Venezuela chairing bilateral committee on Dominican Republic anti-Haitian citizenship ruling

By Kevin Edmonds, published in his NACLA blog, Jan. 22, 2014, also reprinted in Venezuela Analysis

It has been four years since Haiti was struck by the January 12 earthquake of 2010. While many mainstream newspapers try to whitewash the worst failures of the international community’s reconstruction effort, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a thorough, albeit disturbing list of figures outlining the troubled state of reconstruction in Haiti.

Many of these persistent problems are linked to the ongoing history of international intervention in Haiti, whereby the rights of international investors trample the self-determination, sovereignty, and emancipation of the Haitian people.

In contrast to the neocolonial actions of the United StatesCanada, and others who have worked to undermine Haiti’s reconstruction, stands Venezuela—now one of Haiti’s key allies, and one which has broken from the anti-people reconstruction policies and aligned itself in solidarity with, rather than in domination to, the Haitian people.

Perhaps the most well known Venezuelan assistance to Haiti has come in the form of the low cost of oil that Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program has made available. During Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro’s first visit to Haiti in June 2013, Haitian President Michel Martelly discussed the impact of the funds generated by the PetroCaribe agreement: “I would like to say very loudly that PetroCaribe funds represent 94% of our investment funds, which means that the majority of what is being done in Haiti has been realized with PetroCaribe funds….Government buildings are being rebuilt, social housing is being built and we are talking about increasing national production, about continuing with the free tuition education program and alphabetization.”

But in recent months, as tensions between Haiti and its neighboring Dominican Republic rise over the most explicitly racist immigration control measures of the hemisphere, Venezuela’s support has grown to encompass not only economic, but also diplomatic assistance as well.

The Dominican Republic’s high-court ruling of September 2013, often referred to as the “sentencia” (“judgement”), strips citizenship from hundreds of thousands of residents of Haitian descent, retroactively denying citizenship to anyone born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented parents dating back to 1929. The decision sparked outrage within Haiti, the diaspora, and human rights circles; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounced the decision, stating that beyond discriminatory, it deprives Dominican-born Haitians a nationality, violating their rights.

Venezuela's Maduro has led the initiative in bringing the Dominican and Haitian governments together in bilateral conversations about the ruling. On the sidelines of the December meeting of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe, Maduro chaired a meeting between the two countries—an initiative that resulted in a bilateral committee that will work on issues related to trade, migration, environment, security, and the border. Furthermore, Venezuela would provide a special envoy to help mediate the conflict, with CARICOM and the European Union acting as observers.

It was only after the creation of this bilateral committee that the United States finally broke its long-held silence on the issue. On December 18, the day after Maduro’s diplomatic success, the U.S. Department of State’s deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf commented: “We've urged the (Dominican Republic) Government to continue close consultation with international partners and civil society to identify and expeditiously address, in a humane way, concerns regarding the planned scope and reach to affected persons.”

In a broadcast aired on December 24, Maduro revealed that he had been working with the governments of the two countries to re-start bilateral talks for over one month. During an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias, Maduro remarked, “We are unconditional brothers with the Haitian people and whoever messes with the people of Haiti messes with the people of Venezuela.”

Insightfully, Maduro also pointed out the historical role of colonialism in fomenting the divisions between Haitians and Dominicans and elsewhere in Latin America, stating: “We have to overcome the historical obstacle that the old colonialisms have left us and that at time is seen around, such as the oligarchy, the right, that permanently are trying to put forward the issue of hate against the people of Guyana, hate against the Colombian people, hate against Latin America, the anti-Bolivarian hate.”

Since the earthquake, international coverage of Haiti has been dominated by the patchwork celebrity philanthropy of characters like Bill Clinton, Wyclef Jean and Bono; a challenge to these neoliberal post-earthquake reconstruction efforts is being set by Venezuela's model of international cooperation today.

Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA blogger focusing on the Caribbean. For more from his blog, "The Other Side of Paradise," visit Edmonds is a former NACLA research associate and a current PhD student at the University of Toronto, where he is studying the impact of neoliberalism on the St. Lucian banana trade.