effects in the treatment of Haitian migrants. The Decree 631-11 put into effect the Regulation of Application of the General Law of Migration No. 285-4, which in its Article 131 establishes the deportation of all of those declared “illegal aliens”. The potential declaration of illegality of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans stripped of their nationality has raised in some quarters the fear of massive exiling of Dominicans from the only country they call their home, especially those of Haitian descent. Moreover, there are real and deadly consequences of the indiscriminate and violent application of these draconian rulings: on May 29, 2013 Jean Robert Lores died, nine days after being beaten by agents of the Direction General of Migration in a deportation raid in Juan Dolio.

The ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal is the final stage of the juridical battle. The Executive branch of the state could have taken the position of staying the rule. This, while adhering to the awful status quo of no documentation, would have opened the government to charges of violation of the separation of powers. Instead the Dominican government wholeheartedly supported the ruling and when charged with “civil genocide” both nationally and abroad, responded with a terse press release proclaiming its strict adherence to the rule of Law and demanding respect of Dominican sovereignty. A high level Dominican delegation was dispatched to a meeting of the Organization of American States on October 29th to respond to the charges of members of CARICOM that the human rights of Dominicans of Haitians descent are being threatened. The Dominican government assured the OAS and CARICOM that the ruling will be put into effect “humanely and respecting Human Rights”.

One of the most troublesome aspects of the ruling and one that raises the eyebrows and concerns of Caribbean peoples in the region and diaspora is the redefinition of Dominican nationality that the Constitutional Tribunal undertakes in one of the paragraphs of the sentence:

“§1.1.4. In general, nationality is considered a juridical and political tie that binds a person to a State; but in a more technical and precise way is not only a juridical tie but also a sociological and political one whose conditions are defined and established by the State. It is a juridical tie because from it multiple rights and civil obligations come forth; sociological because it entails the existence of a group of historical linguistic, racial and geopolitical traits, among many, that conform and sustain a particular idiosyncrasy and collective aspirations; and political, because, essentially, gives access to the powers inherent to citizenship, meaning the possibility of electing and being elected to discharge public functions in the government of the State.”

For the first time in 169 years of republican existence, the Dominican Republic defines Dominican identity in terms of racial and linguistic identifiers. This brings the whole issue of belonging back to the 19th century and the racial theories of exclusion. In a globalized world that preaches and demands free movement of capital and labour, imagining a Dominicanness defined along those lines not only violates historical, juridical, sociological and political precedents and norms. It is also very bad economic policy. The Dominican Republic is trying to tie itself with the Caribbean community at large, mainly in economic terms (it is already a CARIFORUM member), therefore this type of ruling and attitude does not help its case at all.

The problem is that, in reality, there is no way to enforce the ruling and respect Human Rights, but the Dominican government is against a juridical, political and sociological wall. The room of maneuverability is small. It is the victim of alliances and political strategies in the past that have now come home to roost. We are in a situation in which, to quote Haitian ethnographer and diplomat Jean Price-Mars: “I would not want to be a prophet of doom. But, as happened to Cassandra, I see the horizon darkened by clouds gravid with storm.”

As a Black Dominican who now resides in the diaspora, specifically in Canada, this whole situation brings home the necessity of defining ourselves inclusively above all. The Dominican identity is, like that of all of the Caribbean peoples, first and foremost the product of mixing and inclusion. This ruling hurts the efforts of inclusiveness and aims to divide Dominicans, emphasizing  and hierarchically valuing racial and linguistic difference and going against the ethos that founded the country.



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