Haiti and Dominican Republic Meet in Hopes of Improving Relations

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 16:00

On Tuesday, January 7th, officials from the Haiti and the Dominican Republic met in Ouanaminthe, a Haitian town close to the border shared by Hispaniola’s only inhabitants. This was the first diplomatic meeting between the Caribbean nations amidst the tensions following the Dominican Republic’s controversial ruling which threatens to strip the citizenship of residents of Haitian descent. This ruling builds on the friction that has existed since the early 20th century, which culminated in the Trujillo dictatorship murdering thousands of Haitians residing near the border in 1937.

This ruling, which was passed in September 2013, ruled that the current policy, which states that people born in the Dominican Republic are only full citizens if one of their parents is a legal resident, should be applied retroactively to all residents. The decision is in direct conflict with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that the Dominican Republic “had the legal obligation to recognize the citizenship of Dominican-born children of migrants under its existing constitution, as well as under international conventions.” The Constitutional Court’s ruling has also been opposed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Human rights groups have estimated that this retroactive application of immigration and nationality policy would jeopardize the citizenship status of more than 200,000 residents of Haitian descent.

On November 29th, Dominican president Danilo Medina clarified that all undocumented residents have 18 months to register with the authorities, a period during which they cannot be deported. Those that register will be evaluated for legal residency based on whether they work, study, own property, or have native relatives within the Republic.

It is within this hostile environment that a new binational commission was established to cover these critical issues surrounding human rights, border control, immigration, citizenship, and also more general diplomatic issues like commerce and energy security. The commission was led by Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and the Dominican minister of the Presidency, Gustavo Montalvo. The leaders agreed on follow up talks to take place the first Monday of each month in alternating countries, along with advising representatives from the European Union, Venezuela, the United Nations, and CARICOM, a Caribbean trade bloc to which the Dominican Republic is applying for membership.

Both countries agreed that the Dominican Republic reserves its sovereign right to determine immigration and nationality policies, but also accepted the Haitian appeal to take steps towards preserving the rights of people of Haitian descent. Additionally, Haiti will increase efforts to provide passports to those who travel across the border, and the Dominican Republic has promised to provide temporary visas to Haitian workers.

Though these diplomatic agreements are substantive, they will likely prove incapable of improving the lives of people of Haitian origin living in the Dominican Republic in the short term. Diplomatic agreements, short of international treaties, lack implementation and enforcement mechanisms.  While they indicate both domestic and international concern, they fall short of committing sovereign governments to devote limited resources towards initiatives which they grudgingly carry out to appease international organizations.

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