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Pariahs of the Caribbean

The case of Juliana Deguis Pierre symbolizes the tragedy of some 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have retroactively become "stateless persons"

Mario Vargas Llosa

Juliana Deguis Pierre was born 29 years ago, of Haitian parents, in Dominican Republic, and has never left her native land. Her only language is Spanish, of the lilting Dominican variety. But when she went to register to vote, the electoral agency refused, and confiscated her ID card, on the grounds that her French - i.e. Haitian-sounding - name was "suspect." Her appeal went up to the Constitutional Court, which recently turned it down, implicitly refusing Dominican nationality to all such descendants of illegal "migrants." Her case symbolizes the tragedy of some 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have retroactively become "stateless persons."

The court's ruling, needless to say, is an aberration which seems to draw inspiration from Hitler's laws, by which Jews who had lived in Germany for centuries were deprived of their nationality. More to the point, it contravenes repeated rulings in recent years by the International Court of Human Rights. The only logical argument the Dominican court could adduce is that Juliana's parents were "illegal immigrants." Thus the sin of illegality is made hereditary - presumably, as in archaic Biblical dooms, to the seventh generation.

The judges know well enough that immigration from Haiti to Dominican Republic has gone on for at least a century, being positively encouraged by Dominican landlords and businessmen in times of prosperity, and tolerated by the authorities. The country (or at least, its middle and upper classes) has benefited from the existence of a mass of cheap labor, with no job contracts, social security, or legal rights in general. One of the worst crimes committed during the tyranny of Generalísimo Trujillo was the indiscriminate massacre of Haitians in 1937, in which tens of thousands of these wretched immigrants were murdered, mostly by mobs enraged by populist rhetoric. No less grave, from the moral and civic point of view, is this Constitutional Court ruling, which applies not only to the case of Juliana Deguis Pierre, but orders authorities to conduct a rigorous scrutiny of all birth registrations back to 1929, to determine which persons then had no right to Dominican nationality, so that their descendants may now be deprived of it.

Fortunately, there are many voices in Dominican media and society that are speaking out, and mobilizing against the ruling

These people of Haitian origin, recent or remote, would thus become zombies, unqualified to obtain a legal job, study at a university or leave the country - all the usual rights of citizenship. Why? Well, for the same reason as Hitler's victims. I am aware that racism is a widespread disease, and that no country, however civilized, is quite safe from it, especially when scapegoats are required to distract people from real problems and real culprits. But we have seen this too many times not to speak out against it, to try to prevent the tragedies that sooner or later must come of it.

Fortunately, there are many voices in Dominican media and society that are speaking out, and mobilizing against the ruling. But it is sad to see political parties and opinion formers keeping silent about this iniquity, notably the prehistoric cardinal-archbishop of Santo Domingo, Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, who openly supports it, reviling those who do not. I had thought that in Peru, with our reverend churchman Cipriani, we held the record of the most reactionary, undemocratic archbishop in Latin America. But it seems I was wrong.

I have liked Dominican Republic ever since I first visited it in 1973. I have seen it become democratic and modern faster than some Latin American countries that get more media attention in that respect. One of my sons lives there. In 2010 when the earthquake struck Haiti, Dominicans sent generous aid. That is the real face of Dominican Republic, which cannot be disfigured by the ugly ruling of its Constitutional Court.

© Mario Vargas Llosa, 2013.

© World press rights in all languages reserved to Ediciones EL PAÍS, SL, 2013.

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